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International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS Auckland in New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Sunday 10th March 2019 - Day Three

AGM, STAMFORD PLAZA HOTEL (10.15am)
2019 ANDRÉ SIMON LECTURE (11am), BUFFET LUNCH (12noon)
CLOSING DINNER AT TANTALUS ESTATE, WAIHEKE ISLAND (3.45pm)

AGM, STAMFORD PLAZA HOTEL (10.15am)
I woke up quite fuzzy and lolled around in the bed ahead of a sluice in the shower and shave ahead of scrambled eggs, beans and buttered baguette with jam and some gruesome coffee in the Stamford Breakfast area. The first order of the day would be the APZ Annual General Meeting to which all the Asia Pacific members were encouraged to attend. There were a fair few in attendance despite the unearthly hour of 10.15am for a Sunday. 

My view of breakfast. Yes.
The APZ AGM Meeting got processed pretty quickly and smoothly, with Chairman James and Secretary Erik each giving a report. We got told of new IWFS Branches getting set up across the region along with some long term dates for the diaries for overseas beanos. And it seems the IWFS is pretty strong in financial terms. Not much comment from the floor. Perhaps everyone was suffering from the night before. Move over...

2019 ANDRÉ SIMON LECTURE (11am)

We then got herded into the main ballroom to hear the 2019 André Simon lecture presented by Bob Campbell MW on ‘The development of the NZ wine industry from 1954 up until today’. Bob Campbell MW is one of New Zealand’s most respected wine commentators and judges, and proved a very entertaining speaker who knows the New Zealand wine industry inside out. He gave a very informative and entertaining talk which got followed by a lively Q&A after. I went on stage to thank him and remember our Doc Hall Kiwiboy to him; seems they had been wine buddies in Singapore some years back. We swapped cards. One never knows... 

(l/r) Bob Campbell MW, IWFS IMC Hon President Dave Felton and IWFS International Secretariat Andrea Warren 
BUFFET LUNCH (12noon)

Lunch was to follow the lecture, which proved a buffet style affair, but I felt that the queue was too long and looked hugely slow. So I slunk back to the room, figuring I could better use the time by packing and filing away papers rather than queue for what looked like standard mediocre hotel buffet food. Room mate Richard clearly had the same idea; when I got there he was already packing up his bits. 

My case was looking pretty full by the time I had finished. Some space had been leveraged due to books and bits passed to Cousin Debbie earlier in the trip, but my six collected bottles of wine were filling a good third of the case. And not much had been ditched on this trip. I had continually been washing and drying two sports shirts for daytime and reusing the grey sweater over long sleeve shirts for the evening. A third of the clothes had not been worn. Also the disposable Watson's underpants proved to be easy wash and quick dry so some of them got recycled across a day or two. Some things might have to get sacrificed. And there were still some bits that needed to get bought to go home. In this sense, the absence of charity stores impeding my indulgence and predilection for scouring them for bargains was looking more like a blessing than anything else.  

After about thirty minutes of wrestling with the luggage, Richard and I we went back down to be faced with the remnants of lunch. All that was left were some ham slices, cheese, crackers and nuts and fruit. Which would do the trick - breakfast had been recent and dinner would probably be large, so some lighter style eating was eminently welcome. As was some delightful Pinot Gris and Chardonnay which helped the light fare perfectly. At conversation over the lunch, it seemed the thinking was indeed that a light lunch was preferable to heavy since the upcoming Tantalus would be big. Though I was told that some of the pilgrims whinged about the parsimony of the food offerings at lunch. Maybe the same ones that whinged about there being too much lamb. What to do? Can't please everyone, eh? And my experience is that some people just like to whinge because it is a safety and comfort zone - is often all they know what to do. There you go - takes all sorts of characters to make for a world. Who am I to judge?

As soon as I entered with my lunch I got pounced on by Yvonne to discuss the APZ newsletter which ultimately sounded quite doable. The thinking was to get something out twice a year and create pages with articles for website storage and access. I know from experience that the hard part of all this is getting people to write and send photos for inclusion. But now with Facebook and Whatsapp and different branches having their own sites and sharing events, this seemed less painful than it might otherwise have been. Hopefully once the thing gets up and running the other branches will look to develop their own stores of information and events and I can just email out links for the members to follow. Or not. The other trick is to make it all relevant and reasonably engaging to warrant people spending time poring over your photos and videos. There might also be layout issues and maintaining the look and feel across all publications. And STILL getting people to contribute. Though certainly more doable than initially envisaged. I got copies of what had gone before and started to develop an idea of a single bright and breezy single page email that will link to kind of "read more here>>" style pop up pages. And also do occasional "extras" when a good story comes about. Maybe also attach the whole thing as a PDF, though I did get told that less than 10% members download and read. Fair enough. Perhaps need to make it big size font so people can read the thing. And look to make the website a bit more relevant than the general "this is what we do at IWFS" kind of approach that necessarily prevails across most websites. 

After the discussion, some of us diehards parked ourselves around a table for a somewhat extended lunch which involved swigging the remaining booze and gossiping about the occasional politicking that some perceive to happen across the lines. Nothing like a good bottle of wine or four to kickstart the tongue. Nothing nasty, just the occasional observation on perceived motivations that drive some to seek the glory or just do the necessary. Observations on the human condition and what we perceive to drive us. Good clean fun. 

View from the Stamford Plaza room
All of this ended round about 2.45pm at which point I went back to the room for a very good power snooze to refresh ahead of the walk from the hotel to the pier to get the Waiheke ferry. Seems a 4.30pm crossing had been arranged for the pilgrims and a 3.30pm appointment (was initially 3.45) to assemble had been set. Took us all of five to ten minutes to walk from the lobby to the pier, so quite why such an early off was felt necessary was not fully clear. Though perhaps building in such a large margin was felt beneficial to account for the perennially late. There are often one or two in every group. 

On the way back to the room I ran into May and Eddie and Karen who had decided that a better lunch awaited them at the local Oyster and Seafood Bar five minutes walk to the Viaduct. Did I want to join? Not really - I am not driven by the lust and passion that some of the pilgrims have for shellfish. I also have the fear of the one Raw Prawn that can Delhi the belly with an Attack of the Whooshes and keep me parked on the toilet on the MAS flight back to Kuala Lumpur. No joke at 20,000 feet and not worth the risk, thanks all the same. And I really needed a quick power nap. They clearly had a brilliant and jolly time, judging by the Facebook post.  And no Raw Prawns. Bugger.

CLOSING DINNER AT TANTALUS ESTATE, WAIHEKE ISLAND

Our blurb told us that after our free afternoon (?) we would meet to take the 35 minute ferry ride across the harbour to the beautiful Waiheke Island for a tasting and dinner. Waiheke Island was rated by Lonely Planet Guide as the fifth best destination in the world and a must visit once in the lifetime. And although our visit would be brief, it would "give members the chance to experience exactly what it is that has put Waiheke on the map – the production of exceptional wines, of which Tantalus is the new kid on the block, but don’t let that fool you – their wines are extremely good for a young producer. You should not miss this. We will return to Auckland by ferry after the dinner, arriving Auckland about 10.30pm."

Sage and Rosemary - awesome scent when crushed
As said, we had got to the appointed assembly, er, point way ahead of time and watched enviously as the four o'clock ferry opened its gates for the boarders. I wandered up and down the queue a few times, more to stretch legs and observe. It was a glorious sunny Sunday in Auckland, in stark contrast to the bluster and drizzle of the previous day. Weather does make a vast difference in how one approaches a day. 

Everyone lurked or sat waiting for the signal to move. I got talking to a chap name of Geoff Ryder who lived on the island. Said he came to NZ forty years ago, had been living on Waiheke for 18 of them, was a Lodge member, born in Detroit, engineer with four kids spread across NZ and one in Brisbane. He was a dead ringer for Ernest Hemingway with a salt and pepper beard though I did not mention anything. We talked about Tantalus and he spoke of a gin distillery next door to it name of Dellows. He said we could see it from the Tantalus but I eventually didn't. I had thoughts of a quick taste and try to buy and take back. Didn't happen. Have to see if it would be on sale at the airport. It wasn't. Not meant to be. Om.

The boat came to dock and we all swiftly boarded. I decided to take a seat downstairs, more to avoid the blazing sun than anything, and got joined by the water and boat fearing Gloria from IWFS Western Australia in Oz. We passed the boat time most pleasantly talking away about KL and places she had lived and a cute story about a mutual friend parading on a beach somewhere in a slinky and skimpy white swimsuit many moons ago and me part wondering what the friend would look like now...

The lawn at Tantalus Estate
The boat docked after 40 minutes of extremely smooth sailing, and as we disembarked we got directed to gate 3 where two buses were waiting to transport us to the winery and our dinner. We swiftly scrambled aboard and found ourselves quickly making our way along a winding road heading inland. The towns along the road were all cutely pretty in a kind of California way, with lots of small funky shops in a blazing blue sky setting. Reminded a little of Carmel and Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Coast in the USA. I got a wonderful Bayside vibe and feel about the whole island and I could easily see how my new Hemingway friend had spent eighteen years here. Hugely easy place to just "be", man...

Lance, Kalsom, Hansruedi, May Peng and Amber in a... theyfie?
The bus arrived and we all dismounted to get faced with a stairway to the heaven that was seemingly set on the top floor of the complex. I did not notice a lift and no one asked if there was one. Might be an issue for those less mobile than us pilgrims. The place was hugely pretty in the blazing sun, and the scents from the herb gardens lining the route were brilliant - sage and sweet smelling Rosemary that just erupted with pungency when you crushed it between your palms. 

Dr Jag with Susan Gill, both from IWFS KL
Walking through the darkish entrance, the restaurant opened out onto a delightful lawn garden and rows of vines that stretched all around the complex. There was a wooden sculpture which dominated the lawn that lay between the restaurant and the vines and the light made for some brilliant photos. 

Tantalus Restaurant ambience
The pilgrims seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the sun and the outdoors and went at the photoshooting like first day of grouse season, snapping anything and anyone that stayed still long enough to get caught within selfie or weefie range. Everyone got welcomed with a glass of the crisp and throat warbling white fizz in the now de rigeur half white wine size stemmed glasses and started quaffing and posing and enjoying the brilliant early evening light and cooling evening air of Waiheke Island. Really nice place to chill and enjoy a setting sun and and either take photos or hope to get taken.

View from the table
I decided to wander back in to recce the bathroom and ended up chatting to some of the Auckland members about their experiences of organising and executing the AGM Festival. I told them I thought they had done a sterling job in all respects. One shared a few briquebats that had been received and seemed a shade depressed by them. I tried to console by saying some people can never be satisfied and there is no reason for this so best to just give a Gallic shrug and grab another glass of fizz. Which we did. 

Wandering back toward the outside, I noticed that some seats had already been "earmarked" and claims staked either through handbag or some other accoutrement to mark ownership and thus possession. I know in some parts of the world (eg Singapore) gazumping or squatting against someone's earmark can turn nasty and (on one reported occasion) violent. I wondered what kind of woe would visit a pilgrim who would dare transgress such occupation and claim against the world. I was half tempted to shift someone's claim to another seat to see what would happen, but resisted - no point to ruffle feathers, eh? I similarly marked my seat with a notebook and a half drunken glass...

Welcome speech from IWFS Auckland President Rowan Moss
A final wander into the fresh air and then eventually drifting back in with everyone to take their seats ahead of the dinner. I seem to recall a short speech and then it was straight into the white wine. 

The most excellent Tantalus Cachette Chardonnay
The 2017 Cachette Chardonnay was lovely. Smooth, clean, good dose of oak but not so that it overpowered and made you think you were chewing wood. Got ripe peach and apples in the mouth, large hint of the tropical with a brilliant finish. Very more-ish, and the staff were quite generous in the refills. Felt like an airy meadow breeze, made the more so given the green garden surroundings outside. Not sure if we see it outside of NZ but would certainly snap up a couple of these for the fridge. A lovely drop. 

The crusty, crisp and crunchy bread was being paired with some excellent olive oil that had an equal dose of wood and which gave it great character and taste. Lovely start to the evening.

Someone observed the music volume was a bit loud and a request to turn it down was quickly complied with. Kudos for the staff being receptive to the pilgrims' need for less background ambient noise!

The food was hugely slow in coming out. Felt like it took the age of Methuselah to get to the table but was probably about thirty minutes. Which is still pretty long. We had previously given our mains choices to the young people flitting around the tables. But they seemed a bit thin on bringing out food. We kept chugging the remains of our fizz and scarfing down the bread and desperately trying to keep the conversations going. But it does get difficult when there is little to fire the imagination and pretty much all topics have been exhausted. Had to ask for second and third rounds of bread to soak up the booze - be full before 8pm at this rate…  At least the sunset through the open window was magnificent, with the light slowly changing from perfect blue to darkling dusk to the sound of roosting birds and the sudden silence as they all shut down their cawing and the Sandman entered their world...

The Big Glory Bay Salmon. Total darling...
When the starter did come, it was darling. I had opted for the salmon and it was absolutely one of the freshest I have ever had. Lightly pan seared for a crisp skin, the sour cream and ponzu gave great umami taste and texture whilst the shallots brought spice and bite and the elderflower lent a hint of floral grace. It was a fantastic combo of creamy mouthfeel and melting salmon texture that brought home the fact that this is why we join the IWFS - to get tastes like this. Imagine excellent multiplied by three with a hint of wicked and it gets close. Really, really good. Can't remember if the wine was a match. Didn't matter if the food was this good…  

The Tenderloin. Jus disappointed, but lovely meat
Those opting for the pork belly looked a bit disappointed. If I heard correctly, the aim was to reproduce a Spicy Chinese style cuisine - Sze Chuan taste but without the firepower. Normally a pork default, I opted against - no one does Chinese cuisine styles better than the Chinese, and given this level of expectation the dish might prove disappointing. Judging by the look on some on the table who selected the pork, I might not have been far off. 

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International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS Auckland in New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Monday 11th March 2019 - Day Four and Epilogue

Not much on IWFS in this post - mostly my recollections of a last lazy day in Auckland and the trip back to Kuala Lumpur. Also some reflections on what makes for a good pint of Guinness. And a cute story on Malaysian customs at the KLIA.

I had plans to walk around Auckland domain gardens. Didn't happen. I woke up in nowhere near a fit state for it. All fuzzy and aching. Bleugghh. Again. Room mate Richard had stirred around 8am and took breakfast before heading off for a 9.30 bus to catch a plane with some of the pilgrims to visit Queenstown. I eventually surfaced and packed some final bits and eventually managed to shut the suitcase (is a very sensitive case, you have to get the locks lined up precisely and no bits of things like shirt poking out) and stumbled down for 9.45 toast (no coffee, the machine had seemingly run out; maybe no bad thing). I sat with Jag and Sue and traded info about airport transfers and flights and airlines. Then I went back up to clear the room and check out and somehow got a charge for a bottle of water which I know I did not drink. Not sure if Mossie did but now no way to check so just pay and move on. I did fiddle with the fridge to store some wines and I wonder if the fridge might have been one of those automatic ones where if you remove something you get a charge even though you put it back in later. Lesson - make a mental note to check with room service at all future hotels. My luggage got tagged and stored and I spent some time sat at reception clearing email and doing Facebook and WhatsApp whilst the wifi was still free and connecting me with the world. 

To my surprise I managed to check in to my MAS flight over the mobile phone and also to download the boarding pass. I was quite impressed at the speed. Whilst parked in my chair, I was able to say goodbyes to Michael and Grace and Richard and Reina before deciding to wander out to look for some Manuka honey to take back to Lenglui as she had requested at about 11am. There was one store just up from the hotel which had earlier looked promising, the NZ Export. A quick look showed they were charging NZD48. A pharmacy further along was charging NZD75. This felt expensive, and pretty much on par with what would be paid back in KL. I ended up in the Countdown Supermarket where I got local Auckland Manuka for NZD30 which felt fair. I also checked the route to take to catch the airport bus which avoided stairs and uphill lugs of the case before wandering back to the Stamford, where I rested for about three hours snacking on potato chips, making notes and people watching. I was magically still connected to the hotel wifi so I was able to respond to Whatsapp messages. Partly for this reason I decided to stay put at the Stamford and wait out the day. Still having a fuzzy head and feeling a bit stiff and having a convenient toilet to take advantage of helped to tip the balance in favour of this decision. And it kind of felt good to just rest up ahead of the flight. I later heard that Dr Jag and wife had risen at 6am to get a bus to visit Rotorua and only got back to the hotel at about 7pm to get bags and get to the airport. That sounds like a hard day - I get it that one has to seek to maximise time and load in as much of what can be seen and done when travelling. But I think there is also a need to make time for downtime to let internal batteries charge and ready for the journey. If not, then fatigue sets in and in my experience this is when the bad things happen - accidents, theft, which seem to result from being distracted and not fully alert to the surroundings. So - a day in the chair with a nearby bathroom it would be. And potato chips. 

And so I parked up on a chair opposite the Stamford reception and slowly recollected thoughts and memories from across the trip and typed them up into the iPad. The Hotel sound system was playing some jazz standards by Louis Armstrong and Frank Sinatra, not too loud and very pleasant to help the writing. There was what looked like a Rotary event taking place, presumably a lunch. Also lots of female hotel executive looking people wandering about with seeming purpose. Seem to be a lot of ladies in senior positions in Auckland. 

I eventually stirred enough to rise on to the haunches and lug the backpack and Celebrity tote with its Manuka booty out of the hotel and toward a place opposite the hotel with the name Food Alley, a place of apparent award and note. Someone along the Festival had suggested it as worth a look. Okay, why not. On walking through the sliding doors, I got hit with that stale oil stink of too much deep frying and promptly turned around and went back out. Not a very welcome smell and reminiscent of deep fried everything from back in Kuala Lumpur. I toyed with the idea of going to the seafood bar that others had highly recommended for the freshness and taste of the produce, but decided against - again, the fear of the one bad oyster or prawn with a ten hour flight in prospect militated against this.  So I ended up back at the Shakespeare Hotel, partly from not wanting to drift too far from the stored bag at the hotel, and also to remake my acquaintance with the delightful tasting and elegantly crispy beer battered fish and the somewhat ordinary chips. And some salad which went untouched (I rarely trust salad at restaurants - just takes one rogue sneeze in a kitchen on the wrong piece of lettuce). And along with a couple of pints of the excellent Guinness. There is something beyond words, something totally sublime about parking in a bar and slowly sucking down a pint or two of the black stuff. The first one sleeks the sides and draws down the dry off the throat while the second one slips across the palate and the roasted malt and toasted oat taste of the beer leaches into the throat and slides and slides and slides...  O my lord how it slides and sleeks and slakes and makes one say thank you God and Jesus for the black beer. Absolutely sublime. Brings out the lyrical bard as well - F***ing wonderful. Legend goes that Willie himself created the F word. And the Shakespeare was playing Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Of course.

But you have to let it settle, let the bubbles all rise to the top and help to form the perfect head. The you drink the nectar through the creamy foam and....   Phwoooargh... Slinky and smooth and sucky on the throat... Perfecto. I had to have a third.

After the three, they were keen to serve a fourth but I declined. An itch had formed. Even though it was five hours to flight time, I wanted to move. I wanted to get home. The trip was probably over earlier that morning, and the day was just marking time until it was time to gear up and kick the tyres to get underway. I remember reading somewhere that the trip always ends way before the landing on the home runway (I think it might have been Jupiter's Travels by Ted Simon from the 1970s - he went around the world on a motorcycle). The itch, the desire for familiar faces and places kicks in way before the appointed hour. So I retrieved my suitcase from the Stamford (which was still playing Frank) and trundled around to where the SkyBus Airport shuttle would stop. Within five minutes it had arrived. I humped the bag, paid the NZD19 and we were off. Well, for a short distance around the corner to the Sheraton Points Hotel - seemed driver decided he would have to stop there for five minutes. Of course. But homeward bound I was and very happy to be so. 

An uneventful but sunset pretty drive got me to the airport about 7.30pm and check in would only start at 8.15pm. So a gentle wander to find the bathroom and an up and down the gate hall still left 15 minutes. I saw some people doing self check in and getting luggage tags and figured - why not? I eventually got it, though the on screen steps were not absolutely clear and I nearly left the thing without the luggage tags - it was only when I saw someone getting theirs from a neighbouring machine that I figured I had to get them as well. There was a little button bottom left saying "next" that led to the printout page. Darn confusing for ageing farts. 

The gate opened, the queue began and ten minutes later I was ambling toward the departure gate and customs and immigration. It was still massively early so I parked and polished off the remains of the bread ham and cheese and potato chips and water ahead of the processing through immigration and security. I parted ways with the undrunk and unopened half bottle of Chardonnay gifted to all the pilgrims on their arrival. I could not pack it due to space and weight constraints and figured to maybe drink it with the food. Nope - still tasting the Guinness. Into the waste bin it went, along with a plastic tube of sunblock I had forgotten to pack in the main case. Dang…  darn good sunblock this was too, not greasy like most of the gunk that gets sold. First time I had ever wilfully thrown booze into a bin. Felt oddly lightened…

Pretty fast through Immigration and Security and into the Duty Free to be spoilt for choice for Gin. I wanted something local, and eventually stumbled across a tasting bar where little plastic sips of various booze was being offered. I asked for NZ Gin and got a thimble of something that felt a bit fiery until it got mixed with some lemon. Not bad. Then tasted a second - also not bad. So i opted to buy a bottle of each, figuring it would be quite a while to get the chance to share it with the home gang. 

And that was pretty much it. Ambled toward the departure gate and ran into Dr Jag and Malkit, boarded the plane, watched a few movies and drank a couple of beers and the plane was soon landing. Eased through Immigration, though the bag took a bit of time to come through. I was keeping a sly eye on the Customs to see if they were stopping everyone as I had somewhere read they were recently threatening to do. They indeed were. A pretty long queue was forming and the luggage scanners were rumbling away. I would clearly get caught with the bottles of wine in the case. A friend had previously told me that if you come clean, the customs people appreciate it. So I did. I asked the lady at the desk where to pay for bringing in wine and she directed me to a very affable chap who took down the details and worked out the cost (his math was a bit off though - four bottles should have been 3 litres and he called it for two; I said nothing). I paid the RM50 (which he said included a discount which made me laugh), got a receipt and he escorted me past the scanner and into legitimate freedom. Did not check the bag, and I got a pleasant thank you for my being up front. This alone was worth the RM50 paid. Honesty occasionally has greater benefits than expected. 

I decided to take the KLIA Express and get a taxi from KL Sentral. My previous attempts to Grab have failed because for some reason my phone takes quite a while to get back on Malaysian time. Smooth KLIA Express trip to find that all taxis out of KL Sentral are now by coupon - no meter taxis seem to be permitted anywhere near the place. The Standard rate to get home to Kenny Hill was RM15. I got home at about 7.45am to a welcome hug from the Lenglui, a cup of Cafe 21 and a lazy day to get over the jet lag. Good to be home.

EPILOGUE

I did enjoy this IWFS Festival. The food, the wines, the people, the restaurants, pretty much the entire vibe of Auckland. Enough to engage yet not as standoffish as some of the big towns come across to be. Food highlights were the fish and chips at the Shakespeare, the lamb at the Sails, the lamb and Pavlova at the Giraffe, the Auckland Domain, the Salmon at the Tantalus Estate. Wine highlights were the Quartz Reef at Sails, the Nautilus Albarinho at Giraffe, the fizz and the Cochette at Tantalus. People and places highlights - the view from the Sails, Simon at the Giraffe and the lawn at Tantalus. But ultimately it is the IWFS pilgrims and the coming together in search of new experiences and tastes and the camaraderie that comes with it. Reconnecting with old faces and friends, making new connections with others - can't fault it. Well, maybe I could - the inner Scotsman did find the costs leaning toward the stiff with regard to the pre and post tours. Which was partly why I did my own to Marlborough and taking in visiting a cousin en route from there to Auckland - though the Bed and Breakfasts in Blenheim are all around the NZD140 mark unless you go real budget - the 15 on Dillon was NZD145 a night and the NZD75 Hop On Hop Off Bus and the NZD195 for the Dog Point picnic started to add up. Not the cheapest of places to holiday, but for the probable once in a lifetime you just shut your mind and pay. And as a result I have some priceless memories from across the bits of New Zealand that I did. 

Observations

I found the amount of water that comes out of the public taps and toilets across the nation to be utterly astounding. At least a pint is delivered from a tap for you to just wash the hands after a pee. Unbelievable. Given the water shortages that are impacting the globe, one wonders whether and how such a natural resource can be preserved or packaged for sale and export - ice it up and float it to Australia? 

Scenery wise, New Zealand lives up to its reputation, though I didn't do the South of the South Island which is apparently the prettier part in Natural Wonder terms. This should happen next year via a cruise that does all the major Sounds and ends up back in Auckland. But there certainly seemed acres of open space along the route that the bus took from Hawera to Auckland. And some stunning vistas and landscapes - Mount Fuji like cones caked with snow suddenly popping up from behind a hill, all impressive and impassive and dominating in their presence. 

The people I encountered were mostly from across the services sector, though I was also able to interact with "real" people in "real" places. There seem to be a preponderance of females in senior positions in the business sectors that I encountered - wineries, hotels, restaurants, stores, driving the bus. My cousin runs a Sports Chiropractor Surgery with hubby, and a brilliant fish and chip shop in Wellington equally operated by an enterprising 20 something girl with fire in her eyes and originating from somewhere in the sub continent. For some reason it just seemed noticeable. Perhaps it is just that New Zealand doesn't seem to pay that much attention to differences to the genders; if you can do it and you have a fire under your butt to achieve it then all power to your ambitions and dreams. Amen to that.

I found there is both a warmth and a distance in the people, seemingly dependent upon how remote you are from large urban centres. People in cities are pretty much the same the world over - always on the move, save for the crusties living rough and panhandling their ways through life. Though now most city folk have a nose in a phone through which all the important stuff comes to advise, inform or distract. The more remote are keen to strike up a conversation and suddenly you have their whole life history and they have yours. Confidence of a stranger kind of thing - you are sharing bits about yourself you haven't raked over for decades. My driver from Blenheim to Picton, and a lady on the bus from Wellington to Hawera - they seemed able to draw out old, old memories to share as a story to keep the flow going. I remember reading years ago that the greater the distance between homesteads then the more critical it becomes to maximise human contact when it happens. Yet there is little in what we might term as social mixing in the boonies. Families will come together for sports and daytime events, but once the sun puts up the shutters for the night then so apparently do people close their front doors. And so do the pubs - well, pub singular; I was in the mood for a nightcap beer at my "hotel" in Hawera and got there at 9.30pm to find the bar closed. This is apparently just the way it is. The people close early. 

I also observed a small element of "redneck" in Hawera where I was at a breakfast shared with some of the male "rustics" of the town. They seemed to be having a whingefest sharing feelings of being ignored by the Government but still getting their wallets squeezed via increasingly inadequate pensions. Well, at least one of them was holding this particular court with presumably his regular breakfast mates. I was earwigging all this; they must get variations of the same tirade every morning, all wallowing in the same misery. Reminded me of my pub days in Wales; there would always be someone bemoaning their lot. Also been there. Managed to escape. 

So....  overall, I would gladly go back to Marlborough, Wellington, Taranaki and Auckland. The food, wines, people and places are definitely worth a return should the occasion arise. Not always cheap, but there is value in terms of freshness and expertise in the food and wine and growing senses of adventure in the cuisine. You can maybe cut corners in accommodation (or get amazingly lucky with bus fares), but overall you get what you pay for and the differences are not that large. March was an excellent time to visit weather wise, and apparently high summer can get brutal. 

And that is it. Great memories for me, some unforgettable experiences, some fabulous eats and drinks, and a record of it chalked uphere to eternity (assuming the servers keep running!). Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed the ride, and maybe see you somewhere in the world!!
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International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Saturday 9th March 2019 - Day Two

AUCKLAND CITY TOUR
LUNCH AT GIRAFFE, VIADUCT HARBOUR 
GALA DINNER, STAMFORD PLAZA HOTEL 

AUCKLAND CITY TOUR

I half remember a fuzzy and late breakfast before joining everyone gathering at the hotel entrance to board the bus for a tour around the city. The weather looked as if it had finally turned against us, with grey skies and rain in the air. I recall a couple of random "Good Mornings" with the pilgrims, though I hung around in the background more than anything - me and mornings after are not normally happy playfellows. 

There would be two buses taking us around the city. The first already had a queue lined up to board so I headed for the second. We were soon all present and apparently axcounted for and ready for the off. 

The bus driver was an intense grey haired and wiry lady of at least sixty and probably near seventy, with a wry and dryish sense of humour. She was also the commentator for the tour, though much of the commentary seemed to be her observations on the traffic or the weather or random thoughts on New Zealand life and the people who lived in her part of town. Which was quite entertaining, though perhaps a shade less informative than some might prefer. Seems we were originally going to do the famous view from Mount Eden, but got told by the driver that the rain and clouds had put the mockers on that idea. We were instead taken on a quick round of the town centre area before heading out to Newhaven (recognising the Sails where we had our dinner the night before) and going across some large bridge type structure before coming back in to again cross the city and into the Mission Bay area for stop on a hilltop overlooking a stretch of sea. The map suggests this to have been the M J Savage Memorial Park because there was a, er, Memorial there. There was also a toilet which got some immediate use. Getting off the bus, the pilgrims splintered off into their various couples or foursomes or singles and wandered about the pathways. It had already started to spit rain as we got off the bus and it increased in spittage as the grey clouds rolled in and the rain started coming in with a serious windy vengeance. Those with umbrellas continued on a short walkabout whilst those not so well equipped grimly hung out in a canteen on the hill to shelter and wait for the bus doors to open. 

The rain kept in for the rest of the morning and put the total kibosh on any decent photos of the City Tour. Om. Our driver told us that the main destination in Mission Bay is a place called Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life. This is a favoured destination of families keen to look at the fish and (according to the brochure) actually swim with sharks. It was clearly popular given the scarcity of parking space there for the many cars looking to muscle their ways in. There you go. 

We passed a number of seaside style bars and restaurants all looking a bit forlorn in the rain before the bus took us around the "rich" area of expensive properties and homes to ogle at the opulence and manicured front areas. In my experience, quite a few of the city tours do this, and I am never quite sure why. I guess it must be some projection style fantasy of living such a gifted lifestyle that is beyond most of us in this lifetime. Wealth beyond imagination. Or maybe it is my lack of imagination is the problem...  I thought I noted a tinge of envy in our driver's commentary. Lucky rich b******

The bus then headed back to the city via one of the highlights of the morning for me - passing through the Auckland Domain area around the Hospital and Auckland War Memorial Museum. This was a delightful area of greenery and walks and would clearly make for a splendid couple of hours wandering through this parkland. One of the guidebooks talked about a walk that could be followed which takes in the Auckland Art Gallery. I made a mental plan to do this on my spare day before my flight out of Auckland (though it would not eventually come to pass - see later scribbles). We then drove through a very pretty section of town called Parnell, chock full of roadside stores, before coming back into familiar territory of Auckland Centre. We then drove along one of the Jetties to turn back around and get us nearish to our lunch destination. Apparently. After we got off the bus we ended up walking back up along the jetty we had driven down. Someone had a Google Map and most of us followed. Naturally we overshot. I veered off and found a friendly restaurant that turned a blind eye to my stealing a pee in the toilet. On coming back out, the clouds had again burst and unleashed a drenching torrent of rain on the wharves and anyone stranded thereon. I was saved by my portabrolly and packaway raincoat and wandered back along the wet and slippery wharf. I spotted a familiar face sheltering in a restaurant entrance who told me the lunch venue was a bit further along and could I give him a brolly lift. Which I did. And got a pretty good soaking in the process - lesson here is never share a portable brolly with a six foot Italian Australian man. 


The Giraffe at the, er, Giraffe
LUNCH AT GIRAFFE, VIADUCT HARBOUR 

Our IWFS blurb said that "After our tour, we’ll be lunching at Giraffe, Simon Gault’s restaurant where he presents an eclectic variety of dishes using both traditional and molecular techniques. Following lunch, for those not involved in the Presidents’ Round Table, there will be an opportunity to either take a cruise under sail on the harbour on board the sailing scow Ted Ashby for one hour or visit the Sky Summit Tower." I had originally opted to go sailing but got pressganged into attending the Round Table - see later. 

The Giraffe is a relative newcomer to the Viaduct Harbour section of Auckland. Helmed by NZ Food Celebrity Simon Gault, Giraffe is "a celebration of everything that makes New Zealand great. Home grown, showcasing the finest local producers and growers our country has to offer (yet) mature enough to recognise that occasionally the very best ingredients are from further afield."

Giraffe IWFS Menu and the starters
Giraffe looks to capture a "spirit of innovation" in its preparation and presentation of delicious dishes, and is "uncompromising in our promise to surprise and delight every time." It also looks to engender a spirit of sharing - dishes and knowledge - with an aim to "capture the essence of friendship and conviviality" and "share in the same narrative of quality, pride and passion for the end-result. At Giraffe, we’re all about personal connections."

So, as said I was a bit bedraggled and dripping as we entered the restaurant where my hitchhiker grabbed a couple of large gamps to retrieve the remaining refugees. We were greeted by this huge fluffy giraffe in the bar area, clearly the mascot of the place and presumably waiting for selfies - some of us were not quite in the mood. Well, one of us wasn't…    To add to this damp picture of misery, most of the plum seating had been taken by the earlier arrivees and the tardy and bedraggled had to wetly plonk ourselves down wherever we could. Not the best form of introduction to the assembled. I found myself again next to Dr Jag and Malkit and opposite Richard and Pam Hinds from Washington in the USA. I divested my anorak and wiped myself down with the pocket bandanna whilst some kind soul took the wet brolly and parked it with other wet brollies. 

Jaya from IWFS Kuala Lumpur and Richard from IWFS Washington USA
The Giraffe is bright and light and airy, with large glass window doors at one end and the open kitchen at the other. Seating is long stretches of tables along with a bar stool area in front of the service doors. Nice breezy feel about the place and the young keen staff. Who quickly poured an introductory glass and started piling food on the tables. 

The Whitebait Rolls
I have no note on the Smoked Kawahai ((NZ term for Australian Salmon) Pate, though I do remember wolfing it down on the excellent though darkly black bread. Though I don't remember much in the way of fish flakes like the photos on Google suggest it should be. My photo of the Giraffe version shows it to be green and avocado like. And the Giraffe breakfast menu shows Avocado on sourdough toast. So perhaps there was a late replacement. So it goes. No one seemed to notice and happily wolfed away. Chunky gunky and salting the tongue and mouth with good healthy infused ooze. Yum.

My note on the Pork Belly wafer is "wicked". It was a bacon pork roll with some creamy goat cheese and wrapped in a leaf. Brilliant combo that ticked all the boxes of this closet Chinaman and total sucker for anything pig. It was excellent. Though I somehow missed getting a photo - clearly too busy hoovering these bad boys down…

Ambience at the Giraffe
I have a note on some Ceviche which is not on the menu - perhaps a late addition. It was very good. I particularly liked the mashed pepper which gave piquant fire and bite to the fish (which tasted of Snapper but could have been pretty much anything). There was also a tongue stabbing Ginger bite in the sauce and a dollop of parsley made for a peppery pop. 

The unexpected Ceviche
My notes say the Whitebait was a bit soggy, though the excellent bread and the yuzu mayo made it all a delightful chew with a zesty bite.

Nautilus Albarinho - yum
For the first part of the lunch we were drinking the Nautilus Albarinho which was lovely. Lightly crisp and floral and the smoothest of finishes, it slipped through the system like a harbour yacht in a summer breeze to be first across the Americas Cup line. Most excellent, and very versatile in matching nicely with all of the starting dishes. Will definitely look to buy this one in Malaysia if we see it. 

The second part saw a Rose getting poured which on first blush felt a bit okay only but proved a deceptive beast when I found myself feeling quite smashed half way through the lamb. With which, it needs to be said, the Rose was not a brilliant match. The cutting acidity and nice fruity balance made it more of a chugging party wine rather than a reflective sip to help the meat go down. So it goes. Or went. 

The excellent lamb - double yum
Myself and some of the others on the table observed that the wine was feeling a bit thin in the pourings. The IWFS Pilgrims are a thirsty bunch at the best of times and today the refills felt a shade tardy and parsimonious. The staff were clearly in awe of the Bottle Meister ladies and could only relay our requests to these Guardians of the Booze who seemed to be holding on to the precious bottles against the barbarian hordes. Or at least the barbarian horde singular that was me. There you go - I guess they were under instruction somewhere up the line to ration so that the guzzlers did not suck it all down before others got a first taste. Fair enough. Though I seem to recall someone on our table buying a bottle to stave off the drought. Very necessary. During the lunch, new friend Richard starting talking about wines made in Virginia which was quite instructive - I never realised grapes grew in that part of the USA. He praised them highly - I will have to look for them when next in the United States. 

The lamb was excellent. Coming out in two-rib cutlets, you could slice it down the middle with a genteel knife and fork or grab it by the bone and bite through viking style. Totally wicked either way. Perhaps a shade rare, but hugely tender and full of succulent taste and firm bite and chew. Memorable. 

The brilliant Pavlova
The Pavlova was equally excellent. The freshest, lightest creamiest cream, sweet crunchy biscuit, superb fruits. It was wicked good creamy delicious and totally more-ish. Both this and the Lamb are definitely worth a return for. 

Chef/Owner Simon Gault showing off his cheese...
I managed to squeeze in a quick chat with the hugely affable owner and Executive Chef Simon Gault before he came out to introduce the cheese. The Giraffe website says Simon "continues to be at the forefront of New Zealand's innovative restaurant and dining scene. His ability to capture the culinary zeitgeist and personalise it with his own unique twist, captivates tastebuds and the imagination." I couldn't seem to find too much detail on Simon's background, save that he did a stint on MasterChef NZ, has written a number of cookbooks and seemingly endorsed a range of products in supermarkets across the land (NB shoutout to the nationwide Countdown supermarket chain, my source of bread, ham and cheese for the various bus and boat rides across the nation). 

In our chat, Simon confirmed that all the food was farm to plate and made to traditional New Zealand style preparations. His passion for the result was evident and infectious. Quick to smile and generous with his time, Simon is a massively easy chap to like. 

Say cheese? No, EAT cheese!!
The cheese had apparently been flown in from Nelson in the South Island that morning. It was an 11 month mature Sheep cheese with a white vein and figured it for a perfect ending to the lunch. And so it would prove - a good easy bite with a slight smoky mouthfeel. All in all, an easy breezy but filling lunch with excellent dishes throughout. Very happy to go back to the Giraffe any time. 

Giraffe by Simon Gault
85–87 Customs Street West
Auckland
(09) 358 1093

Breakfast
Monday–Friday 7am till 11:30am
Saturday–Sunday 8am till 11:30am
(Kitchen closed 11:30am-12pm)
Lunch
Monday–Sunday 12pm till 4pm
Dinner
Monday–Sunday 6pm till 10:30pm

IWFS Menu

For The Table
Smoked Kawahai Pate - Ciabatta and Crudites
For The Palate
Crispy Pork Belly Wafer - Devilled Date
West Coast Whitebait - Bread Roll, Yuzu Mayo
Trevally Crudo - Sour Plum, Ginger, Marinated Shiitake
The Giraffe Way
Lamb Rack - Kumara, Mint Sauce, Sheep's Milk Yoghurt
A Light And Fruitful Finish
Pavlova - Whipped Coconut Cream, Kiwi Frut, Passionfruit, Berry Compote
Finale
New Zealand Cheese Selection
Table friends Philip and Christine Clark IWFS Devonshire

















The ever smiling Lydia from IWFS Western Australia

Our Lady of the Wines. And Food.

PRESIDENT'S ROUND TABLE

By the time lunch had finished, the sun had put its hat back on and was beaming brilliantly on the now sated pilgrims. It had been somewhere decided that, rather than make the bus wait and pick us up for a fifeen minute drive, a gentle ten minute stroll from the Giraffe across the road and up along Albert Street might be a better option. And so it proved - nothing like a short wander to walk off some of the lunch. A range of tour options had been scheduled for the pilgrims, whilst an informal meeting was in store for the various IWFS Branch Presidents to discuss upcoming events and basically keep each other on the same pages as to general APZ matters. I had shoehorned myself into this meeting on the possibility I would be handling APZ Newsletters in the future and thus needed to be in the know. This possibility quickly became an assertion as the meeting got underway. Most of the discussion concerned new Website, upcoming Festivals and getting new branches up and running. It was a good insight into how the IWFS meetings run - little different from most other meetings across the globe...


GALA DINNER, STAMFORD PLAZA HOTEL

Getting back to the room after the roundtable at about 4.45pm, I opted for a quick nap whilst Mossie fiddled with things Internet. Around about 6pm I figured to start to get ready for dinner so as to get out ahead of Mossie's way. Shower,..
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International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Day One - Friday 8th March 2019

The faithful would be flying back to Auckland from Napier today and checking into the Stamford, so I figured to maybe try to get ahead of them and go straight there from the Shakespeare. So I showered before making a quick breakfast sandwich of ham, cheese and bread from the remnants of the previous day (which had got parked in the room's fridge) and with some Cafe 21 instant coffee with water boiled in the kettle, it was the breakfast of champions. Little had been unpacked and the undershirt had dried nicely (having been washed the previous night and draped across the shower door under the heat of the ceiling light) so it was on with a new pair of Watson's disposable undies, yesterdays clothes, and down and out into the…  grey. Vast contrast from the previous time in New Zealand - my first day in Auckland promised little but rain. Albert Street was undergoing massive roadworks to cater to an underground railway line, and was pretty impassable. Traffic was down to one lane either way, with a fair number of roads streaming into it. There were some occasional road crossings, and I scooted across one and pretty much straight into the welcoming doors of the Stamford. 

I had little hope that any rooms would be ready and had figured to just leave the bags with the concierge and head out into town. So I was pleasantly surprised when they said a room was indeed ready and thank you for your credit card and here is the key, have a nice day. Joy would quickly turn to frustration as on entry to the room it was clear that someone had stayed there and the room had not been refreshed. I called one of the housekeeping who was doing the room next door and she spoke with front desk who called me back to the lobby to quickly (well, a bit slowly, actually - took some time trying to find a room that was equally ready) locate an alternative (room 423) which would prove more made up. Nice room, well lit and with a superb view of the Sky Tower and the roadworks. Though it differed from the previous room in that it had a twin Queen rather than the singles as requested. I did not fancy doing a Twin Queen with the Mossie, so I called housekeeping who advised that it was not a problem and would be attended to. So. Sufficiently assured, I dumped the bags, hung up what needed hanging in the wardrobe,  lightened the backpack load by removing the presently unnecessary books and papers, and headed out into the rain. 

Though not before sighting some of the IWFS faithful who had come the previous night from elsewhere in the world. We exchanged morning greetings, caught up a little, shared plans for the day and struck out on our various separate ways. 

I always carry a light raincoat that packs up into the size of a hotdog bun in the backpack along with an umbrella. These prove invaluable on days like this when the rain is incessant but you have to walk through it because it is the only free day you might have in the city. Turning right out of the hotel and right and right again brought me to Queen Street, the main shopping thoroughfare of the city. I could see lots of designer style shops across the busy road and a kind of semi pedestrianised area. My plan was to walk to where the Airport Express office was located and get some firm detail as to how to catch the bus; I did not feel like trundling my soon to be 27kg case all the way along and up this road to get there if this was the only bus stop. And it was a good thirty minute walk to get there. 

Tiffany's - not the place for Breakfast
The Airport Express office would prove a thin and narrow strip of space between two buildings along which were parked some seats and a stewardess kind of person giving out information. Seems the Airport Express makes a number of stops along Queen Street and I could just stick out my arm and it would stop to let me board. And I could pay the driver in cash. Where were the stops? Here you go, sir - I've marked a couple on the map here that you can probably use. Where are you staying? Stamford Plaza. Then either this one or this one. Brilliant - many thanks! You're welcome sir. Have a good day, yeah?

So… that was done. What now? Maybe cut back across some of the cross streets to see what was there to see and head back to the hotel for a warming coffee and finish off the ham and cheese. I had spotted a Countdown Supermarket earlier the previous day along one of the cross streets and figured to try and find it again to secure a cheaper than restaurant lunch. Didn't happen - it was only visible from either Albert Street or Queen Street - further along streets were behind a hill in the road. Not to worry - there was always the fish and chips in the Shakespeare.

More people in the Gucci queue than the Louis...
It is very pleasant to amble the streets of a new city, digging the buildings, watching the people, seeing the massive number of panhandlers and seemingly homeless dotting the streets. I saw one tent pitched between a tree and a bus stop which seemed pretty permanent, and in which lay a crusty tattoo strewn female and the inevitable dog just wasting the rainy day away. Seemed to be a lot of Maori types on the streets. But not drunk or high or wasted - these were seemingly well fed (though occasionally barefoot which I was later advised is often cultural) and healthy. Popped into a liquor store to get a handle on varieties and prices. Yep…  ethnic Indian friend behind the counter.

Hugely portable PA system - sweet
This side of Auckland could have come straight from the Mamas and Papas song "California Dreaming" because all the leaves were brown and the sky was grey and I was out for a walk on what clearly felt like a winters day. And I stopped into a church....  along the way. Apparently it was the St Matthews (though I could not see any signboard due to the rain - I got told the day after by the bus driver lady) and a pretty church with a spire and lots of parking space. It being a Friday, there was not much business being done there, but it was open and was a sit down respite from the rain so in I went. 

Can't say that I am a hugely spiritual being, though the spirit does move occasionally. And for the memory of both my parents (pretty secular) and auntie and uncle (who were lifelong followers of the catholic faith) I will look to light a candle to their memory. I have a friend who travels the world seeking out its churches and says a prayer of thanks in each of them for his joy and privilege of being able to travel. This one had no candles. It had a couple of offertory boxes so I popped in a couple of shillings to hopefully do the job. If you're listening God…

The streets on this side of the town were not offering much in the way of diversion, so I found myself back at the Stamford at around noon. I had earlier messaged my roommate to be Mossie of the room number and got a signal that he was en route to his lunch and would arrive at around 3pm.  I finished off the remains of the bread and ham and a packet of potato chips and waited for inspiration as to how to spend the next few hours pending his arrival. At least I knew how to spend the initial time - chasing housekeeping to convert the twin bed into two singles. A call quickly brought someone to inspect and fifteen minutes later a rugby looking type chap of Maori descent was in the room ripping the twin into two and bedding them up a treat. My saviour. 

During the wait for the de-twinning, I had resolved to visit the wine store recommended by Doc Wine to see what lovelies could be secured for souveniring back to Malaysia. The store was named Glengarry and a quick Google Map search located one at fifteen minute distance by foot. It was actually further along on one of the side streets I had earlier taken. I figured I could do it and get back in time to let Mossie into the room, so once more out I ventured into the rain in search of the booze. 

Glengarry has a very good selection from around the world, though naturally their New Zealand choices take pride of place. And there is one heck of a selection from all the regions on show. I spent a very pleasant hour ogling the lovelies, though as usual not really knowing which ones were better. Both Doc Wine and our usual Dear Leader had recommended some labels and wineries of note to check out. I found a couple of them and picked up three lovelies for the home return. Not cheap - about NZD50 each on average. Hope they are good. 

View from the Stamford Plaza Bar
It was a downhill trek to get to the Glengarry and a slow uphill return sufficiently laden with the treasure. But slowly by slowly does the trick and soon I was back at the Stamford. And there to meet me was Mossie, happily chatting to one of the faithful and having parked his case outside the hotel room door pending my return. I passed him the second door key, we both went up together, got his case into the room, and relaxed and chatted about our respective days. We then drifted into the free wifi before I decided to get ready and out of his way ahead of the evening's food adventure. This was to be at the Sails Restaurant in the Westhaven district of Auckland. The blurb told that Sails is "an iconic restaurant overlooking Westhaven Marina (which) has gained a reputation as one of the top restaurants in New Zealand using the freshest produce from the land and the sea." We would also be treated to a Maori welcome performed by the Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group. Of course. 

Young boy - great interpretations
of classic songs
Given my traumatic experience with the unmade room earlier in the day, I had been gifted with a drinks voucher to be used on the day. Which partly explained my reason for getting ready a bit earlier than necessary. I opted for a draft Monteith IPA from the tap and nursed it at the bar whilst listening to a guitarist and singer perform some well constructed acoustic versions of some classic songs. There was a brilliant quirky version of Van Halen's "Jump" which I would guess that most of the audience probably did not recognise let alone get what this guy was doing with it. It was excellent, more so for being unexpected in this kind of treatment of a classic tune. Didn't catch the guitar player's name. 

I started to see a number of the Faithful beginning to lurk around the doorway and figured to amble over and say a few hellos. I am not very good at this kind of cold start; always better with a couple of bubbles under the belt before attempting the schmooze. So I perambulated a bit trying to stay out of the main and lurk on the sides pending the arrival of the buses that would take us to dinner.


OPENING DINNER AT SAILS RESTAURANT, WESTHAVEN 

Welcome to Sails!
The bus was scheduled for a 6.15pm sharp away from the Stamford to get across town. There were two buses to take the seventy of us to the Sails. I clambered aboard the first one and made my way straight to the back, saying "hail and well met" to many familiar faces along the two sides. The back seat saw me sat next to APZ Chairman and old compadre from previous boozies James Lin from Taiwan and for a while we chit chatted about my helping out with the website. 

The Albert Street roadworks coupled with cars joining it from both sidestreets and a massive multistorey carpark emptying out at peak time meant that the passage that had earlier taken me five minutes to walk took 30 for the bus to negotiate. Madness traffic. Took us only about 15 to get from the end of Albert Street to our Sails halfway across the town and on the Marina. It was still light when we arrived and disembarked the bus. 

Condensed from the Website: 
Situated in the heart of Westhaven Marina (the Southern Hemisphere’s largest marina), Sails has been the preferred venue for impressive functions for three decades. Few outlooks capture the essence of a city better than the view of Auckland from Sails Restaurant. 

View across the Harbour
Part of this is the restaurant's careful design - Sails Restaurant is one large open plan room with high studs, plush décor, and a covered portico entrance. Sails offers every table an uninterrupted view over a sea of yacht masts (the "City of Sails") across to the Auckland Harbour Bridge, North Head and Rangitoto Island.

Bought over by Valerie and Philip Littlejohn circa 1998, the restaurant continues to be operated by Valerie with son Bart along with a dedicated team of hospitality professionals who have worked with them for well over a decade. These include Maitre D' Gerard Mooney, Sommelier Dean Larkin and Michelin trained chef Jeff Scott Foster who has worked under such luminaries as Marco Pierre White, Anthony Worrall Thompson, Gordon Ramsay, Albert Roux and Michael Roux Jr. 

The excellent Quartz Reef Sparkler
We knew we were a bit late so everyone quickly grabbed a glass of the fizz and got settled. There seemed to be a "hello, good you're all here, let's sit down and let the show get underway" vibe from the staff. Which it did, quite quickly - I think the group had been hanging around waiting for us to overmaster the Albert Street Traffic and wanted to get home. Of course. They started the show, despite the fact that not all the Faithful had arrived - their bus must have took a bit longer. But they all snuck in during some particularly raucous number by the band ten minutes into the show so no-one really noticed. And once you have a glass in the hand, no one really cares, eh?

I wish I could say I remembered and enjoyed what the Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group did, but there is an inner Philistine that doesn't desperately care about indigenous culture and its perpetuation which takes control and my mind and eyes begin to wander. It's a bugger… I know I should be engaged and absorbed with people's dedication to maintaining the bonds created with the elements and the spirits that pervade them and preserving the cultural connections with the land and the past…  but it just.. always... leaves me cold. Everwhere - India, Thailand, all across South America...  nothing clicks. Not to say that it was not well executed - far from it. The group performed songs in perfect harmonies (though one friend thought one song sounded extremely close to Old McDonald Had A Farm with a lot of Eee Eye Eee Eye Owe), the costumes looked authentic, the cheery way in which the band kept the show rolling, the audience participation in some cultural rhythmic performance using a ball on a bit of string - all made for a good fun entree to the evening. It was when one of the friends noticed that one of the performers had what looked like bunny ears that I totally lost it - the thought that Maori had pre dated Hugh Hefner with bunny girls severely tickled the rib. My culture is the city and the collective head bang rock music forged there in the 1970s. It is what I grew up with, it is what I know. Maybe we should do cultural exchange? I bring my music and sing and air guitar my head off. Maybe not...

Auckland Museum Maori Entertainment Group. Spot the bunny ears...
After closing with a very good but somewhat aggressive Haka, there was a short welcome speech by Festival Organiser Rowan Moss (mostly about the Foxes Island Wines that we would be drinking with the dinner) which was followed by a somewhat longer one from IWFS International Management Council (ICM) Chairman Andrew Jones. He spoke to commend the long serving IWFS Auckland members and how much he had enjoyed the pre tour through Napier and how miffed he was that he could not join the Post tour. He had to fly back to (I think) The Caymans for something. Man, that sounds like a long flight… 

Table setting at Sails
The name of the fizz we were still enjoying was Quartz Reef from the warm Bendigo region in Central Otaga (which Doc Jag would later find in a wine store in Auckland). Nicely light with lots of bread on the nose, dry and crisp mouthfeel, lovely balance with a sense of oats on the long lingering finish. Very nice drop which got sweet on the nose later in the glass. Kept calling for refills which did not go ignored. Foxes Island Winemaker John Belsham got up to talk briefly about the wines and the explosion of the food and wine culture across a single generation. As he did so, a wonderful aroma of baked bread and Rosemary wafted through the room, which underscored his comments perfectly. During a post speech question, I thought I heard someone question him with "Do you use Pork?" when it was in fact Cork. Getting deaf - there you go. 

The starter Ceviche was being paired with a 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, which was lovely and reminiscent of similar stuff produced by Smith Haut Laffite in Bordeaux. Not much on the nose but with that sweet/sour oaky ripe persimmon mouth full of unctuous honey style stewed apple and a lingering though ticklish finish. Very tasty drop. Again requests for refills did not go unheeded. I like this place. 

Ceviche
The Ceviche would be some snapper and a prawn cooked in lime juice and topped with what tasted like coconut milk and red pops of pomegranate seed sprinkled thereon. This was a textural and taste delight, with the limed fish blending nicely with the sleek white milk and crunching shallots and the Japonica giving a cute vegetal pop. Seems the Japonica grows pretty wild across New Zealand in abandoned gardens. Somewhere in all of this, I got a hit of Blue Cheese which was lovely with the wine. A very well constructed dish. Total wicked.

Hansruedi and May Peng from IWFS Kuala Lumpur
The match was…  okay, I guess. The food seemed to give a sourish Jackfruit feel, maybe as a result of the coconut milk creamily cutting the acidity. Little bit of stonefruit seemed to come through. Left with a feeling that something younger might have dealt with the dominant coconut milk a..
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International Wine and Food Society Asia Pacific
Auckland Festival March 8th to 10th 2019

A recollection and remembrance of eats, drinks, sights, sounds, and people from across the event. Organised by IWFS New Zealand, it brought members from all across the world to enjoy the food and wines of the country. 

Prologue

This one had been a long time coming. New Zealand has been a bucket list destination of mine for many years and when the IWFS announced there would be an event happening, I was pretty much first in the queue. Did NOT want to pass up or miss this one. Lenglui was not so enthralled, given the suspected absence of shopping and the fear of deciding how to amuse onseself in a nation that allegedly closed at 5pm and all weekend (actually, not wrong here, though the cities stay open a little longer…). So it would be a solo trip for me to fulfil and honour the bucket. I paid the money and waited for the calendar to tick down.

March 8th dinner was to be the official start of this IWFS Asia Pacific Zone AGM Festival in Auckland New Zealand. In this, some of the faithful had embarked on a Pre-Festival Tour in Napier and had gone lurking and plonking around the Hawkes Bay Wine Region and sampling the wares. Seems they had departed Auckland on a chartered flight to Napier on the Monday morning and enjoyed a tour of the art deco infused ambience of the town before checking into the Crown Hotel ahead of dinner at Terroir at the Craggy Range winery in the shadow of the Te Mata mountain. Second day saw everyone up for a morning tasting at Brookfields (Hawke's Bay oldest boutique winery founded in 1937) before lunch and tasting at Black Barn Vineyard with winemaker Dave McKee. Then it was sfternoon tasting at Te Mata Estate followed by dinner at the birthplace of New Zealand wine, Mission Estate. And Day Three saw the faithful opening the day with a post breakfast tasting at Trinity Hill with lunch at Kidnapper Cliffs and reserve Syrahs at Ashridge Wines to follow before resting up ahead of the closing dinner at Church Road. 

It looked a very good Pre Tour but in the end I opted against. I have a cousin living in a place called Hawera in the south of the North Island and naturally wanted to spend time with her and meet up with nephews and nieces and let them see their mad wine guzzling and rock singing uncle. They were all very sweet and welcoming and gracious to me. And had some good bonding time with long lost family. 

And prior to this, I had decided to spend four days in Marlborough Country sampling the whites and reds of this delightful region. Most of my daily drinking whites come from Marlborough so this was a bucket list item that is now fully bucketed. Though I would love to return at some time - magnificent wines and fabulous weather and food. Hope to write it all up after I finish off the IWFS stuff. 

So the entire tour was an initial four nights in Marlborough followed with an overnight in Wellington, then a five hour busride to spend three nights in Hawera then a final ten hour busride for four nights in Auckland. Shoutout to the New Zealand Intercity Bus service - very clean and comfortable, mostly well timed pee stops, mostly friendly drivers - and some amazing bargains. I had booked both rides around November 2018 through the website and initially thought there was some mistake - it was coming back with a shopping cart saying NZD1 for the trip and NZD3.95 for the website tax. But then I read further and saw that the Bus Service offers at least one seat per journey for NZD1. I went back to the shopping cart, booked the Wellington to Hawera bus for the dollar and… boom. Done. I tried the same with the Hawera to Auckland bus and… boom. Result. So my entire bus costs were NZD10 to get from Wellington to Auckland via Hawera. Unbelievable. I did make one mistake in not booking a bus from Blenheim to Picton to get the Picton Ferry to Wellington. When I later went back to book there were no bus seats available at all. Cost me NZD80 for a van shuttle. Lesson - book buses in NZ early. 

Pre Event - March 7th 2019

This section begins on the morning of the 7th with me embarking on a ten hour bus ride from my cousin's home town of Hawera with a change at Whanganui for a marathon journey through the spine of the North island to Auckland. My main concern was how was my bladder going to negotiate what would be minimal stops on the road. And I had researched that the Intercity buses had no onboard toilet. The answer? Drink less - sips rather than guzzles from the water bottle. And go immediately on the bus stopping and, if time, again before the off. I had also prepared a small diaper for drips and splashes which thankfully went un-needed. The toilet stops were sufficient, but only just - one was a three hour stint on the road. But it was a long drive, staring out the window at the initially majestic but subsequently undulating green and dusty scenery. And stopping at towns you'd never heard of before and probably would never see again but coming to realize that people spend their entire lives in isolated places like this. And with names like Taumaranui, Te Kuiti, Waitomo Caves Otorohanga - pretty, but isolated. The bus is often the only way in or out and the people seem to use it often to overnight visit friends and families in other towns before returning the long way home. Different life, eh? Maybe they fight for the one dollar trip...

And every town and village seemed to have a small well tended cemetery just outside the limits, where loved ones rested well in their peace. These were all bright and flower laden places, resplendent and seemingly alive in the green surroundings and blazing blue skies. We all have our dead, and the consistent vibrancy and brightness of the cemeteries clearly showed they were indeed remembered. Nice insight into the character of the people living outside of the cities. 

All the towns had homes that all seemed to be no higher than a single storey, and mostly of wood construction. I initially could not figure this one, but then remembered that New Zealand is volcanic and prone to earthquakes; falling bricks can do more damage than wood, though neither is to be welcomed. My cousin shared that she had recently been to Christchurch and it was desperate; the town still coming to terms with two Richter scale monsters in recent years and trying to rebuild. And I think I felt a tremor early that morning, about 7am and awake in bed. It was that kind of rumble you get when a big 16 wheeler bounces on the road outside the office, though this one was a four point burp and a building shaker. And there was no sound of any traffic outside. Definite tremor. Bit scary, too. Though a gentle reminder that if the planet or the universe says that our time is due, then our time is due and best accept it and live each day as a bonus and an opportunity to do some good. Fatalistic? Maybe. Live and let live till we die. 

We had a thirty minute beak for lunch somewhere along the road so I had a quick wander along the shops. They all seemed to be manned by people of either oriental or indian descent. This actually reflected Hawera, where many stores also had staff of similar ethnic descent. The hotels and knick knack stores seem to be eminent domain and attract people of such backgrounds from across the globe, keen to establish roots and make some money to send their kids through school and university. I saw it as a kid and growing man in my hometown in Wales and I see a reflection of it here. Economic migrants seeking to improve their lots. 

My food for the trip was some ham, potato chips, some Brie and bread rolls along with some Nut and Yoghurt bars sourced from the excellent Countdown supermarket in Hawera. Always feel better to have simple food on the road rather than take the risk of dodgy kitchens with variable hygienic situations. The runs on the road are no fun. The runs ANYWHERE are no fun. And whilst the New Zealand tapwater proved eminently drinkable, I had opted for a big bottle of the carbonated for the journey along with a plastic bottle of tap as reserve. As said, one does not need to guzzle when the pipe is a bit leaky...

The bus arrived in Auckland around 7.30pm and the driver directed me to where my bed for the night was - a five minute trundle to the Shakespeare Hotel on the Albert Street. I had opted for the Shakey on the Booking.com webbie because of its location (it would be a two minute trundle on the morrow to the Stamford Plaza which was the IWFS Festival Hotel) and the fact that it was half the price of the Stamford. It also had craft beer on tap which I figured to sample and not have to think too much about where the bed was). Check in was simple and someone gave me a hand with the now approximately 22kg bag (souvenirs from Marlborough Wineries) to hump it up two flights of stairs. 

The magnificent Fish and Chips with the Bastard
I opted to go back down for something to eat and drink and ended up with a magnificent fish and chips dinner and the creamiest pint of Guinness you could want. Getting a 10% discount on all food and drinks also helped to seal the deal. I had started drinking a house brewed beer called "Bastard" which tasted bright and hoppy and slaked the throat wonderfully well (no need now to sip with a toilet in plain sight) but the throat was demanding something more substantial and O the Guinness was perfect. Creamy, thick, rich and dark and sublimely scratching the thirst crackles off the throat and into that oblivion we know as "psssssss….." Total blissful peace with the soul and the world. 

I climbed the stairs and showered ahead of an excellent night's sleep. The bathroom was clinical and the room was fair sized, though a bit "used" in a clean kind of way. Not too many mod cons here. But hey, you get what you pay for, and it checked the boxes. I saw an Ibis Budget from the window and decided to check price - it came out cheaper than my Shakespeare, though I distinctly recall it was more expensive at the time when I was booking. Guess they couldn't rent the room and were maybe looking to knock it out last minute if they could. Fair enough. But for me, I say too late, old son - you don't show loyal to an Accor member then I go elsewhere. 

click here for IWFS Auckland Day One>>>
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IWFS Kuala Lumpur Hong Kong Jolly January 18 - 22 2019 - A recollection of Five Days of Food and Wine in Hong Kong, and how I became a Lap Cheong mule

Day Five - Tuesday January 22nd

Woke up to a pretty uneventful but intensely busy morning trying to figure the puzzle that was the packing of all of the Lap Cheong and the other foodie bits. I was concerned at the amount we were to carry. If the cases got scanned, then most if it could get confiscated - pork products coming into Malaysia? Not good methinks. So I stuffed as much as I could in my backpack, which took a lot of the strain out of the cases. All the Yung Kee and all of May's were vacuum packed so it was an easy fit to the backpack. Lenglui was able to pack the Century Eggs into her hand baggage roller. Notwithstanding, both mine and Lenglui's cases had to take one goose each along with the Lap Cheong bought from West Villa Restaurant and bagged in normal plastic. The wines were wrapped in socks and stuffed into the foam wine carriers for extra protection. It was two darn heavy cases at the end. Just as well we were flying MAS with its hugely generous 30kg baggage. 

Having solved the packing puzzle, we headed down for a late breakfast and rested up back in the room ahead of our return flight to KL. 

We checked out at 10.30 and sat in the Jen reception pending an elevator down one level to where the shuttle bus would stop. We had decided to take an earlier shuttle bus (the 11am) to the Central with a view toward buying some hard to find gin at the airport. The shuttle was quite full and the driver again opted to stack all the luggage in the front bus area; this made for much ease of de-bagging when we arrived at the Central 10 minutes later. Check in at the Central was a breeze - buy your Airport Express tickets in the machine (with group discount again - for four pax total HKD280), go through the barrier to the MAS Counter, check the bags in and stroll back out to the Airport Express train to the airport. Hugely efficient. The airport itself was a bit large and involved a fair walk to get to the immigration. We lost one of the couples on the way, and so it was that four of us parked up in the CP lounge for lunch and bubbles ahead of the afternoon flight home. I have half a memory of being in the lounge a long time ago on a transit flight from USA. Very pleasant, food not bad, though not really able to do it justice so early in the day; could have used an extra hour to have let breakfast settle. So it goes. 

The flight was at 15.10 which gave us about an hour to shop the duty free. We found the Duty Zero and snagged a bottle each of Four Pillars Gin (HKD405) and Edinburgh Gin (HKD355) for cash which pricewise seemed fair, all wrapped up in the brown foam protection mesh and plastic bagged before heading off in search of the boarding gate. 

Uneventful flight. Ate some food, watched a movie and pretty soon we were belting up to land. Quickly through immigration thanks to a designated MM2H counter and out to the carousels. 

And so we came to it - the X-Ray machine at the KLIA and the last hurdle to negotiate before the Airport Limo home. What would happen? Would they be checking all bags coming through as I had previously read? What would they say to all our booze and food? I had visions of being the poster boy for a Lap Cheong mule. Scary. I trundled with trepidation to the duty exit preparing to plead Mat Salleh ignorance...

It became a non-event - there was one guy at the machine who was being selective about who to stop (with an apparent predisposition for cardboard boxes) whilst the rest of us just kept on sailing through. I later wondered whether it was because we had got our bags along with a number of other flights and that 7.10pm was prayer time with a resultant thinning out of staff at the gates. Could be. Whatever, I breathed a massive sigh of relief as the Airport Limo counter came into view. Lenglui went off to return the RoamingMan machine to the counter in Departures and, having bought the Limo ticket, I waited for her to come back near the main exit. 

And that was it. Back home for 8.30pm, early supper of a Burger King cheeseburger that Lenglui had picked up at the Airport with a glass of our house red, unpacked for the laundry, parked the food booty in the fridge for distribution and bagging on the morrow, and sleep. My time as a Lap Cheong mule was done. Never again. Well, not on this scale. Maybe one or two packs. But not twenty. And no more goose. Geese. Whatever. 

Epilogue

This had been a brilliant trip of food, wines, friends and general merrymaking. Supremely well organised by the Money and the Bank, it took us on a great ride across their Hong Kong and, thanks to liaison with their IWFS compadres, into places we might otherwise have not got to visit. So many wonderful memories, some of which I have tried to capture in these scribblings. All the restaurants we went to were brilliant - the H Kitchen for its unique style and sense of exclusivity, the Ying Jee for some excellent dim sum, the Boardroom for the booze and farm to plate freshness, the Tycoon Tann for a wonderfully bubbly dim sum lunch, and the Tosca for the view. The IWFS Hong Kong is in process of organising a APZ Festival for November 2020, and hopefully those of us in the IWFS KL will be able to join and maybe return to these places. 

Hong Kong is a hugely vibrant place with a buzz I have not felt for years. My last visit was circa 1995 and I remember getting hugely drunk in some bar and dispensing wisdom to some guy on the verge of leaving his wife and pretty much little else. Oh, there was a walk by the dock where some locals were getting their feng shui and tai chi exercises in. I was the only gwailo and one of the assembled asked me how I knew this place. "Just on a walk from the hotel. Nice place here - feels good." He smiled and outside of a nod goodbye the rest was silence. Sometimes it is good to just follow the sense of the soul and go where the feet of serendipity take you. 


But I digress. It has been way too long to have spent away from the place. Yes, it can get expensive and this has probably militated against me going there - hotels, food, all of it can add up and whack this half Scot and half Eng Choon's heart with the costs. But you can save here and there - load up on a good breakfast at the Jen, catch a tram or the subway to Causeway or Kowloon and find the backstreet stalls to snack and feast. But if you are prepared to pay for it, the food can be exceptional, far more so in terms of its intensity and ingredient freshness across all the cuisines we could want to compare. And shut your eyes and devote your savings to the cost of the goose at Kam's Kitchen. One of the tastes of my life, seared into the soul along with the sea bass in pastry at Paul Bocuse in Lyon, the steak at the Extebarri in San Sebastian, and the Bresse Chicken at the Hotel de Ville in Beaune. An absolute and total privilege to have been able to have tasted these things, and so far still with the mobility and appetite to taste more. Roll on the next food adventure! 

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IWFS Kuala Lumpur Hong Kong Jolly January 18 - 22 2019 - A recollection of Five Days of Food and Wine in Hong Kong, and how I became a Lap Cheong mule

Day Four - Monday January 21st

Many of the Jolliers were making their various ways back to Kuala Lumpur today. Lenglui and I had decided to extend an extra day, with an original plan to take a day trip to Macao. We were dissuaded from this by the Money, who advised that it would take two hours to get there (and back) and would be not highly enjoyable given the preponderance of mainlanders visiting the Island. What about the Ferry? Faster, but still have to put up with many mainlanders. Some more, it now seems that most of the world needs a Visa to visit since it is all part of China. These can be arranged, but the story goes that it is tedious and requires patience and time and as a result better to spend an overnight on Macao rather than go through all the rigmarole just for a day trip. Fair enough. I guess. Maybe next time. Or not. 

So... following the now traditional breakfast of scrambled eggs and beans with bread and butter, we all variously lounged and rested up until 11am to get the Hotel Shuttle that would take us the ten minutes drive into Central and the IFC Mall containing shopping delights for everyone by the bucketful. The IFC also houses the Airport Express that can take people direct to the, er, airport and time it so that you can buy your ticket and check your bags, shop and eat in the Mall and then get the lift down to jump the Express and be on your plane and off into the world faster than Superman. Hugely efficient and totally integrated. Very impressed with the system. 

Those with luggage saw it parked near the shuttle bus entrance ready to get faster offloaded at the Central. The rest of us gazed out of the windows at the water and the traffic and eventually got down and headed into the bright and airy Mall. Floors and floors of stores of mostly globally known brand names of various calibre. And buzzing - people moving quite quickly through the floors with roller bags and families in tow. Lots of families, all looking well heeled and brand savvy. I must have cut a comparatively forlorn figure in my baggy chinos and walking boots. So it goes. I dress for function and utility rather than brand projection. 

Lane Crawford was the designated destination by mutual consensus (well, not that the guys had much say in this). Three couples separated and wandered their individual ways around for about an hour. I took off on a tour of the Mall more for exercise than looking to spend. Hugely spacious and with superb natural light coming through various windows in the centre. A surprisingly enjoyable walk. We eventually all met back up at the appointed meeting spot and headed off for lunch, a noodle place of apparent legend somewhere in the Mall. There was a queue to get in and it was heaving full. One of the group gave the name for the waitlist and the men wandered back along the walkway to where a wine store was conveniently located, spending a solid ten minutes ogling the lovelies. Then it was back to the Noodle Shop for a bowl of steaming and tasty noodles. Six of us were packed around a tiny table and elbowing our way to chopstick and spoon the food into the mouth. In my years in the tropics, I have adopted the Oriental way of soup eating - face close to the bowl and chopstick the noodles onto the spoon and suck it up. Or skip the spoon altogether and chopstick the noodle straight into the mouth. It might look a bit unclutured - but it is a hugely efficent way of eating this kind of dish. Also avoids splashes of soup from staining the ensemble. 

I suppose the noodles were good - can't remember too much about it nor the place except as said that it was crowded. Lots of noise too. Though apparently it is a must eat place. Well, and all right I guess. Didn't impact that much on me. Noodles is noodles, no?

We then decided to part ways, with Barry and Jan heading off to Kowloon in search of markets and the remaining four of us grabbing a couple of taxis to take us to Sogo in Causeway Bay. We could also have taken the Subway but didn't want to waste the time doing the escalators and getting confused over how to pay. Well, I didn't. We arrived at about 2.30pm and figured to meet back up for coffee somewhere in the Sogo about 4pm.

Sogo in Causeway Bay is a shopping emporium of apparent legend. The place is ten storeys of pretty much everything you could want to look for in a department store. Though initially I found it a shade confusing as we were dropped off at a side entrance and could not find the central escalators. The signage also seemed a bit thin. But it was clear that the elevators did not go down. We asked a lady who was looking after the elevator lifts in visual (viz point up, then upturned palms = up, how?) who pointed the way with a smile. Lenglui went up whilst I went down to the amazingly stocked supermarket to spend about thirty minutes ogling at all the fresh meat and fish and the well stocked and fairly reasonably priced wine racks. Though there was ultimately nothing to buy - the beauti9fully fresh meat and seafood would not survive the trip. And anyway we had already spent at the Enoteca on the Saturday.

The place was heaving. On a Monday afternoon some more. In fact, the whole of the main road was a constant moving mass of people all moving in and out of each other to their various destinations. During my time at the Sogo I popped out through a back entrance to get some respite. No chance - the backstreet was equally teeming with bodies going in and out of the various pharmacies located there. I joined the throng for a brief hunt for my magnetic soles. No joy. 

Having scaled the escalators a couple of times in an unsuccessful search for my magnetic soles, I was getting pooped so I headed back to the rendezvous spot and found a spot to sit and rest the legs for a while and plugged into the free Sogo wifi to send a couple of whatsapp messages. After about 15 minutes I spotted the Lenglui approaching looking equally pooped and told her of a coffee spot on the seventh floor. We both went up and on her approval sat down. Our friends had found another spot on the fourth floor, but Lenglui insisted they join us on the seventh as her remembrance of the fourth floor cafe was small and dim whilst the seventh was brighter and more room. They came and we shared some cake with our respective coffees. It was a very pleasant way to rest up ahead of whatever HongKong could throw at us. 

Sogo Causeway Bay
555 Henessey Road
Hong Kong
+852 2833 8338

Our dinner was to be at Kam's Kitchen, which Google Maps said was a 15 minute walk from Sogo. We were a bit early so decided we would look for a pub to pass some of the time. Google reported that there were none in the immediate vicinity. So we opted to gently walk to the restaurant and look to find somewhere on the way. We ducked into a couple of malls and along some roads but met with little success. Presumably the Mall rents militated against small scale operations. We looked into a bar in one hotel en route but decided against. Too dark and not very relaxing.

The Bar at the Hong Kong Taphouse
Back out into the sunlight, we followed my paper map which indicated a pleasant walk through the Victoria Park and out past the Tin Hau station onto Electric Road. Our destination was Mercury Street which was up a few blocks and to the left. Paul and Molly were walking strong ahead when I looked to the left and saw a bar looking style place. Lenglui took a brief stroll along this side street to confirm what was the Hong Kong Island Taphouse. Perfect - somewhere to sit down and have a couple of beers ahead of the dinner. I waited for Paul and Molly to turn around and pointed and gesticulated drinking a jug and they quickly returned. Seem to be getting quite good at this visual communication - they understood perfectly. 

Lenglui, Molly and Paul. And the beers. Yes.
The Taphouse is basically a bar and burger joint, but the edge is that they have a range of 40 craft beers from across the world on tap. And they offer a tasting of your choice of any five which comes in a wooden glass server and you can share with each other to decide which is a personal favourite and proceed to get merrily sloshed whilst watching the football. What was also interesting was the availability of Hong Kong Craft beers, which presumably not much of which would leave the island given the transport costs. So it was a grand opportunity to get a taste of the local and see how it compared with the overseas. 

Some of the available craft beers
I seem to recall we ordered some chips to go with our beers and spent a merry hour tasting the beers and figuring which one was our favourite. Though it seemed to be a strange location for a beer haunt such as this - clearly aimed at the expat crowd, it was a bit out of the way and quite quiet for a 6pm in the evening when joints like this should be jumping. Thouhg on reflection it was a Monday; maybe Fridays would be stomping. So it goes. We certainly enjoyed it. We posted a few photos on the Whatsapp Chat Group. The Jolliers seemed to like what they saw and were all keen to find out all about the place when we saw them at breakfast the following day. Teh Hong Kong Taphouse is well recommended for the thirsty traveller in need of a refresher in the Causeway Bay side of town. And a great destination for the adventurous seeking to sample craft beers from both across Hong Kong and the world. It would be be brilliant to see something like this in Kuala Lumpur. Though I suspect it will be a long time coming - not much of a craft beer culture here at this time. And probably a lot of ding dong to try to get a licence for this. So it goes. 

Hong Kong Island Taphouse
1a-1b Tsing Fung Street Flyover, Tin Hau, Hong Kong
+852 3705 9901

Think it was Foie Gras on deep fried bread. Wicked yum.
Back out into the street for a ten minute bowl along the Electric Street and looking for a Mercury Street. The Electric Street seemed to be living up to its name - lots of activity in the shops and eating places, brightly lit and buzzing. Adn with a couple of Michelin Star stickers on windows of food stalls that we passed. Seems we were at the end of the food market, lots of fresh veggies and meat still being hawked on the street. It was beginning to drizzle a bit so we put a step on and reached Kam's Kitchen pretty much on time. 

Minced Pork deep fried, I think. Double wicked yum
Kam's Kitchen is the breakaway venture from the Yung Kee restaurant talked about in Day Three where one of the grandsons set up the kitchen with the Yung Kee chef. The Money swore it is the best goose she has ever tasted and went and organised a dinner with the four of us along with Yasu and Allie who would be making their individual way there. We almost passed it, and would have done were it not  for a small sign in English on the shopwindow procaliming it to be the restaurant. In through the door, it lived up to its name - most of the place was the kitchen. Only the front area was tabled, and looked to have a capacity of about twenty maximum. Clearly one would have to book well ahead to get a table, though apparently they do a roaring takeaway trade. 

The Roast Goose. Beyond sublime. Wowowowowowowow...
The Money and the Bank were already there sorting out the wines and glasses and we sat to crack a tasty white ahead of the meal and catch up on everyone's day. 

Lap Cheong Fried Rice. Double wicked. 
I don't now remember too much of the dinner except that it was huge fun and full of taste and good wine and fellowship and that the goose was indeed the absolute top dog business. Best, best ever. The skin and the meat when combined with the special gravy that chef puts together is out of this world. Massive taste, full of rich fat and salt and grease - so, so good. I would go back there in a second. The other dishes were of equally good taste but they just paled in the presence of this awesome goose. Which was far from cheap. But wicked good. The folks back home would love it. 

Booze for the night
What I didn't know was that the Lenglui had ordered two cooked geese for takeaway to those folks back home in Kuala Lumpur. Seems that Lenglui's extended family would often come to Hong Kong and buy back the Yung Kee Roast Geese to share with the siblings. So I was somewhat shocked when two foil wrapped masses made their ways into plastic bags for transport back to the hotel for packing into the cases. Unbelievable. Smack my gob with some goose feet. So what with all the Lap Cheong and the wines and other bits we had pruchased along the trip, we would now be adding two cooked geese. And the gravy. Yes. 

Jolliers outside the Kam Kitchen, well wined and dined
Allie and Lenglui
Sanjeev, me and Yasu
Yasu, Chris, Molly and Paul
Kam's Kitchen
G/G Hoi Hing Building 5
Mercury Street
North Point
Hong Kong

Paul and Molly would get a lift back to the Jen whilst the Lenglui and I opted to brave a taxi. I didn't fancy trying to negotiate the Underground with all the booty in our possession and the booze in the system. Pay the money, shut the eyes and thank the goose gods. 

The taxi was good and fast and got us back in fair time. Have to say the cabs here are far better than expected. Clean, efficient, and fair. Puts the KL street and mall/hotel cabbies way in the shade. On the drive back to the Hotel Jen, I got a SOS Whatsapp from May. Seemed she had left all of her Lap Cheong loot in the Hotel room fridge and could someone please fetch it back for her. I guess I was first responder and was able to retrieve it from the reception and park it in our room fridge for packing. So we come to it….   what with Lenglui's purchases at both the street market and the Kam Restaurant and the Yung Kee, and now coupled with coming to the rescue of May's Lap Cheong buys, this had become a massive shedful of Lap Cheong and Roast Goose to pack back to Kuala Lumpur. Wow. Don't quite remember signing up for this. Never mind, we would figure it. Just as well we had a fair sized fridge in the hotel room - I managed to pack most of the Lap Cheong in it. The Goose would have to sit on the desk table. We turned up the aircon to keep it cool and shivered our ways to sleep and figuring that tomorrow should prove interesting. 

Click here for Day Five of the Jolly>>>
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Kudap Kudap - Malaysian Crackers
Katnook Estate Winemaker's Dinner at OpenHouse, Suria KLCC
February 21st 2019

The emailed notice for this event saw President May extending a very Happy New Year wish to all IWFS KL Members with an expectant hope for a year of good food, wine, company and memories for all. 

The notice also gave details of the February event to be held at the OpenHouse in Suria KLCC on 21st February 2019. It was to be an exclusive Society evening with Katnook Estate wines, and would be hosted  the Principal of Katnook Estate Ms Alison Hardy in partnership with AsiaEuro Wines. Seemed that this year marked the 20th Anniversary of the launch of the winery's flagship Cabernet Sauvignon, named Odyssey, and attendees were scheduled to enjoy the launch of the 2013 vintage along with a vertical tasting of previous Odyssey vintages with dinner. AsiaEuro are hugely supportive of the IWFSKL and offer access to wines that might not otherwise come available in the normal swing of wine dinners. Good discounts too.

Oxtail Soup with Garlic Toast
Katnook Estate is located on 180 hectares in South Australia's Coonawarra region nearly halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. Katnook is rated 5-star in James Halliday’s Wine Companion 2019 whilst two Katnook wines are currently included in the prestigious Langton’s Classification V11 of Australian Wines. Katnook focuses on Cabernet Sauvignon and the webbie notes wine writer James Halliday in July 2018 describing the Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon : " A majority of the grapes grown in Coonawarra go into a making a 100 per cent varietal wine. Expect a medium-bodied style with a supple palate and balanced tannins. The range of fruit flavours in the wine is largely influenced by the vintage and winemaker, covering cassis, blackcurrant, redcurrant, blackberry and mulberry when the wine is young. With age, these flavours develop into distinctive earthy, savoury and spicy characteristics."

The webbie says Katnook "aims to make wines which show subtlety, intrigue and complexity. Reflecting the essence of Coonawarra’s terroir is integral to Katnook's winemaking approach.  Cabernet Sauvignon is the undoubted hero of the Coonawarra region. However other red varietals such as Shiraz and Merlot are equally impressive. White wines are similarly unique in character and world class in quality."

Garden Ambience of the OpenHouse
The restaurant itself is located at the heart of Kuala Lumpur city center KLCC, just up and along from the landmark Chinoz on the Park. I felt the signage could be better - it is a dark shingle above a channel in the wall and a bit easy to miss. The website holds that the OpenHouse is a "modern Malaysian restaurant weaving generational recipes, a delightful space and warm hospitality into a finer dining experience." It plays on the concept of Malaysians "opening their houses" to friends and family at Festive times and having loads of food to share with everyone. The webbie continues - "One of Malaysia’s most endearing and unique experience is of “open houses” during festive seasons. It is a celebration of welcoming family, friends and sometimes even strangers to our homes to partake in the festivities over food and drinks. Special dishes are prepared, the house is dressed up for the occasion and Malaysians extend their warm hospitality welcoming guests to our homes. It is this unique Malaysian tradition that is sought to be brought to OpenHouse."

Deep Fried Tiger Prawn - pretty, yes? Tasty too...
The Maitre D' is Effendie, an old friend of the IWFS going back to Cilantro, Soleil and a few other establishments of note. He welcomed everyone he recognised and it is always good to see a friendly face when you come through the door. Seems that our group was the first large scale the restaurant had to cope with. Outside of the lack of welcome glasses, I thought they did pretty well - the glasses got refills on request and the food came out as quickly as it could. Friendly and attentive and discreet - what more needed?

The Duo of Poultry - Chicken and Duck
The decor itself is warm and welcoming, though as said perhaps a shade dark at the entrance. The place sits 42 (just) and there was extra room in a bar area for people to presumably sit before being escorted to tables. 

The Duo of Red Meat - Lamb and Venison
Members were thronging around the entrance and tables and getting the booze flowing. Though none of it would flow my way for a good seeming ten minutes due to there being insufficient glasses to accommodate the new entrants. So whilst others were clearly getting a second refill, the new arrivals were being left to thirst. Not good planning here - I had to bark a couple of times to get the staff moving. Eventually the glassware surfaced and some of the pleasant and easy drinking first white soothed the aching and stressed out brow and the evening was back in decent sync. Very nice Chardonnay, tropical with banana and hazelnut notes in the mouth and with sufficient friskiness to titillate and slake. 

The Keria Churros - wicked good
The notice said that the kitchen has "rediscovered traditional recipes, and royal household recipes to create modern Malaysian cuisine. Recipes that have been passed down through generations, and respectfully renewed for today.  We have also foraged our rainforest for jungle produce. With a multi-cultural history, rich biodiversity and natural hospitality, OpenHouse weaves a magical modern Malaysian dining experience at the heart of Kuala Lumpur just below the Petronas Twin Towers." The place came well recommended by a number of the members and all were keen to repeat the experience. Fair enough. And the chef apparently was once with the erstwhile mentioned Chinoz On The Park but presumably set off for pastures new. Clearly the new pasture was not too far away.

(l to r) Dr Rajan, Stephanie, Mubina, Ajmal, May Peng and AsiaEuro's Michelle
Well and yes and I guess I got most of the concept. Traditional well made Malaysian cuisine in an upmarket setting made sense. There has not really been a fine dining Malaysian cuisine restaurant that showcases the best of such traditions and OpenHouse makes a fine front runner for such a concept. I can see it becoming a "go to" destination for visitors inquisitive enough to want to understand and enjoy the opulent grandeur of the setting. Smart thinking by the owners and operators of the place. I wish them success. 

Vanessa and Jessica
Again no notes of the food at the table and the memory now has faded, though I do seem to recall enjoying the food and the company and the wines. Visually, very good plating. I certainly remember scarfing down all the churros of both my serving and that of the Lenglui. Which suggests that the food was a shade insufficient to quench such evident burning hunger. The crackers were similar to those one finds in Indonesian establishments and eaten similarily with fresh ground chili sauce, the prawn was hugely fresh and with very good bite, Ox Tail stew was meaty and full of vim. The duck was full and firm and crispy skin salt tasty though the turkey lacked somewhat in taste terms for me. The lamb was good, the venison also, and all went well with some delightful Cabernets. They all naturally tasted similar, though the older ones presented better on the night than the tannic young ones. All have pretty good ageing potential, though the 2013 seemed more robust and balanced. The Katnook website notes that the Katnook Odyssey 2013 is: "One of 53 wines listed in the ‘Outstanding’ category of the Langton’s VI, Classification of Australian Wine. This 20th release is rated 96 points in Halliday's 2019  'Wine Companion'." It was good and drinkable but for me lacking somewhat in heft and body. I like my Cabernets with a firm whack in the throat and chest and with that velvet silkiness that coats the throat with unspeakable loveliness and bite - almost chewy and a drop that you want to keep and swirl around the mouth forever. Napa do them perfectly - Joseph Phelps Insignia and one whose name escapes me at the moment which I bought during a trip to New York. Also the Tom Price I shared with the Rubber Baron at the Butcher's Table - Cabs that seared their way into the brain and soul. I didn't quite get that with the Odyssey. Well made and excellent with the lamb and steak and certainly way less bold than some of the tannic monsters I have previously drunk. But just missing that texture that for me marks the good from the great. Guess I have to try more Aussie Cabs. 

Lenglui and Hans
Would I go back? Not entirely sure on this showing… but this showing does not allow the place to show off in its more natural context (ie covers coming in at an easier pace rather than looking to serve 42 mouths at one go. I do seem to recall the kitchen slowing a bit in its output during the night. No bad thing - allows one to get up and chit chat with the rakyat. Some of the dishes mentioned by previous patrons were not on the menu, so again a need to return and check out the specials and recommendations. Have to check the corkage too; old friend Affendi is in control of the place. 

OpenHouse staff surprising President May with a Birthday Cake and song
THE MENU
Pre Drinks
Kudap Kudap - Malaysian crackers
Katnook Estate Chardonnay 2015

Appetiser
Deep Fried Tiger Prawn, Murasaki Potato served with Horseshoe Crab Rice Kerabu
Katnook Estate Chardonnay 2015

Soup
Oxtail Kepayang Black Nut with Garlic Toast
Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Duo of Poultry
Smoked Duck Breast with Ingkung Sauce and Sapodilla Salsa
Pan Seared Roulade of Turkey stuffed with Sambal Kelapa
Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2006
Katnook Estate Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2009

Duo of Red Meat
Rolled of Baked Venison Rendang and Renday Gravy
Pan Seared Lamb Cutlet with Sultana and Spice Sauce
Katnook Odyssey Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 and 2009

Dessert
Keria Churros
Orange Sweet Potato, Wheat Flour, Milo and Caramel Salted Butter

Coffee or Tea

Open House, 
G48 and 139 Ground and First Floor Suria KLCC, 
Jalan Ampang, 50088 Kuala Lumpur
Tel +603 2162 0888

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Gin One at the Mercat
March 14th 2019 - Went for a Natural Wine event at Roost in Bangsar last night. Roost is one of the pioneer farm to plate and as natural as can get it eateries in Kuala Lumpur. We were last there a couple of years back for a friend's birthday and had not opportunity nor reason to return. So when friend Kit whatsapped the flyer to us we figured to give it a go. 

I have to say that as yet I can't quite get into the natural wines. The biodynamics, yes but the natural and organics, no. Somehow the biodynamic wines leave all the artisan and natural in the shade; I have had some stellar naturals but in the main they all seem to have that slight vinegar tinge about them, a sharp acetic zap in the mouth that I don't quite find friendly as compared to the usual plonk. Presumably it can be acquired, and respect to all winemakers who resist the path to easier viticulture. I just can't quite get the taste for them at this time…

Natural and organic have been de rigeur for years and getting out of the way and letting nature do what nature does seems a fair strategy. But nature needs sometimes to be nurtured and channelled to prevent odd tastes getting into the juice and denigrating from the wonder that can result with a little bit of creative viticulture. And I do somewhat rebel at what can occasionally become an automatic monklike reverence for the Natural winemakers as they pursue their saintly mission to produce wines as close to the earth as naturally possible. They are artisans and we should revere them for their dedication and commitment. Well and maybe, but if the stuff they produce leaves a sour taste in the mouth…

Gin Two at the Mercat
Lenglui and I deliberately got there a shade early to line the mouth with one each of The Mercat's excellent Gin mixes. They occasionally showcase new gins for us punters to try and the ones on show tonight were delightful - a traditional style from the Oregon pre prohibition era and a floral Spanish fruit bomb which was total gangbusters with some added strawberry - one of the best and freshest tastes I have had for a while, reminiscent of those ice cream filled fruit lollies we would get as kids from the store. Not cheap though - RM65 for a double - but close the eye to this one. So, so good. 

We made our way to Roost, meeting two fellow guests on the way, climbed the stairs and found our table. The room is a minimalist echo chamber with hard walls, floors and tables and very little in the way of sound absorption making meaningful conversation pretty difficult for the marginally deaf like myself. Felt more like a school canteen with the kitchen on one end alongside which our table was parked. 

Goat Cheese and Fig Salad. Okay...
The wines had been brought in by Straits Wine, and though I have had regular contact with the firm over the years, none of the people pouring the wines looked at all familiar. So it goes. I did get recognised by old friend Victor who was still bringing in his Spanish Passion delights for the Malaysian palate and plate. Always good to see an old face. 

Foodwise, the bread and wagyu butter with a sprinkling of fried shallots was stellar. Melt in the mouth creamy salty fat and shallot crunch on fresh wholewheat bread is a little taste of heaven. The Raventos Blanc de Blancs fizz was a good yeasty match with very fine bead that did not quite rinse the mouth but went down pleasantly nonetheless. There was something almost a bit prep school and wholesome about the fizz, kind of like a liquid Richard Quest from CNN, all zap and zest and jolly but a little acerbic underneath it all. Different from the usual bubbles,  a nice bit of bite on the mouth and finish.

The ceviche was a shade firm though full of taste though the condiments seemed to lack something in the fire they were presumably supposed to lend - coriander felt a bit limp and needing a boost of verve. The soft shell prawn in the bun was excellent - batter, crunchy prawn and mouth friendly chinese steamed bun combined with the kimchi to produce a taste and texture that was at once full and filling yet sparked with crispy bites to crunch through to the fire that lay at the base of the submarine bun. Kind of KFC Crispy Prawn Hot Dog. Wonderful. 

The excellent Chicken Liver Pate
It was being matched with a Chard that was just the wrong side of artisan for me - it had that sharp acetic quality that I seem to find in many of the natural wines I come across in these food and wine adventures. The batter did take the edge off the Chard, but a buttery Chablis would have sent the thing ballistic.

The superb Chicken Liver pate was being matched with a Pedro Ximinez Spanish dry sherry style that seemed a bit confused - it was at once sweetly unctuous whilst at the same time dry and almond nut chewy. Good, but somehow artisanal in feel and not quite sure who or what it was looking to be. The sweet aspect lent the pate a base on which to sit but I couldn't quite fathom the match between them. Perhaps I just didn't like this style of wine, though I do enjoy a good oloroso with the best of them. 

The Goats Cheese and Salad and Mushroom Padano came out almost together and were being paired with some red. At this point, things seemed to be getting somewhat over wholesome. The Padano had that husky oatbran feel about it whilst the wine was very barnyard and somewhat frizzante, as if some yeast had been left in the bottle and had kicked up some bubbles. And again, that slight acetic mouthfeel that, frankly, on this occasion made me want to spit. You have to like that wholesome veggie style of cuisine, and whilst I occasionally do the attempted match with these wines just did not work for me. And while the artisan train does look to romance with the best of them, piss and vinegar is still piss and vinegar.

Ceviche of Grouper
Lenglui had been passing her wines and food to me for clearance and hoovering most of the night. At the taste of the red, though, we decided that enough was enough. Equally, I was feeling a bit woozy and my head was starting to spin. So I claimed legitimate JetLag, made my excuses, paid our bill and left. 

Overall, Roost offers enjoyable food that would have sung with higher caliber wines. Not sure if they charge corkage, but given that some of these wines were on their winelist then perhaps better to bring and pay. Or stay at the Mercat with the Gin cocktails and their excellent porky bites. I was not overawed by the canteen ambience, though the passion in the place is evident and to be celebrated. For me. the lesson has been learned. No more natural wines for the Gwailo. Or the Lenglui. As the fridge magnet says, Life is Too Short to Drink Grim Wine. Amen.

Menu
Ciabatta Bread and Wagyu Butter
Ceviche of Grouper, Miso, Chili and Coriander
Steamed Bun with Soft Shell Prawn and Kimchi
Chicken Liver Pate on Charred Bread
Goats Cheese, Pecan, Figs, Vinaigrette, Salad, Chicken Innards
Mushroom "Barleyotto" Padano
Capunti, Scallops, Estragon
Croquettes of Confit Duck and Foie Gras
Wagyu Rump Tartare, Chips, Caviar and Herbs
Local Chees (Opal, Tomme, Sarawak)

Wines

Not a clue other than the Raventos Blanc de Blancs NV - left before could take a photo. 

The Crispy Prawn Bun - wonderfully satisfying
Roost
69.1 Jalan Telawi 3
Bangsar Baru
Kuala Lumpur
tel: +603 22011710
website: www.roostkl.com
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February 20th, 2019

Got invited by the Lenglui's Godfamily to try the food at the Yen Restaurant in the relatively new W Hotel on Jalan Ampang. Parking in the complex would prove easy (though stiff at RM25 for our three plus hours) and the lift took us straight to the door where we got ushered through the spacious main area into the equally spacious private room at the back. This was actually quite special, affording a vista view to the twin towers and a look down into the cratered and scorched earth that is the remains of what was once the glorious Bok House. Better et this view while you can, chances are whoever owns this plot of land will build on it and block the view (or should that be "Bok" the view... no). 

Table in the Yen Private Room
14 of us were parked around a massive red round lacquer table on solid and immoveable chairs. Our host has been a follower of the Chef here at the Yen through his time at the Renaissance, the Shangri La and a couple of other places. I remember his pig at the Renaissance as being finestkind and his Hokkien Mee is still the taste of legend. On his move to the Shang Palace, the pork aspect needed to be sidelined as the hotel became halal (ostensibly to easier facilitate business from the non pork consuming section of Malaysian society) and equally here at the W is was no pork. 

The dried scallop was indeed dry, though mostly as a result of the crab meat lacking any juice whatsoever (though not lacking in bits of shell that needed expectorating) - I have had better elsewhere. The Szechaun Eggplant was special request and on tasting it I remembered why - fiery spitz on the tongue yet with a sweet caramel sauce and the gunge of well cooked strips of brinjal were dynamite.

Soup - magnificent
The soup that followed was epic - Chinese Herbal with the usual boiled dry chicken and rubber chewy abalone, but serving it in a coconut and allowing the flesh to cook in the heat brought an amazingly delightful and sweet touch to the broth. The single Garlic chip on the plate was presumably for salt taste - I crunched it down on its own and it was a cracking little snap on the tongue; could happily have platefuls of these with beer and football. One of the better soups I have had, ever. 

The Giant Grouper had been cooked and cut and doused with its juice and chili. It was still cooking over those candles and I think by the time it got to me it had just flipped into overcook. My small chunk was firm and drying. So it goes. Would perhaps have liked to have seen the boy before it got drawn and quartered to assess the size. I did not touch the beancurd - I have a serious jones about beancurd; last two times I ate it the thing seemed to dislodge stones in the kidney and cost a shedful of ringgit to get treated. The Gwailo does not do beancurd. 

Serving of the Giant Grouper
I enjoyed the beef ribs. Mouth melt, tender, taste, no strings - I thought it extremely well prepared and presented and would happily have taken this home for breakfast. Not sure about the wine or the broth - there was a gravy looking substance on the dish, so perhaps this was it. Very rich, finestkind. Worth a return for this.

Beef Short Ribs
In contrast, the Oyster was awful - metallic, undercooked, and with that baked cheesy gunk on top. Darn sad - it was one of those humungous Pacific boys and would probably have been magnificent with just a dab of lemon juice. Definite fail for me and the Lenglui, though the rest of the table wolfed them down molto gusto. Maybe not a Western taste. 

Oyster. Pretty grim, sad to say
I passed on the Abalone and Sea Cucumber as usual and was thus able to get stuck into the Hokkien Mee. When it comes to this dish, Chef is absolute legend. People still remember his cooking it from twenty years previous. As do I - the stuff we would have at the Renaissance was brahma, sublime, whatever similar word you can come up with. Rich black sauce, not overly sweet, firm noodles, lots of tasty pork and ladles of Chee Ho Jiak (deep fried croutons of pork fat) - ho, ho seck. One that is totally seared in the memory. 

Abalone and Sea Cucumber
In a non pork environment, Chef turns to chicken and prawn for the proteins and created a wildly tasty substitute of Duck Fat for the Lard. It worked extremely well, giving that fatty crisp bite in the mouth to coat the mee and the meat. In this, the prawns were some of the freshest and best I have tasted for a while - excellent bite on these boys. One can only lament the absence of connection between chef and pork, though this was far from a bad dish. But O, the Hokkien Mee of the past….

The Pork Free Hokkien Fried Mee
Dessert
Dessert was… okay, I guess. Almond Milk is a new experience for me, and I think I got it. Gingko beans lent a sweet vegetal crunch, and I guess the snow fungus gives a fibrous rubber like texture. The Green Tea Yam was actually pretty tasteless on its own but it became the perfect crunchy foil for the amazingly tasting Salted Egg Yolk in the middle. Absolute belter - gooey egg with layers of taste and texture was wonderful - Asian version of a Cadbury's Creme Egg but savory over sweet. Someone offered me another - I opted to refuse, preferring to savour this brilliant mouthfeel of gunk and goo. Belter of a taste. 

Drinks were Chinese Tea and a couple of New Zealand Pinots which were well received and the light texture and cherry pop mouth matched quite nicely with most of the dishes. This group enjoy a little taste of the wines but I don't think they drink sufficiently to warrant investing over the longer term. Never mind - happy to share the booze. 

Ambience and views were excellent, the service was attentive and polite and efficient (though I decided to take over wine pouring duties for the table - a shade slow in this regard). 

So…  the hits were brilliantly on target whilst the misses were pretty grim. Overall, quite enjoyable (though would have been more so had I opted for a lighter lunch). Worth a visit, though I can't see a return for me in the near future - RM25 to park the car? Nope. Better to park up in KLCC and walk across, though that can be a whack as well…


Menu
MENU 
Dried Scallop, Fish Maw, Scrambled Eggs, Crab Meat, Bean Sprout, Szechaun Egg Plant, Lettuce Leaf

Double Boiled Anoectochilus Soup, Abalone, Farm Chicken, Yunnan Aged Black Garlic, Whole Coconut

Steamed Giant Grouper Fish, Hinan Yellow Fermented Chili, Beancurd Sheet

Slow Cooked Grain Fed Wagyu Beef Short Ribs, Aged 10 Years Hua Diao Wine, Chinese Herbs Broth

Baked Japan Oyster, White Sauce, Cheese

Braised Abalone, Sea Cucumber, Pomelo Peel, HK Sprout Vegetables

Briased Local Hokkien Noodle, Sliced Prawn, Chicken, Duck Crackling

Sweetened Amond Cream, Snow Fungus, Gingko Nuts, Natural Peach Resin

Crispy Green Tea Yam Dumpling, Creamy Salted Egg Yolk Filling

Wines
2013 White Cliff Pinot Noir NZ

2016 Giesen Pinot Noir NZ

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