Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ivy, Sydney

As soon as I checked into the Sofitel Wentworth in Sydney on Saturday night, I joined fellow Perth-dwellers Wayne and Amanda and their Sydney-based friends at one of the many restaurants in that iconic Sydney nightspot, The Ivy. It really helps to have your name at the door at 9.30pm on a Saturday night, because the queue was diabolical. Why anybody would want to endure the ignominy of standing in a line just for the opportunity to spend money escapes me.

I met Wayne and Amanda in Sailor's Thai restaurant on level 2, just as they finished their meal and were about to move onto dessert.

I have to say that the waitstaff, especially Peter, who was looking after our table, were absolutely fantastic. On arrival he offered me a couple of choices to eat, and I opted for the fried calamari, which arrived very quickly, was nicely presented and very tasty.

They then brought out a selection of desserts. A modern take on your traditional Thai and other Southeast Asian favourites, although they weren't necessarily recognisable at first glance. Among the tasty treats were a dry pulot hitam (sweet glutinous black rice) drizzled with coconut cream, sweet glutinous white rice served up in a little bowl creme brûlée style under a hard coat of caramelised sugar, and my favourite, a mound of green sago pearls topped with a drizzle of coconut cream and slivers of dried coconut. The first thing that came to mind was frog eggs topped with frog sprog, but really, it's actually quite good!

Dinner conversation was great. One of Wayne's Sydney mates (some chap who used to lease a shop from him, also called Wayne) is formerly from the UK, and we had a good chat about jellied eel, mash and parsley liquor. I would love to try that iconic English dish one day soon.

Picture deliberately blurred to protect identities. Okay,
maybe the 120mls of Kentucky straight rye had something
to do with it as well, but I'm not admitting to anything!

The only downside was that as the night wore on, the restaurant gradually transformed into a nightclub, as more and more punters were allowed into the dining area and the music was incrementally ratcheted up. Apparently, The Ivy spends a million dollars a year on DJs, and if you've been a DJ at The Ivy, you can get a gig anywhere else in the country. So the music is actually quite good. But not so enjoyable if you're still trying to engage in dinner conversation. I guess that they need the space so that they can let in more people, given liquor licensing headcount restrictions are linked to available floor space. But it still makes an otherwise excellent dining experience unpleasant at the end. To his great credit, Peter did his best to ease the pain, including finding a "quieter" table away from the bar, which was fast getting crowded. Unfortunately, the music noticeably cranked up a few notches moments after we sat down at the new table.

Fortunately, there was one final treat in store to end the night on a high note. We got the celebrity treatment by being whisked through the back corridors, down the service elevator and into the loading dock, where we were taken away by the Ivy's Bentley to an undisclosed location for more partying.

Oh all right, my mate Gumi reckons that this was a really pretentious posting. Hell yeah - I agree that this is as wanky as it gets. I promise. Sorry I just couldn't resist being a tosser for once.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Two giants of the culinary world meet - Wakuda Tetsuya and Eric Frechon

I'm quite excited about the upcoming La Chaine Des Rotisseurs charity dinner this coming Sunday at Bennelong in the Sydney Opera House.  Black tie, chaine regalia and all that stuff, but it's capped at an "intimate" 60 diners, including the Governor of New South Wales.

Eric Frechon, 3 Michelin starred chef from the restaurant of the iconic Hôtel Le Bristol Paris is heading to Sydney with his cooking team to make something really special.   Now, at $1,000 a head, it's not cheap, but it's certainly cheaper than flying to Paris on the off-chance you might be lucky enough to score a booking at Le Bristol.  Then of course, there's the money can't buy factor of knowing that Eric himself is in the kitchen overseeing the cooking, and that you'll get to hang with this recipient of the Legion D'honneur (the highest French civilian award) who cooks for French President Nicholas Sarkozy's state dinners.  Okay ... maybe just shake hands ...

However, what's even more exciting is tonight's dinner at Tetsuya's - an intimate group of 8 in the private dining room, where Tetsuya Wakuda himself is excited to be cooking for Frechon, and will join the dinner guests for the meal as well.  To have two culinary giants sitting at the same table - I wonder what they'd talk about?  Probably crap on about random stuff like normal people, I'm sure. I'm not privileged enough to get a seat at this table (given that I'm still in Perth), but my mate Wayne and his wife Amanda are.  I hope it blew your mind fellas, and see you tomorrow night at the Ivy (always good to know that there's a VIP table waiting).

Post-note: sadly, Tetsuya was stuck in Singapore looking after his new restaurant at the Marina Sands. However, I am told that the food was exquisite, and Eric was particularly taken by the salmon sashimi - not just the freshness, but also the fact that it was the perfect temperature which allowed the flavour of the fish to properly express itself - not too cold or to warm. I must confess that while I've known that in relation to whiskies, I've never thought to apply it to food as well, but it makes sense!

The Frenchman in Namibia - Erindi Private Game Reserve

Okay - the long awaited gratuitous Namibian holiday photos taken in December last year.  Well, some of you must have been waiting, right?  These ones were taken at Erindi Private Game Reserve, or on the journey there.  The beer photo was taken at Joe's.

Anyway, I thought I'd try to craft some prose around the photos, which is why it's taken so long. I've finally accepted reality and given up on that dumb (and immensely time-consuming) idea.  So I'll just chuck in some commentary here and there instead.

No it's not the local fauna. But it's just as tasty!
Namibia is very cheap compared to Australia.  From the takeaway store, you can get king browns (750ml bottles for the uninitiated) of Windhoek Lager for the equivalent of AUD2 a bottle!  Pictured is Urbock, bock bier produced by Namibian Breweries.  Namibia used to be a German colony, and all Namibian beer is still brewed according to the German beer purity laws.  Which makes for damn fine beer (and this coming from someone who doesn't like drinking beer!) at some ridiculously cheap prices.

Local police roadblock. Note the corporate sponsorship/advertising ...
There a strange phenomenon on the main highways leading in and out of major Namibian towns - police roadblocks with corporate sponsorship.  The picture shows a banner of the First National Bank of Namibia.  And no, Namibian police don't take bribes, so don't offer them one unless you want to see the inside of a local lock-up.

One of the better shanty houses by the highway

Roads that go forever
Funny thing about this picture is that if I didn't know it was taken in Namibia, I would have thought it to be your quintessential Australian country highway!

A classic African bushland setting - taken from a passing car

I love these signs - the fun is in working out what the symbols forbid - it's cheating to read the words!

In Australia, we might have kangaroo or even the odd long-necked snapping turtle. In Namibia, it's kudu.

A cyanide-laden millipede
According to our game guide DuVries at Erindi Private Game Reserve, the millipede's shell contains cyanide, so the animals stay well away from it.  There was supposedly one famous millipede researcher who died of cyanide poisoning because he spent every day in an enclosed room with hundreds of millipedes.  His poor wife was accused of the crime until authorities had a little science lesson...
Another classic African bushland setting - and yet another Dylanesque photo
Apparently, these termite mounds all originate at the base of a tree.  As the mound gets bigger, the poor tree dies (unsurprising, with thousands of termites gnawing away on it from the inside).  Eventually, the mound completely covers the tree, and the remnant branches are eaten away.  Quite clever of the termites, actually, since it's handy to build your home around a permanent buffet!

Having a nightcap
Elephant at the watering hole overlooked by the observation lounge at Erindi.

Two young bucks trying to show who's boss - and dragging their old fellas along the ground to prove it!

The Hippo Family leaving the local baths

A pair of ostriches. Meep meep!!

White rhino tracks. You can tell because of the pad at the back of the track

The Jackal approaches the River ...
Sorry - this is an in-joke, involving The Jackal.  If you play poker with me and the boys on Wednesday nights, you'll know what this is about.

Baby giraffe!
A cute little Steenbock.
There's apparently a deer called the duiker (meaning diver in Afrikaans, because it dives straight into the bush to hide when startled).  I didn't manage to get a photo of it, but it looks like, well,  a small deer.  The duiker actually eats meat on occasion.  You know, frogs, turtles, mice, etc.  You'd be pretty bummed to be a mouse scurrying around the ground foraging for dinner, when you look up into the duiker's gentle dark eyes and go - oh it's only a deer, I'm safe - when it snaps you up and chomps you down.  What a crappy way to go eh?  It would have been more respectable to have been taken by a jackal or an eagle ...
The view from the game truck
 This is the breech and bullet of the game guide DuVries's rifle, a Rigby 416, or elephant gun. As you can see, the bullet is massive - it's longer than my finger.

Rhino dung - several days old
 Rhino dung. Surprisingly scent-less.  Don't ask me how I know.  I just do.  It's also very light when it's been sitting in the African sun for a few days - all of the moisture evaporates, and you get this lightweight, hard, dessicated lump.  Fascinating.  Really ...

 Don't be fooled - these Marabou storks are massive mothers.  But they can obviously fly, and those branches are stronger than they look!
Black Rhino
 A very rare Black Rhino - this photo was taken at dusk, just after my best mate Brandon's wedding.  This guy is massive.

 A nocturnal family of giraffe.  According to Roysie the Australianised Englishman, the proper collective noun is a kaleidescope of giraffes.

 This is how close the animals were to the chalets.  Of course, the discreet electric fence running between you and the animals helps to provide some comfort.

 Three juvenile kudu in the background.  And of course a Romeo y Julieta No. 2 in the foreground ...

An inquisitive baby giraffe poking his head out from behind the hill in the background. And of course the distinctly shorter Romeo y Julieta No. 2 in the foreground ...

 These giraffe are thirsty.
 Kudu does in the background.  And the ubiquitous Romeo y Julieta No. 2 in the foreground. It's thirsty work, so I had to order a Windhoek Lager to help with the heat ...

 Kaleidescope of giraffes up close.

 No it's not what you think! Scrub your filthy mind.  They're just going for the salt lick.  I mean, they're licking the salty rock.  Hmm ... that didn't come out right did it.
 Rush hour at the drinking hole - kudu, oryx and wildebeest.  Makes me think that it's time for a nice barbecue!

Painted African Wild Dog
 A rare painted African wild dog, one of the handful of survivors of a lightning strike that killed 16 other members of their pack.

Baby elephant

 You get a feeling of mortality when two huge mofo elephants decide to take an interest in you, and there's nothing between you or them but 20 metres of open ground ...
 Herd crossing the road. Check out the babies and juveniles.  You might also catch a glimpse of the other safari truck behind the herd, to the right.  They must be shitting themselves right about now.

African Sunset

 In the harsh light of day, it's clear that the waterhole is full of crocodiles.
 The game guides assure me that these crocodiles only eat fish they find in the water hole, and they don't even try to eat the deer.  If that's the case, why do all the deer choose to drink at the really shallow end, all squashed up against each other?

 This is where the observation deck can be found as well.

 The observation lounge overlooking the waterhole - safari de luxe!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Royal Household Scotch Whisky

Taken from my balcony, to prove that it's
my very own bottle!  You can see the
partially completed BHP tower in the
top left corner ...
 I was just browsing through my whisky collection the other day, and remembered that I own this interesting bottle that I picked up at a Sterling Wine auction: The Royal Household Scotch Whisky.  There's a handwritten notation on it saying: "Xmas 1937".

There's also quite a bit of detail in the closure - it appears to be a lead foil cap which you find on older bottles of wine or whisky.  The embossed words say:

H.M. The King
H.R.H The
Prince of Wales
James Buchanan & Co, LTD

Seems authentic enough for a bottle from 1937, since the last male British monarch was George VI who reigned from 1936 to 1952 after his elder brother Edward VIII famously abdicated to marry an about-to-be twice divorced American socialite.

I decided to research the origins of this enigmatic Royal Household Scotch Whisky, but there's surprisingly little to be found about it on the internet.

Jim Murray's 2007 Whisky Bible calls it "a wonderfully sophisticated blend",  I must admit that I have never been a fan of blended whisky, and prefer my single malts (and now my straight ryes too!), but that's still a pretty good endorsement from the world's leading whisky expert.

Note the handwritten words in the top right
quadrant of the label
According to, James Buchanan was given the royal warrant to supply a whisky to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales back in 1898, and came up with a special blend for this purpose.  However, the name "The Royal Household Scotch Whisky" was apparently only used from 1900 onwards. Back in the day, The Royal Household Scotch Whisky wasn't available for retail sale, although there appear to be lucky folk around the place who were friendly with Buchanans, and managed to score small quantities.  Check out this link for an interesting Scottish tale involving The Royal Household Scotch Whisky.

The present-day incarnation of The Royal Household Scotch Whisky is sold only in Japan by James Buchanan, which is now owned by Suntory.  James Buchanan apparently started supplying whisky to the Emperor of Japan back in 1907.

So how much does it cost? The present-day version costs around USD300, it seems, based on a bit of trawling through Japanese liquor websites.  Malt Whisky World advertises a bottle of The Royal Household Scotch Whisky from a battered cardboard box for £2,250.00.  This particular bottle appears to have a screwcap closure.  My bottle on the other hand has some kind of clever hinged closure - as you can make out from the pictures.  The top of the cap itself says: "The Royal Household Scotch Whisky"

What's mine worth?  Who knows, and who cares?  Like my 1990 Mouton Rothschild,  I plan on drinking it on a very special occasion with good friends who are going to enjoy and appreciate good whisky.  You can't take it with you, so you might as well enjoy it.  On the other hand, if someone were to make me an outrageous 6-digit offer, well, maybe I'll consider parting with it.  Otherwise, you're going to have to journey all the way to Rodel or befriend a member of the British royal family for the uncertain chance of tasting it, or be one of my good mates when I crack this baby open ...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Delicious macarons! Shocolate: Master Chocolatiers in Fitzroy, Victoria

The thing I love about Melbourne is that when you are guaranteed to find something new and interesting everytime you wander down a street.

So here I was taking a walk down Brunswick Street with my best chick mate Jacqui to check out some exhibition in Fitzroy, and we come across Shocolate at 3/296 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.  It looks like a little cafe with trays of chocolates on display in refrigerated glass cases.  As I'm not into desserts and sugary foods, I would have walked right on by, but Jacqs, being a chick, could not pass up the opportunity to eat more chocolate.  And it is a seriously impressive selection of quality handmade chocolate, I can assure you.

Not only are they master chocolatiers, they're also experts in the macaron (not to be confused with the macaroon, which is a completely different dessert).  The resident macaronnier (okay I made up that word) was in the throes of experimentation for some upcoming macaron competition.  They even had an official looking sign that said "Melbourne Macaron Top 20".  Surely that's a credible endorsement - if someone were to say "No. 1 Macaron maker in Melbourne", I'd instantly dismiss it as mere puffery (yes that's a technical legal term), but if you say Top 20, then at least I know you fall somewhere between 16 and 20, which is a lot more believable.  Hey, call me a cynic ...

So I decide to try one of his creations, and it was quite sublime, I must say.  Not too sugary, and the flavours were subtle yet distinct. Alright I admit - I can't remember exactly what it tasted like (it was October last year), but I do remember it being very tasty indeed - hey I finished the whole thing and wouldn't even share with poor Jacqs.

Shocolate on Brunswick Street in Fitzroy.  Check it out.