Viva Ristorante - Hong Kong

Candy says,

It was Ash Wednesday in a foreign city and our first priority was to find a church.  We had no idea what we were going to do for supper.

As we walked down towards the MTR, on our way back,  I said to John "take me somewhere Italian" and at that moment we passed a restaurant only to find that it was,  amazingly enough, an Italian Restaurant.

It was a small place seating only about 12 people inside and about 8 outside but the music and the ambience was appealing so we decided to give it a try.

First to arrive was a bread basket along with ample supplies of olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar.  We ordered a bottle of Italian red wine.  It was really good but very pricey.  I had to use both hands to lift the glass as the wine was served in brandy snifters which were difficult to handle with one hand especially after dipping your bread in the Evoo.

Next we ordered the tomato and lemon soup.  It was a perfect blend of tomato, lemon and basil,  divinely delicious.  By then our bread basket was empty and they brought us another.  Next we shared a Margherita Pizza with thin crust, just the way we like it.

John being a sweet tooth, there always has to be dessert, so we ended off the evening with home-made Tiramusu and cappuccino's.  Even my no-fun one (decaf) was good, but the Tiramisu was disappointing.

Our bill was over R700, which in my humble opinion, was far too much.  I think what redeemed them was, the very homey feeling of the place and the friendly interaction and attentiveness of the staff.

I would give this restaurant a 7 out of 10.

A better aproach to wine

Avondale owner and winemaker Johnathan Grieve is not an accountant. Although he has been making wines for over twelve years, he received his training in fine arts, and this has made all the difference to his business.

Grieve approaches viniculture with a holistic vision, and while he is no doubt a savvy entrepreneur who is in business to make money, he has broken away from conventional methods and refuses to grow his bottom line by treating the process of winemaking as a profit-at-all-costs venture.

He says modern wine-making has in many ways become purely chemical-driven, with huge amounts of fertilizers, soil conditioners, pesticides and commercial yeasts involved in creating the product. When he joined Avondale in 1999, it was a “chemical abuse” farm suffering from years of commercially-accepted agricultural practices.

He set about turning the farm into a truly green operation using USDA and European Union quality standards, which are based on measurable attributes that describe the value and utility of the product. “This is not just about replacing each chemical practice with an organic one, it is redesigning the agricultural process in its entirety,” says Grieve, noting that he views the development of the farm as an ongoing process.

Avondale covers about 100 hectares and has been broken down into 1-hectare plots that are each managed separately. Moisture sensors and drip systems mete out just the right amount of irrigation for each plot. Habitats for natural predators of vine pests are located on some of the plots, at the same time forming green barriers that keep the soil, flora and fauna healthy. 

Trained ducks keep the vines free of snails, which form part of their natural diet. They spend part of their time in a ‘bunkhouse’ located near the vineyard and happily waddle aboard a large tractor-driven trailer that transports them to the vineyard, where they spend part of the day pruning the gastropods from the plants.

“Once the ducklings recognize that the sound of the tractor means food, they quickly and happily will board the trailer. It takes only about two to three days to teach them to walk the ramp into the trailer,” says Grieve.

Grieve says he soon realized that spraying pesticides and herbicides was a continuous battle, one that did not bring many victories.  “Nothing is completely eliminated from the farm,” he says, adding that all the processes on the farm focus on natural control of the environment.

Under this system weeds replace fertilizers and supplements. Grieve says these cover crops help fine tune the soil for each plot and have a symbiotic relationship with the vines. The vines feed the weeds, which in turn create nutrients for the soil and vines.

The process continues after the grapes are harvested, where bag presses replace steel screws and gravity fed systems eliminate powered pumps. Avondale’s wine-maker, Corne Marais, employs only natural yeast fermentation and does not add enzymes, catalysing agents or softeners in the production process.  The wines are matured slowly – months more than on the majority of commercial wine farms – before finally being presented to customers.

What makes Grieve’s approach so exceptional is that he treats the entire wine-making business – from the land, to the grapes, to the wine – as an interconnected and interdependent network. It clearly explains Avondale’s guiding principle of “Terra est vita”(“Soil is life”).

Grieve is building a highly sustainable business model with his holistic ‘green’ approach, a system which he is more than willing to share with other producers. The results of his labour can be found in his wines. Avondale’s range of seven new wines is exceptionally delicious, with flavours and fragrances that linger long after the wine is gone. They are in sharp, and pleasant, contrast to the winery’s ‘old’ collection, which shows many of the harsher tones and short-lived flavours found in contemporary wines.

Grieves has listened carefully to the Earth and his diligence is being handsomely rewarded. Avondale is proof that a business can be both socially and environmentally responsible to a high degree while still producing a quality product and creating a sustainable revenue model.

Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant - Singapore

A very sweet friend of mine, Candy, who now lives in Singapore and is a fellow foodie found a new restaurant to tantalise the tastebuds.

Candy Says;

 When we first landed in Singapore in 2009, we thought we were in food heaven. 

There literally was food everywhere.  We were told that there were specific shops for signature dishes and the longer the queue at the stall, the better the food.  Sometimes that was true but sometimes Singaporeans would just queue out of curiosity, so we found it best to check out the stalls first hand. 

Our first experience with steamed dumplings was at Prima revolving restaurant near Vivocity.  The view was amazing but the buns were not to our liking so we avoided them until friends of mine took me to Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant on the second level at Plaza Singapura, about two months ago. I had to drag John there as he remembered our first experience.  I daresay he was pleasantly surprised. 

We ordered the Spring Roll with Crab Roe stuffing as a starter.  They were two deep fried triangles and the filling had a subtle seafood taste and were absolutely delicious.  Then we ordered the Shangai vegetarian vegetable rice, Braised "Lions' Head",  Pork filled steam buns,  Pork Shanghai pan fried dumplings and Stir Fried Baby Green Beans for mains. 

The rice was so good, it could easily be a meal on its own and one portion was enough for both of us.  The Braised "Lions Head" was minced pork frikkadels in a dark sauce.  Very tasty. 

The green beans were firm, flavoured with garlic and topped with crisp pork pieces. Last but not least, we tried the Golden Pumpkin Cakes for dessert.  We had no idea what to expect but turns out they were pumpkin fritters.  I found them very oily and had to dab them with my serviette to get rid of some of the oil. 

Cost was about $25 per person, which was reasonable. I liked the decor but the tables for two were too small and cramped. They didn't serve wine but we could have as much green tea as we liked.  All the foods we ordered were very yummy and I will definitely be going back to try out some of the other dishes on the menu. I'd give this restaurant an 8 out of 10.

Candy's blog

Banana Muffins

The one thing in this world I really hate is wasting food, so this morning when I discovered two very sad-looking bananas in my fruit bowl I knew it was time to get out the old Banana Muffin recipe and put them to good use.

Spread with butter and drizzled with honey these make a fantastic afternoon snack or serve them with cream cheese and diced bacon for an alternative breakfast.

Banana Muffins

2 eggs
50g castor sugar  (2oz superfine sugar)
150ml milk (5 fl oz or just over half a cup)
50g melted butter / baking margarine (2oz)
2 over ripe bananas mashed with a fork
275g self-raising flour (10oz)
1tsp baking powder (5ml)
1tsp ground cinnamon (5ml)

Paper muffin cases or use silicone muffin cups so they slide out easily

- Heat over to 200C (400F or gas 6)
- Line a muffin pan with the paper cases.
- Wisk eggs, sugar, milk and butter together in a mixing bowl.
- Stir in the mashed banana, baking powder, flour and cinnamon till the mixture is just combined, do not over mix.
-  Spoon mixture into prepared muffin pan and bake for about 30 min or untill golden brown and cooked through.
- Let them stand for about 5 min in the baking dish before taking them out and serving, they are delicious hot or cold.