Archive for the ‘Wine & food matching’ Category

Cuisine: Modern take on traditional Castillan-Manchego Spanish cuisine, “new gastronomy from La Mancha”.

Visit: November 2012

Price: Medium (appetizers around €10 and generous main courses €20).

Chef: The head chef, Laura Pintado with her kitchen buddy Lucas Méndez together create innovative dishes from local produce, yet they do not compromise the taste preparing delicious meals that will not leave you overwhelmed as in many of the laboratory kitchens so trendy in Spain and elsewhere. The food at El Umbráculo is true to its origins, while at the same time a fusion with other foreign cuisines (Thai, Italian as well as Argentinian) further enhances the genuine flavor of the main ingredient be it meet, mushroom or vegetable.

The kitchen duo: Laura and Lucas
Photo by Zlata Rodionova

Atmosphere: Casual, artistic and local. The restaurant has an intriguing interior design. Under a granary style high roof embroidered by wooden beams the space feels open and welcoming. For those of you craving more privacy, dining in the cellar-like vaulted area (in the picture on the left) or above in the second level is less exposed to the sights of others and both have a certain intimate qualities. The restaurant is located at the Bodegas Real winery, therefore you can be as casual as you want, after all wineries are types of farms. On the other hand, the winery hosts weddings in the modern premises next to the restaurant, so you might feel a bit underdressed especially during the weekends that most of the weddings are being held, so check with the winery while making your reservation at the restaurant just for your own comfort.

Umbraculo restaurant at Bodegas Real
Photo by Zlata Rodionova

Food: Seasonal, discovering new flavors and textures of local produce. The winery makes its own olive oil from the olives grown on (at) the property, it is delicate and supple – an ideal companion to the freshly baked bread served at the restaurant.

Starting with Marinated herring with mixed salad, mango and sweet potatoes in a yoghurt sauce (Arenques marinados sobre rucola y hoja de roble, mango y boniato con salsa de yogurt). I knew that I will not be eating something I have already head. This new marriage of savory herring with sweet mango and potatoes as contrasting it may sound, makes a perfect sense. Usually herrings are served with apples and potatoes, but adding a bit sweater character with mango and sweet potato instead brings spotlight to the herring. The sweet and sour flavors pair well with a white dry wine such as Macabeo or Chardonnay from Bodegas Real.

Herrings with an exotic mango sauce

We were also treated to the off-the menu appetizer of Seared seasonal mushrooms with an almond-crusted egg yolk and mixed grill vegetables (Setas de temporadas con yema de huevo en costra de almendras) as the chef has probably got them fresh into the kitchen. The mushrooms were absolutely mind-blowing! Not only they were fresh and boosting with forest flavors, but the magnificent play with grilled vegetables mixed with the mushrooms and egg yolk fried in a crust of almonds was nothing far from perfection. A sip or two of a Bodegas Real Chardonnay sealed the perfect marriage of the estate wine with the food served at the restaurant.

Seared seasonal mushrooms

You can choose either a meat dish or fish as a main course. We went for the Roasted turbot with a ragout of vegetables and mild curry sauce (Bacalao con curry suave). The flakes of turbot scented with the curry sauce, again highlighting the quality of the fish (the main ingredient), softly melted in my mouth. Crunching on the crispy veggies in between, my palate was reminded of the diverse textures in this meal. Slices of potatoes balanced the overall intensity of the fish with the sauce rounding up the degustatory experience.

The meat aficionados can choose from the local meat specialities such as Slow roasted suckling pig with garlic shoots and romesco sauce or Venison loin with a wild seasonal mushroom sauce and new potatoes with thyme. Both will surely pair very well with the juicy and slightly tannic Bodegas Real Tempranillo or intriguing Finca Marisanches red blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot.

Bacalao (turbot) with mild curry sauce, potatoes and crispy vegetables.

Leave some space for desserts as a new addition to the menu – the Cream of Tiramisu on sponge biscuit with arábiga coulis (Crema de Tiramisú sobre bizcocho soletilla y coulis de arábiga) is irresistible. Tiramisu is not my favorite sweet treat, but the cream of Tiramisu the chef whipped to a smooth, tongue enveloping texture, was excellent. It inspired me to get a cup of coffee with it. On the other hand, the sponge biscuit under the cream together with a fruity purèe on the bottom, called for a glass of red wine. Something smooth such as the Finca Marisanches red blend that I had paired wonderfully with this sumptuous dessert.

Tiramisu cream with arábiga fruit coulis.

Drinks: The food is made for the wines made at Bodegas Real. The chef Laura Pintado sums it up: “When we elaborate our new menus, it is an element we constantly take in count in order to create a proper marriage. A good choice of wine will enhance the virtues of the food we serve and vice versa. Luckily, we have many things to choose from,”. They achieve a great harmony between the dishes and the wines, so get advised by the restaurant staff on which one of the Bodegas’ wines goes best with each of your courses and you will not be disappointed as I was not.

Address: Finca Marisanchez, restaurant El Umbráculo, Ctra. Valdepeñas a Cozar km 12.800, 13300 Valdepeñas, Spain.

Contact: +(34) 629 939 703; email: comunicacion@bodegas-real.com

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Cuisine: Gastronomic nouvelle cuisine with Southern French heritage.

Visit: October 2012

Price: This is a serious gastronomic experience so the cost is high. (There is no a la carte offer, only a tasting menu: Dinner for SGD 288.00 (lunch for SGD $128 – 4-course menu) per person; wine pairing for SGD 180.00 per person; Tax of 7% and service charge of 10% is not included in these prices).

Andre’s wine & food philosophy

Chef: The Taiwan-born chef Andre Chiang has two passions. One is poetry and art (look at the photographs of his dishes on his website) and another food. His penchant for creativity manifests itself in his small dining establishment in Singapore where he himself decorated the rooms and keeps creating unforgettable dishes for the curious foodies coming to his restaurant from all over the world (there was a French family, a Hong Kong and an Indian couple and the rest I would have to guess when we had dinner there). His credo is Octaphilosophie, which is a gastronomic term that he pursues. Octaphilosophie is based on his study of how our experience influences our perception of taste. Through his food he intends to facilitate an interpretation of his thoughts and the philosophy behind his cuisine. There are eight concepts translated into dishes: Unique; Pure; Texture; Memory; Salt; South; Artisan; and Terroir.

A garden of amouse bouche

Chiang’s unique approach to fine dining was rewarded recently by a number of distinctive accolades such as receiving the 68th position San Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants 2012 and Singapore Best New Restaurant 2011 by Tatler Asia to name a few.

Food: Complex, artistic and philosophical. Taste is of a secondary importance at this restaurant, as it is more than that. The chef makes you think about his ideas and his perception of the world through his dishes. Most of it tastes very interesting and it is tasty, but you need to switch your brain from looking for your mother’s type of cuisine at this restaurant. It is all but not traditional – I dare to say that the meals at Andre are quite revolutionary and surely worth trying if you are a serious food connoisseur. After a garden of amouse bouche, which was so tiny that it could be considered as a proper food only by someone on a strict diet, we encountered the first concept from the chef’s Octaphilosophie.

The PURE dish was described as such:

“Beauty can be found in the simplicity of pure, unadulterated ingredients. Untainted by any form of seasoning or cooking, this dish allows the produce to speak for itself.”

PURE ingredients

This plate full of raw ingredients from seafood to flowers and herbs had exactly that kind of impression on my palate. the shrimp and salmon roll were perhaps the most palatable, the rest was rather more amusing than tasty. The second course confirmed that it helps to have a description of the meal when you eat it as it navigates your palate to what the chef wanted you to experience.


“An ancient seasoning existing since time immemorial. Producing a taste sensation with no barriers, the flavors in this dish call for the briny depth and brings to the mind a hint of the ocean.”

SALT: bringing ocean to the mind


“Farmers and artisans deserve to be lauded for the sheer dedication they hold towards their creations. Celebrating the craftsmanship of these highly passionate artists.”

ARTISAN products on the plate

The farmers’ and artisans’ produce is very popular between all the chefs aiming high in the culinary world and Andre Chiang is not an exception. A thoughtful creation, yet I was not overwhelmed by the plate’s taste.

Capturing the SOUTH of France thousands of miles away can be challenging. Moreover, for me this dish was even more personal since I live in this region thus I was more critical on this dish. The chef spent a couple of years cooking at various restaurants with legendary chefs there as well, so our it was interesting to compare our impressions. Here is is concept of the SOUTH:

“The South of France s known for its vibrant joie de vivre, or ‘joy of living’. Capturing the flavors of France’s southern region, expect the generosity, freshness, acidity and a dose of the rustic.”

Capturing the SOUTH of France

The fish is a must on the plate in Provence or elsewhere around the Mediterranean, so I appreciated the white fish layered on a scoop of risotto and it was fresh, generous, rustic and refreshed by a touch of acidity in the foam served on the top, just as the chef described. Nevertheless, my view of the Southern produce would be – olives, verveine, levander, rose wine and anything that is in season such as Southern truffles. Here our perception of one place/idea had definitely clashed.

Another important aspect of any food is TEXTURE:

“Layers of flavor and textural contrasts come together harmoniously in this dish, providing a delicious sensory experience.”

TEXTURE and harmony

This was my favorite dish. It might have been that I prefer balance in the meal and I am biased towards texture, but it was simply delicious. The delicate lobster refreshed by crisp herbs and leafs, icy and melting sorbet and sweet touch of peeled li-chi fruits all created a harmonious experience for my palate.

When most of us eat at a fine dining restaurant we search for something UNIQUE in the food created by the chef.

“What makes a dish unique? Sometimes, it is the possibility of experiencing a common ingredient in a different way. At other times, savouring an exotic ingredient is the key to making a dish unique.”

UNIQUE a common ingredient meets exotic.

For something to be memorable it must stand out. The chef’s take on MEMORY was to highlight an old well-known product – foie-gras that was made in a new form – a creamy custard-like texture with herb consomé made into a jelly on the top. It was delicious.

“Meaningful memories stay with you for a long time. In this case, old recipes and flavours are given a new presentation, but still retain that old-world charm you once knew.”

MEMORY: the old made new

The last creation reflected the TERROIR:

“Rustic, masculine and unpolished, this soulful course is rooted to the flavours typical to a specific region. It reveals the appreciation of the gifts that Mother Nature has bestowed upon the land.”

TERROIR: true to the Mother Nature

Meat, vegetables, mustard seeds, … these are all products of the land. The chef enhanced them through a variety of sauces so the rustic taste of the almost rare chunk of meat was calmed down. A nice dish, although for some people it really might be too much ‘rustic’.

Diverting from the menu’s “Octaphilosophie” concept, the desserts were still very personal for the chef, although each of them was completely different. Fresh and fruity, herbal and zesty, and finally the chef’s weakness for the caramel-filled chocolate Snickers bars lead to his own mind-blowing interpretation. I have never been a big fan of Snickers, but after tasting this sweet delight I might be willing to change my mind. Although, the chef had done a really good job using fresh and high quality ingredients, which in the case of Snickers is doubtful (Perhaps, if they charged you at least$10 and you were willing to pay it for a choco-caramel bar, then you might get such first-class ingredients in your Snickers).

Refreshing dessert

The chef’s creative adaptation of his beloved Snickers


Overall, I must admit that the chef initiated a state of deep contemplation in most of the diners including us. With each dish all of us seemed to think about it, discuss it and conclude his/her own opinion about the experience. Isn’t this what we need in today’s fast-food driven society? We should appreciate all the food we put into our mouths and connect the experience with our brain rather than mindlessly put a chunk after chink into our mouths.

Atmosphere: It is almost like a laboratory where each diner analyses his/hr dish. The first floor is only for the chef’s table and can also host private parties. The main restaurant is upstairs. Art and design selected by the chef bejewelled the interior and the seats are very comfortable. It is a relaxing place. Imagine a gathering at a shrine for food connoisseurs and that is exactly how this place feels. Wear something smart.

The chef’s table downstairs.

The Wine Journal

Drinks:  The chef has selected the wines himself for the restaurant’s “wine journal” offering biodynamic wines from small French producers. We did the wine pairing with our meals and it was lots of fun. The wine waiter did not disclose the origin of any of the wines until we tried it and made our guess. Often, we were fooled by these wines. Small artisanal wines can be so unique at times that one can mistaken a Chablis for a Riesling. It was more an interesting tasting, but we were not impressed by the wines themselves. Next time, I would select wines-by-the-glass or a nice bottle of something rare.

Address: 41 Bukit Pasoh Rd, Singapore 089855

Opening hours: Closed on Public Holidays and Mondays; Tue-Fri: 12–2pm, 7–11pm; Dinner on Sat-Sun: 7–11pm.

Contact: Tel: +(66) 6534 8880; email: reserve@restaurantandre.com

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Cuisine: Gastronomic modern French.

Visit: October 2012

Price: Very high (dining at any of the multiple-Michelin-stared Robuchon’s restaurant never comes cheap, although small eaters can save by ordering less plates from the small plate concept of L’Atelier or come for the more economical lunch menu).

Robuchon’s Caviar surprise

Chef: Joel Robuchon does not need any introduction for a majority of food connoisseurs. His innovative concept of modern fine dining with an open kitchen, preparing a wide range of innovative small dishes while keeping the quality on a superb level, first took off in Tokio in 2003. Since then his restaurant empire has spread around the world and earned him a record number of Michelin stars. His Hong Kong venture was recently (2012) awarded its third Michelin star. Judging from my dinner there the restaurant deserves it if I close my eyes over the at times too slow service.

Black & red at L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon

Atmosphere: Sexy, modern and elegant. L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon in Hong Kong follows its design format of a sleek dark elegance. Black and red colours dominate the interior while a bright light casts emphasis on the open kitchen. It is entertaining to watch the cooks frantically moving from a stove to stove and counters chopping, whipping and mixing complex dishes brought to perfection. The restaurant is located in the luxurious Landmark shopping mall, yet it has its own escalator (a staple of Hong Kong) to bring you into this heaven of luxurious dining. Wear anything chic and elegant although you might get away with a more casual attire if you show your wallet is up to the Atelier’s expensive menu and wines.

Sea urchin with lobster jelly

Food: Complex, inventive with a local twist. The food at the Hong Kong’s L’Atelier is different from anywhere else I have dined so far (London, Paris, New York, Monaco). I always start with the popular small portions – tapas-style – dishes as these present the chef’s craft so well. Moreover, ordering these is a great opportunity to try a wide range of different dishes on one occasion.

I love the Robuchon’s lobster ravioli at Hong Kong presented as the Maine lobster in turnip raviolis (LE HOMARD en fines ravioles, navet au romarin à l’aigre-doux). So delicate as they melt in your mouth with a surprisingly varied rainbow of flavours. Rosemary adds depth and freshness and lightens up sometimes this too butter-dominated starter (in Paris I had them too buttery). Here in Hong Kong the ravioli were superb.

Lobster ravioli

I wanted this evening to be a great adventure so I went for some dishes that were new to me. I was curious what was hidden in A surprise of Osciètre caviar (LE CAVIAR IMPERIAL servi en surprise, fine gelée cardinalisée). As my picture above shows you had no idea, not after you dipped into the caviar tin. What I revealed was another savoury, fresh and delicate product of sea – crab meat softened up by a fine jelly. Amazing with a glass of bubbly or refreshing white wine.

Being in Asia moved (as usually) my tasting boundaries. My next dish the Sea urchin with lobster jelly, cauliflower cream and broccoli purée (L’OURSIN dans une délicate gelé, blanc manger de chou-fleur) was surely different from most of the dishes I eat in Europe or America. Again, the dish was turned into a culinary masterpiece. Balance, depth, wide span of flavours and nothing too quirky as with lots of exotic ingredients like the sea urchin – the chef and his team mixed and whipped it all well. A slightly oaky Chardonnay would be my pick with this creamy delicacy.

On a similar Asian note was the Sea urchin risotto with spiky artichokes (LE RISOTTO ‘MANTECATO‘aux langues d’oursin à l’artichaut épineux). Yes, I did not have enough of sea urchin so I had to get one more dish with it. This time the soft, liver-like texture of the sea urchin was more potent as it was served on the top of the creamy artichoke risotto. Decorated with edible gold leafs it was visible that this is not a cheap dish, definitely it would find many fans between the rich Chinese businessmen inviting their potential partners as they traditionally like to host others generously.

Sea urchin risotto

Always impressive yet served in a new coat were the Pan seared sea scallops with caviar, fregula pasta and shellfish emulsion (LES SAINT-JACQUES les noix poilées/caviar, risotto de fregola et émulsion de coquillages). Again I would say they were more luxurious than in other locations I ate. Addition of caviar crowning the crisp pan seared scallops and gold leafs makes a powerful statement. The caviar was worth pairing though bringing in a new dimension of fresh and slightly popping texture. The scallops were soft like a feather pillow and the rise shaped fregola pasta made into a creamy risotto blended well with the sea shells emulsion. This could be a smaller main course for some of you as it is quite filling.

Sea scallops with caviar

To lighten it all up you can get the Tomato “mille-feuille” layered with crabmeat, avocado and green apple (LE CRABE en mille-feuille de tomate avec coulis verjuté). It is refreshing and light enough to have a glass of a crisp white wine with it.

Tomato mille-feuille

Robuchon makes the best mini-burgers on the planet (sorry for the excitement, but I always have to order them and I have never been disappointed so far).  The Wagyu beef and foie gras burgers with lightly caramelized bell peppers (LE BURGER au foie gras et poivrons verjutés). The secret of this dish is the top quality Wagyu beef cooked into an ideal juicy and flavour-bursting burger. Foie gras adds softness and caramelized bell peppers are the best stunt for onions. Original and better than any burger I have ever had. The bread is fresh and tip-top, not like the chewy plastic copies of bread used for burgers elsewhere.

Drinks:The wine list is stunning. With twenty wines-by-the-glass you might be seduced to opt for these instead of a bottle. Old world as well as New world wines are represented with the likes of a 2006 vintage of deep and rich Kistler Chardonnay from California or a red 2004 Château Pavie from Bordeaux on the list. The sweet wine afficionados will find Rivesaltes Cuvée Amédée de Bescombes, Bescombes-Singla from France in its 1945 vintage by-the-glass tempting at the end of the dinner (or lunch?).

Caymus Vineyards 2001

The bottles have ratings from Wine Spectator (WS) as well as the Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (WA). Beware of a 10% service charge at the restaurant even on wines!

A magnum of Petrus 1961 is listed for stunning HK$380,000; so you do not need to worry that Robuchon’s head sommelier has not been thinking about wines for a very special celebration (it differs from person to person). There is also a magnum of 1992 Screaming Eagle, the Californian cult wine, for HK$220,000 or the sweet icon from Sauternes – Château d’Y quem 1921 vintage for HK$130,000 (all prices as of October 2012).

We were celebrating something that night, but we are not billionaires so we selected a Californian red hero from Caymus Vineyards 2001 vintage. The wine was smooth, balanced and rewarding with long finish – ideal for our style of celebrating.

Opening hours: Lunch: Mon-Sun: 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. (Last Order); Dinner: Mon-Sun: 6:30 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. (Last Order)

Great news for your wallet -The HK$280 Happy hour at LE JARDIN-OUTDOOR GARDEN from 18:30 to 19:30 daily lets you to taste multiple canapes for one price.

Address: L’ATELIER de Joël Robuchon,  Shop 315 & 401, The Landmark, Central, Hong Kong

Contact: Tel: +(852) 2166 9000

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Cuisine: Modern American.

Visit: October 2012

Price: High (starters between $10-$20, mains in the $20-4$0 sphere).

Chef: Some people discover and follow their passions throughout their entire life. Stephen Rogers, the chef at Press as well as a former classical pianist and vocal coach, is surely one of them. Moving from music to food was more like a switch from one sensual pleasure to another. From beauty of sound to celebration of taste with food, the chef seems to follow his heart. Judging from the delicious food I had at Press, he brings his heart to the plate.

Scharffen Berger chocolate soufflé with imprinted press.

Atmosphere: Vibrant,cosy and unpretentious. Set in a vineyard while just next to the St Helena highway its location is both authentic and convenient. Entering in you pass a long walnut bar where you can savour a cocktail or a glass of wine before and after dinner (or lunch). The large dining room feels so spacious not only because of its size, but also the high ceiling built like stable roof. It is cosy though with large fire places and outside dining area, the place feels quite romantic. Walk to the back and you can watch the busy kitchen staff cooking vigorously. The Press is a popular place for the winery owners and locals with penchant for great meat, seafood and wine, so clothing is not as important. Nevertheless, if you dress smart-casual then you will feel that the evening is perhaps more special.

Romantic and discreet: The Press inside

Food: It is all about tasty fresh food and wine. The Press has one of the best local wine cellars in Napa Valley. No wonder, when its owner is the current Dean and DeLuca proprietor Leslie Rudd, the penchant for great food and wine must display itself in his restaurant. The freshest seasonal ingredients, mostly locally sourced and cooked to satisfy high-profile taste

Crab and lobster cake.

Start with a crab cake here as it is more than that. The Maine lobster and crab cake served with avocado emulsion on the side is stuffed with high quality seafood. There are no potatoes or any cheep fill-ups as in many versions of this Americanized Asian dish. It is rich, tasty, surprisingly refreshing and so Californian with avocado and sprouts accompanying the cake. With a glass of an aromatic and rich white wine, such as Sonoma Chardonnay, this is really tasty start.

If you prefer something lighter, then opt for the Butter lettuce salad with fine herbs and mustard vinaigrette. It seems simple, but the ingredients are so fresh and of high quality that you will love it. It is ideal before a steak or other meat main course as it leaves some space for all the animal stuff.

The steak at Press is delicious and many diners come here just for it. The Prime beef, including Rib-eye, is sourced from legendary Bay Area butcher Brian Flannery. Prepared at wood-fired grill the Dry-aged rib eye USDA Prime shows off its potential. The meat is full of flavour and cooked just right so some juice moistens the dry meat.


You can eat the steak just like that served with yellow corns and some greens or level the dining experience up with one of the Press’s seductive sides.

Go for either the Crispy onion rings, Creamed spinach, Truffle mac and cheese or the Roasted Maitake mushrooms as they are all excellent.

A chimney of onion rings

In a fish mood? The choice is interesting at Press so no disappointments here. I went for a Grilled Walu fish which I have never seen before and after being assured by the waiter that it is really good, I did not hesitate to make the dinner my first tasty encounter with walu. The Grilled Walu is served with California inspired cranberry bean, fresh garbanzo, yellow wax bean, tomato and garden basil. Such a bean and veggie party with a flaky and moist fish calls for a glass of white or even an older red wine from Napa. The 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from Heitz Cellars was surprisingly good with it. I think the texture and depth of the beans made this pairing possible.

The bird-eating fans can go for one of the poultry mains. We had a lady chef, who relishes squab, dining with us. Naturally, she went for the Grilled Bandera Quail since it was the closest to her favourite food. Served on French lentils, Lacinato kale, Nueske bacon together with fresh and juicy figs it looked super-complex, but apparently it was delicious as the chef appreciated it a lot.

Grilled Bandera Quail

The food is delicious at the Press but I would advise to leave some space for desserts. The signature Scharffen Berger 70% chocolate soufflé with a jug of creme Anglaise and vanilla ice cream on the side is addictive. The chocolate-loving part of humanity will be surely enchanted by this soufflé. It is dense yet soft, balanced yet deep and can be customized to your taste by adding more of the liquid cream inside the hot soufflé or dipping your spoon into the vanilla ice cream with the chocolate.

The Press has also delicious homemade ice creams and sorbets and British sweet delight of Strawberry shortcake with rhubarb compote and Swanton organic strawberries.

Drinks: From classic cocktails to bar tenders own creations, you can have fun with drinks at the Press. I am a wine fanatic so I went straight to the cellar. The cellar of the restaurant is unique. It is rare to find old vintages of wines from Napa Valley, but this cellar is exemplar of this rarity.  You can find over a century old wines here. You can be celebrating a special occasion as we did, but you do not need to since the prices are mostly quite reasonable. Go for a 1980s or 1960s vintages of top Bordeaux and expect to pay a fortune, but not with Napa. A bottle of wine from that period can cost you around US$150 and it still rewards with pleasures of a mature wine.

Red line-up: Heitz 1983 Cab & Martin 1966 Zinfandel

Starting with a bottle of white Chardonnay from Stony Hill 1989 vintage, I was assured that the local whites can age well. Not sure if all, but some for sure. It had a nutty almost oxidised taste, still good acidity and long aftertaste.

Moving to reds with a 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Heitz Cellars I was impressed how well the wine held itself. The Cab was soft with woody touch of a cigar box. The oldest bottle we tried that night was a 1966 Zinfandel from another legend in Napa’s wine production – the Martini winery. Zinfandel used to rule in Napa, but in the past 20 years it was not as fashionable as the local producers would wish so they planted more of Cab and Merlot instead. What a shame though as this grape is showing very well in this location. From 1966 with only 12% of alcohol this Zinfandel was still alive. It is interesting to drink anything under 14% of alcohol from California these days and with this Zinfandel you can taste that the alcohol does not need to be high in order for the wine to age well. The has reached its peaked though and I would not see enjoying it much in two years from now. Despite that fact, I appreciated it now in 2012. It had almost a bourbon aroma and subtle woodiness that makes it an interesting companion with a cigar. The acidity and tannins were declining but still held the body straight up with only a mild repository of fruit. A very unique and educational wine tasting, for sure, so be ready to go for something older at the Press and do not waste this opportunity to taste local history.

Opening hours:Dinner from Wednesday – Monday: 5:00 PM – 10:00 PM.

Address: 587 Saint Helena Highway,  Saint Helena, CA 94574, USA

Contact: +(1) 707 967-0550

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Cuisine:International. Wine country meets Mexico, Asia and Europe.

Visit: October 2012

Price: High (From $12 to $30 for some main courses – portions are generous though; a five-course tasting menu $80-$125 with wine pairing).

Chef: Redd is the first independent dining venture from an acclaimed Northern California chef Richard Reddington, whose last name features in the title of the restaurant in Yountville. The chef’s abundant experience from San Francisco’s Masa’s and Jardiniere, and the Michelin stared Auberge du Soleil in Napa Valley was an ideal foundation for his fusion cooking at Redd.

Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc

Atmosphere: Vibrant, cool and unpretentious. The bar is a popular hangout of  local winemakers as well as tourists. They all know that Redd has one of the best selections of niche (less known, but great) wines from California, and the buzzing and exiting conversations at the bar and on the tables are a reliable proof of these wines attention-grabbing tastes. A great aspect of Napa is that the dress code is mostly very relaxed. Wear jeans and a nice shirt or a cool dress to impress.

The bar area at Redd

Food: The food can hardly be more international. The menu blends Japanese, Chinese, Mediterranean, Mexican as well as the local California cuisine. The chef took a bit of each and created a vibrant menu full of exotic cum local flavours. Asia seems to be ruling half of the starter menu. From the bar snacks I highly recommend the Steamed pork buns with hoisin and vegetable slaw inspired by Chinese cooking. The buns are so soft reminding me of the Czech “kynute knedliky” (soft and chewy dough dumplings filled with various meats and vegetables) and the topping of chopped pork with hoisin sauce sprinkled with sesame seeds are a perfect and generous start to your dinner.

Chinese steamed pork dumplings

From the Asia-inspired restaurant’s starters go for either – the refreshing Sashimi of hamachi, sticky rice, edamame and soy ginger sauce or the flavor-bursting Yellowfin tuna tartare, asian pear, avocado, chili oil, fried rice with cilantro. Both are perfect with a glass of white wine from a rich Chardonnay to a less usual crisp and mineral Chenin Blanc (I had Lieu Dit).

Sashimi of hamachi

Mexican influence is pertinent mainly in the bar menu. I was taken aback by the crispy Santos’ Fish tacos with salsa, guacamole and creme fraiche. California has an excellent Mexican food, yet there are only some places where the fish tacos are simply a star.

Moving to California with Lettuce cups, stir fried chicken, eggplant and scallions, it was time to switch to a more intense white wine such as oaky Chardonnay, so abundant in this corner of the world. The lettuce leafs lighten up the chopped stir fried chicken and are fun to eat as you wrap everything into the lettuce and just crunch it as it was a piece of taco.

My favourite appetizer were the Mediterranean Lamb meatballs cooked in tomato curry, crowned by pinenuts and a drizzle of greenish mint yogurt. Turkey, Tunisia and Greece meet in this meal. The tender lamb balls were mind-blowing and the sauce had spices as well as soothing mint to balance the meaty heaviness of this dish. Drink Pinot Noir, Syrah or a more fruity style of Cabernet Sauvignon with it.

Lamb meatballs

Looking for something yummy and filling for the main course? The Crispy chicken thigh, cheddar cheese polenta, molé sauce, and lime is the perfect choice for you. The polenta with cheddar cheese was my weak part of this course, it was so tasty and perfectly cooked that I just mixed it with the sauce and left the chicken to my partner. Still on the heavier side but smaller starter portion is the Glazed pork belly served with apple purée, burdock and Asia-inspired soy caramel. The ingredients perfectly match the pork belly playing on richness and slight sweetness on the plate.

A bit lighter, yet not a low-calorie diet meal, is the Alaskan halibut, fried green tomatoes, corn pudding, romaine. The fish was soaked in buttermilk to erase a bit of its fishy taste and softened it up. The corn pudding reminded me that I was still in America and the meal was on the delicious and richer side for a fish course.

Caramelized diver scallops

My second favourite must-have  starter or main are the Caramelized diver scallops served with cauliflower, capers, almonds and golden raisins. Oh-la-la these scallops are something! It is one of these dishes that you would go for on a death-bed if you had to choose something from the sea. The sumptuous yet delicate texture of the scallops was highlighted by their crisp caramelized crowns. The chef’s “art de cuisine” confirms his mastery of matching the right ingredients in order to elevate the main feature of a dish – in this case the scallops. Would you ever think of serving scallops with cauliflower, capers and almonds? Unless it was a kitchen incident or these were the only ingredients you had, then maybe. Well done Mr Reddington! For sure these were one of the best scallop dishes I have ever had.

Sonoma duck breast

Exotic meets local in Sonoma duck breast, turnip purée, spinach with stone fruit mostarda jus. The local duck is paired with stone fruit to add the popular sweet touch to the meat. The turnip puree is much more interesting than serving the duck with mashed potatoes and it is not as heavy, so if you decide to taste half of the restaurant’s menu as we did, you can still manage to eat it. A glass of red wine will help you to finish this tasty meal.

Drinks: The wines are so interesting here, especially for those wine lovers seeking something off-the-beaten-path. The wine list is focused on California, but it is very rewarding. Just ask the knowledgeable and passionate sommelier for an advice and he will surely have a number of wines for you to taste. We started with a glass of refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, moved to more mineral and steely Chenin Blanc Lieu Dit from Santa Ynez Valley and finished off with a 2005 bottle of Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville just a stone throw from the restaurant.

Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon

Opening hours: Lunch: Monday – Saturday: 11.30 am to 2.30 pm; Dinner: Daily: 5.30 pm to 9:30 pm; Sunday Brunch: 11 am to 2.30 pm;

Contact: Tel: +(1) 707 944.222

Address: 6480 Washington Street, Yountville CA 94599, USA

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Opened in 1991, V ZATIŠÍ was one of the pioneers of privately owned restaurants in Prague. One might doubt the merits of a dining spot in a country where just a year or two ago there was a very limited choice of ingredients, restricted imports and as in the majority of communist settlements quantity was ranked above quality. The founder took his job seriously though and created one of the best and most consistent gourmet restaurants in the Czech Republic, where you will not hesitate returning.

Cuisine: Gourmet Czech, Indian and Continental.

Visit: September 2012

Design interior In Zatisi

Price: Medium (For foreigners) to high (for Czech people). For two courses you pay CZK 890 (just under $US50); three courses CZK 1090 (less than $US60); each additional course CZK 150 (about $US 8). So the more you eat, the more value you get. The quality and creativity of the meals is very high so it is worth the money spent.

Cosy seating at “V Zatisi”

Atmosphere: V Zatiší means “In retreat” and the restaurant is unquestionably devoted to its name as it is where hidden from the curious sights of hordes of tourists and sensation seeking tabloid press, the important and the famous dine, date and close business deals. There are three secluded rooms for ultra-confident meetings and celebrations. On the left there is a bar and a larger room for these preferring an open space to wine and dine in.

The interior is cosy, relaxing and stylish. Designed by a trio of local artists Bára Škorpilová, Barbara Hamplová and ‘glassmaster’ Rony Plesl you will be surrounded by plant motifs on wallpapers, vases filled with stylish flowers and elegantly curved branches and gently lit by intimate and classy chandeliers. Wear anything classy, elegant and rather understated than flashy. The entire restaurant is non-smoking which is in the current loosely regulated environment in the Czech hospitality a huge advantage. You can savor your meal and wine without any distracting cigarette odour.

Chef:  Milan Hořejší cares about his ingredients getting fresh vegetables and fruits from farmers, mushrooms from his friend and fish and meat the freshest possible. His experience from the high-end Prague’s restaurants and from Switzerland shows in his culinary adventure on each plate. He serves fish and meat with two different sauces so you can savor the dish from two perspectives. Mahavir Kansval is a one Michelin experienced chef responsible for the Indian dishes at Zatisi.

Indian frozen mango desert

Food:Flexible, creative and fearless. If you are in the mood of exploration, then you can choose either from the five-course Czech degustation (“The Best of Bohemian”) or the international Zátiší menu (“Taste explosion”). Going a la carte is the best if you would like to mix both.

Starting light (at least for the Czech standards) with Mixed Lettuce Salad with Butternut Squash, Fried Okra and Yuzu Citrus Dressing, you will be ready for any of the richer main courses. This original salad with a Japanese twist and fashionable okra spears is excellent with a glass of grassy Moravian Sauvignon Blanc (such as the one from Milan Sůkal).

Another refreshing starter is the Chilled vegetable and fruit gazpacho, avocado guacamole, mojito foam. Generous plate will satisfy the price conscious diners and unique mexican take without too much spice pleases the exotic flavors seeking connoisseurs.

Choosing the Duo of warm goat cheese, apple purée and salad with balsamic dressing will not disappoint cheese aficionados. This is a bit heavier starter, but excellent with wine either an aromatic Chardonnay or a delicate Pinot Noir. One part of cheese is breaded in a crust, melting in your mouth like a warm cream, another is sizzling hot on a toast resembling the french version, and both are lightened up by the accompanying salad with balsamic vinegar. Apple purée adds the necessary sweetness to the goat cheese in a delicious condiment.

Moving to meat with Pan seared pepper crusted beef carpaccio with celeriac remoulade and veal-truffle Jus one wonders if it is a starter or a main course, yet it is up to you what you make out of it as it can really be both. The juicy beef is tender and bursting with meaty and peppery flavors. The celeriac remoulade freshens up the meat and the veal juice infused with truffles adds complexity creating a genuine gastronomic experience.

Beef carpaccio

The main courses are tantalizing and it is very hard to choose one. I felt like testing the Indian chef’s skills and went for the Tandoori home smoked salmon, tandoori grilled vegetables, tomato chutney and aubergine raita. Visiting India myself and being spoiled by the European bastion of Indian food – London, I am a harsh critique of authentic Indian cuisine. The chef Mahavir Kansval has not disappointed my palate as the spices infusing the salmon as well as the vegetables were intriguing and authentic. The tomato chutney was generous, not spicy and the yoghurt based aubergine raita balanced the spices of the tandoori prepared fish and vegetables.

Pinot Noir from Stapleton & Springer

You are in the Czech Republic so go for something Czech if you feel like it. Be sure though that you will get a hearty meal not leaving you hungry. The Czech staple and favorite of many foreign visitors is the Beef tournedos with traditional creamy vegetable sauce “svícková”, herb dumplings and cranberries, which is made to perfection at Zatisi. It is almost as good as the grandmother’s style and that says a lot! ( You can never say it is as good as the svíčková your granny makes, so judge yourself how good it is here). It is an industrious endeavor to make this sauce. Cooking the beef for about five to six hours, then separating it and preparing the creamy sauce with carrots. The dumplings need to be tender and not chewy and cranberries juicy and slightly sour. To me drinking beer with this is too heavy, a light red wine such as Pinot Noir is ideal and aids digestion with its slightly acidic nature.

Pistachio cheesecake, raspberry sauce

Looking at the above picture of  Pistachio cheesecake with raspberry sauce, you might be seduced to safe some space for a dessert. The cheesecake is so soft and lighter than most of the American and British versions so go for it! The berries and fruity sauce are so refreshing that you will not feel stuffed at the end of the meal. Right the opposite, you might end up cooing like my sister after this tasty dessert, she would keep talking about it days after and I understand why.

I also liked the indian frozen dessert called Mango “Kulfi” served with fresh mango. It was delicious, refreshing and reminded me my favorite mango lassi, which I got in India often as a liquid dessert.

Drinks: The wine list is very broad. Covering Europe as well as the New world you will find a bit of everything including selection of well-known bubbly Champagne. If you come here regularly, you can bring your own bottle for a 345 CZK (less than $US20) corkage fee. Otherwise the sommelier is very helpful and eager to recommend a glass of wine to pair with each course. I would advise doing this since it seemed to be very popular. We started with a glass of white wine each and then moved to a bottle of red Pinot Noir 2005 from Stapleton and Springer. I have had their Moravian Pinot Noir many times and in various vintages and was never disappointed. It is light, well-balanced and shows juicy strawberry so easy to pair with a wide range of dishes from fish to meat.

The selection of teas is very extensive. You can choose your favorite from a box from Tchaba.

Opening hours: Mon-Sun: Lunch:  12:00 – 15:00; Dinner: 17:30 – 23:00

Address: Betlémské nám. / Liliová 1, Prague 1, 110 00, Czech Republic

Contact: Tel: +420 222 221 155

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Cuisine: International with mainly French brasserie type of influence.

Visit: June 2012

Price: medium (small portions which are quite big about £6, large portions and main courses in the £12-20 sphere)

A sister restaurant to Texture, Michelin-stared high dining venue in central London, the first 28°-50° was open at Fetter Lane in the City. Just recently, the already well-established Wine workshop and kitchen welcomed another sibling – its Marylebone branch. 28°-50° is named after the Earth’s latitudes between which it is in general possible to grow grapes and make wine.

Atmosphere: Invigorating yet sophisticated. The people who come here do not drink to get drunk, but to enjoy their favorite drink – wine in its all forms. The waiting staff and sommelier are very friendly, helpful and it is evident that they love what they do. The interior is bright and designed thoughtfully with wine glasses hanging above the bar and wooden cases of wines cover the back wall. The small area downstairs is more private and you can watch the kitchen buzz as the hand of the open kitchen concept.

Chef: The executive chef Paul Walsh creates original dishes from lighter to heavier so they can be easily matched with the wines on the list.

Food: Small and large options for salads, starters and soup dishes are a very handy option at a place focused on wine. You can get a different dish with each wine you are having to suit each other.

Beetroot salad

Starting with something fresh, tasty and ideal for the glass of white wine I have ordered, I picked the Beetroot Salad with pickled carrots, goats cheese and horseradish yoghurt. The various colors of beets offered distinct flavors. The yellow were more sweat, the reds more juicy and the soft goats cheese rings sandwiched between the veggies just balanced them both. An exquisite sauce for this dish in the form of horseradish yoghurt had won my palate over immediately so I was the more happy when my next plate or rather a board arrived with a side pot full of this delicacy. The Smoked salmon was excellent as I would expect in London supplied by superb salmon from Scotland. I continued with a glass of another white wine, this time with a Pinot Blanc from Alsace, which was exactly that type of wine I wanted with my salmon. Crisp yet aromatic with lovely acidity cutting through the fatness of the fish.

Smoked salmon with homemade horseradish yoghurt

From the starters the Tomato Tart with olive tapenade and goats cheese is another superb treat. It is affluent with tomatoes and the thin crust of the tart is crunchy and light so you can manage another appetizer or a main course easily.

At a wine place a plate of sliced meats and ham cannot be missed on the menu. The Charcuterie selection With pickled vegetables, toast and wholegrain mustard will accompany any full-bodied wine. A spicy Rhone Syrah or Italian Barbera would do a great job.

Another meaty delicacy is the Scottish beef Burger served with tomato and relish. A highly popular feature of the menu as I have seen it on many tables. Juicy red wine will again lighten up this filling dish.

Although cheese is not the best partner during a wine tasting since often its intense aroma can hinder the wine’s flavors, it is still the favorite companion for wine while enjoyed at a restaurant or bar. At 28°-50° the Cheese selection is served with onion chutney and bread. If you are not finishing with cheese then the desert menu might be worth peaking at. From the Crème brûlée and Ice cream selection to Fresh fruit salad for the health conscious diners, you can find the right treat for yourself. A glass of port, sherry, madeira or a sweet wine from Spain will envelop the wine evening into a lovely gourmet escape from the busy office environment of central London.

Drinks: Perhaps the main reason for you to stop by are the drinks. 28°-50° is proud to offer “more than 30 wines available by the glass, carafe and bottle at exceptional prices”. And that is absolutely correct and exciting. Moreover, many of the wines are off-the-beaten-track findings, so you can explore something new without a risk of being disappointed. The knowledgeable staff willingly explains what each wine is about and if you are still in doubt you might get a small taste before you order a glass or a caraffe.

The bar seating

Both places are also supporting the BYO scheme (Bring Your Own wine), for £15 charge per bottle. Although there are some restrictions. They “allow only 1 bottle per couple and by prior arrangement with the management”. BYO are not accepted on Friday and saturday nights. But I think the wines on their list are so good and so well-priced that it would be a waste to bring your own wine.

Opening hours: Marylebone: Mon-Wed: 11am-11pm; Thurs-Sat: 11am-midnight; Sun: 12am – 10:30pm

Fetter Lane: Bar: Mon-Fri 11am-11pm; THE RESTAURANT: LUNCH: 12-2:30PM | DINNER: 6PM-9.30PM

Address: 15-17 Marylebone Lane, London WIU 2NE; 140 Fetter lane, London, EC4A IBT

Contact: Tel: +44 (0)20 7486 7922 (Marylebone); +44 (0)20 7242 8877 (East London-Fetter Lane)

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