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Reds, Whites, and Why I Have the Blues

Hey Dan,

Thanks to my *favourite* local supermarket (take a bow Tops ) I received an invitation to the second annual ‘Bordeaux Rendez-vous’ – a little tasting of 93 wines from Grand Cru producers in the region, with retail prices ranging from BHT1,420 (A$54) to BHT12,660 (A$478) a bottle.

I didn’t quite manage to get to all 93, but as indicated by the pricing there were a range of styles and quality on display. Highlights to my mind included a 2005 Château d’Issan (yours for a mere BHT10,530), a 2006 Château d’Armailhac (a snip at BHT6,130 – though to be fair, their château appears to be half-price too), and there was something utterly sensational when I first arrived that may or may not have been a 2006 Domaine de Chevalier (for BHT8,050), but I can’t remember exactly – serves me right for not taking notes as I did last year…

There were a few disappointments too, though had I been a man with a plan, I would have started with the more affordable wines and moved up from there. Also, as I’m not one of the fabled 1% who can afford extensive cellaring facilities (ahem), I found myself in a bit of a pickle – my limited climate-controlled space is reasonably fully stocked with rather nice Australian and Spanish reds right now (whites are definitely in short supply, but I’m not about to fix that with Bordeaux) – so no new purchases.

I did, however, have a few interesting discussions with the winemakers on hand.

Corks were one thing. Or 93 things, actually. Nothing so gauche as a Stelvin in sight here. One winemaker told me that the extra-long French corks he uses set him back €2.50 each – and that nothing could replace the sound of it being removed, nor the smell. He confided that his family also owns a winery in South Africa, and they do put their whites under screw caps, but not the reds.

I’d reckon that if you’re paying this much for wine, a screw cap adds just a little extra piece of mind. Still, it could be worse: the same guy told me that he had won a bet with his father, and the prize was a bottle of Romanée-Conti  (a bottle for which you’ll be lucky to get change from US$10k) and it was corked!

The other comment that took me by surprise was that “wine is all about marketing.”

The cynic in me thinks everything is about marketing these days, so it came as a surprise to hear someone with a Troisièmes Cru, or third growth ranking dating back to 1855 could sound so cynical – and disappointed – about it too.

But then, maybe he has a point. Even if he reduced his yield to two grapes per hectare and produced two bottles of perfect wine in a good vintage, he will always be a Troisièmes Cru. It almost seems a disincentive to invest. And the same could be said of the Premiers Crus: They’re going to sell every bottle they make anyway, so do they really need to try harder?

I guess that wine can also be a Veblen good.

That said, I’m happy to  trust my palate. I may never taste Romanée-Conti, but I’m not convinced I appreciate Burgundy enough to truly appreciate it – I could try a bottle of very good wine a day for a year for a similar price as a single bottle – even at Thai prices. That is surely a better plan, no?

Mango Mania


Being on a health kick of late, there’s a lot of fruit on the menu. I’m pretty good with that as a concept, particularly because we have so much good fruit available. Forget the sad cut fruit on your hotel’s breakfast buffet – there’s a world of fantastic fruit available in Thailand.

I don’t know about you, but mangos are pretty much at the top of my list. I know things have changed in Australia, where mangoes were once only a special Christmastime treat, but Thailand takes that extended season further, and we have them pretty much year-round. Thailand apparently produces more than two million tons of mangoes annually, and I’m doing my best to keep that number up.

You’d think that’d make me sick of them, but I am genuinely happy to eat mango every day. There’s a little market in the mornings on the Lumpini corner where our local restaurant sets up for the evenings, and a vendor there usually has two choices of mango – a sweet one, probably the local Nam Dok Mai variety, and a green one for salads.

The supermarket often has a wider choice of the local elongated varieties, some of them more than a kilo each! A smaller one that’s in season now is a hybrid between a Sunset and a local Thai variety that goes by Maha Chanok. They smell so sweet that it is like having a bouquet of flowers in the house, and worth it for that alone, which is good, because the better half reckons the taste is not that great and they’re a little stringy.

Another one with a super sweet aroma led me through the market by my nose to what looked like a Bowen mango, but instead one that goes by the rather romantic name R2E2. You could assume it was cultivated by a Star Wars fan, but apparently it was from Row 2 Experiment 2 at the Queensland Government’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Bowen research station.

It’s one of those rounded plump mangoes, with non-stringy, sweet and flavourful flesh. Amazing the difference from the slightly tarter local varieties. When I found a grafted R2E2 tree at a market in Samui last year I snapped it up.

My R2D2. Years before it fruits though…

And there’s another reason to love mangoes: while everything else in the garden is shriveling up after a month without rain, the mangoes are powering ahead. They seriously look as though they’re dormant for most of the year, and then when the conditions get hot and dry, shazam: loads of fresh growth. Love it.

I’m obviously a few years away from picking my own fruit, and am experimenting with sprouting some other seeds in the meantime, but hopefully one day in the near future I’ll have a nice extended home-grown mango season. In the meantime, it’s not as though I’m starving.

Daily Bread


Not a loaf of bread

Hey Dan,

Fresh bread, you’re right there is nothing like it.

When I first arrived in Singapore in 1997, bread was problematic. I could buy pre-sliced processed loaves at the supermarket, but there was precious little else available. In despair I bought a bread machine. The results weren’t brilliant, but better than any bread I could buy.

Fast-forward a dozen years and bread has been discovered – sort of. The Singaporean Bread Talk chain is everywhere in Asia, and people in Singapore seem crazy for the stuff. I’ve even seen queues.

But when I walk past all I can smell is that sickly-sweet aroma of processed-flour sugary buns. It’s actually enough to make me feel a bit ill. Apparently it’s what appeals to the Asian palate, but calling it bread is something of a stretch. Then again, you’re probably not going to sell much product in a store called Processed-Flour Sugary Buns (though I should trademark the name, just in case).

There are alternatives now – Jones, Swiss Bake, Cedele, and the French place Paul, plus a few independents, are making life much better for those of us who go for a more traditional loaf. Bangkok’s even better – there are enough Europeans in town for a market for the stuff. Conkey’s and Maison Jean Philippe both make excellent loaves – and at vaguely reasonable prices.

Unbelievably, even Tesco Lotus in Samui has a bakery that churns out edible bread, plus there are a few European-run independent bakeries such as La Fabrique which has its main bakery in Lamai and an outlet near Chaweng. Who would have thought it?

But baking is just not an Asian thing. It’s unusual to find a domestic kitchen with an oven – of four places I’ve lived in Asia only one was equipped with an oven. That is bound to change, what with the cupcake craze (yep, every hipster in town wants to open a cupcake shop). For the moment though,  your bread recipe is a bit lost on me for now.

Yes I still roast meat on the old gas barbeque, but that’s not a bread-baking solution. (Then again, maybe it could be?)

I miss the oven though. Bread for one thing. Home-made pizzas. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

It’s funny though how much paraphernalia can accumulate in a kitchen. All those special tools that serve one function. A good kitchen shop is a bit like a good hardware store – it’s a bonanza of possibilities. But like hardware, there are some things you don’t really need. A garlic crusher? Use a knife, slice and flatten it. Really.

Cooking implements are different. A paella pan cannot be directly replaced. Or a cast-iron pot for slow cooking. And specific serving implements are hard to replace too. But give the olive pitter, or banana slicer a miss. Banana slicer? Yup. You can get anything on Amazon (do yourself a favour and read the user reviews, they’re hilarious).

An oven though. That’s an important cooking tool. I’m thinking I need a pizza oven. I’ll fuel it with the fat ends of the coconut fronds, and do some bread and a pizza at the same time.



I’m reserving a spot for it in the veggie patch right now.

Attack of the Gastro-Gnomes


Hey Dan,

Russian River does sound interesting. Funny you mention The French Laundry though. I’m not sure why you’d bother going, because it only ranks 44th in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants list released this week. I’m betting you’ve remortgaged the house and been on hold to Copenhagen for 48 hours, trying to get a table at Noma some time in 2017 instead.

Or not.

Having never eaten there, I’m happy to give Noma the benefit of the doubt on the food front, but slapping a ‘world’s best’ label on something like a restaurant is as futile as ranking art – ‘and once again for 2014 the Mona Lisa takes the top prize, though that Da Vinci bloke had better get a bit more avant-garde if he wants to retain the title next year.’ Bollocks.

They’re comparing apples with oranges (with mangoes, durians and grapes too – though grapes win hands-down, because at least you can turn them into wine), and despite the claim that more than 900 industry experts are involved in the voting there are obviously biases involved. Plus, 900 experts sounds a lot like a committee to me, and you know what committees produce.

Still, there are some interesting things to note. Such as 36 of the 50 best being in Europe. That’s right, a mere six in Asia – the world’s most populous continent (though I have two within walking distance. Should I count myself lucky?). There are five for all of Central and South America, and a mere one each for Australia and South Africa.

Okay, so the judges have a thing for Europe, and Spain in particular. I get the Spain thing – I did a trip there a few years back organised by the Spanish tourism people, and the food was incredible. But only one in Australia? Then again, the ranked restaurants all tend to do the expensive degustation menu thing, so that narrows the field.

As a marketing tool this works. You’d push to be on the list too if it meant a waiting list to get a reservation at your restaurant. I met one of the chefs on this year’s list a few years back, and he was young, extremely photogenic, and very eager to be nice to the media – it’s amazing how far a compliment to a journalist will get you, believe me.

The problem is that being on the list means your restaurant will be full of media types and serious foodies – they’ll sit quietly and photograph every plate and analyse every bite and discuss in reverential tones suitable for such a religious experience (Chefs are gods, didn’t you know?).

Give me a busy family-run trattoria in the Italian countryside any day. Nothing sucks the joy out of a dining experience more effectively than a serious foodie.

Clearly it was an oversight that I was not consulted when it came to compiling this list. Frankly we should do one of our own – the 41 Best Restaurants in the World (that should stop them suing us!).

My nomination goes to Cafe Negrito on Koh Samui. Khun Play does a killer seafood fried rice (I don’t want to know what the secret ingredient is, for fear that it’s MSG), the beer is so cold that the condensation freezes on the outside of the bottle, and the view across the water is lovely.

Admittedly the wiring is more creative than the menu, there’s no wine list (we can fix this) and the roof leaks when it rains, but I’ve never had anything buy a joyful experience there. That makes it the best in my books.