bon vivant (French) n pl , bon vivants a person who enjoys luxuries, esp. good food and drink

Fatty Crab, Kuala Lumpar

Posted: April 17th, 2013 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Restaurant, Travel | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Fatty Crab is a local institution in KL and whilst the impression you get when you first lay eyes on the place is less than inspiring, the queue of locals clamouring for a table suggests that there is more to Fatty Crab than meets the eye.

Like so many food establishments in Malaysia the furniture is cheap, plastic and belongs in a garden and the atmosphere is hot, sticky and frenetic. Whilst there is some variety on the menu the only real decision is how many crabs to have. We plumped for 4, some garlic chilli prawns and washed it down with Tiger beer.

The crabs arrive swimming in a blisteringly hot chilli sauce and are placed in the centre of the table, along with lots of toast for dunking. We are given the appropriate tools with which to mutilate them and a face cloth to clean ourselves up with. Needless to stay carnage ensues, we devour the crabs, the toast and beer. The heat from the chilli and the air mixed with the ice cold beer is intoxicating.

By the end the table is a scene of destruction the face clothes and finger bowls hardly sufficient. We barely have a chance to stand up before our table is taken by the next unsuspecting group about to be hit by the Fatty Crab whirlwind.

We’re still alive

Posted: February 7th, 2011 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

We've been really busy for the last couple of months and haven't had much chance to blog. Here is a brief overview of what we have been up to and what you can expect to read about in the next few weeks. 

  • Ripped out our Kitchen and replaced it with a shiny new one. It's almost finished now and looks great. I'll try and blog about it next week.
  • Visited Leicester's Indian area over Christmas. 
  • Went to a Beaujolais tasting in Oxford.
  • Becky's been pruning grapes in Austria and visiting vineyards in the Western Cape.
  • Ate at Quod, Oxford and the Wheatsheaf, Titchmarsh.

Christmas Food and Wine Matching @ The Wine Society

Posted: December 3rd, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Wine | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

This Saturday we went to the Wine Society's Christmas Food and Wine Matching at their base in Stevenage. The event was hosted by the societies head of tasting Ewan Murray and food and wine writer Fiona Beckett. There were 10 wines which were each served with a morsel of food traditionally served at Christmas.

1) Nyetimber Brut Classic Blend, 2005 – Served with smoked salmon.

The flag bearer of British wine is a stunning sparkler that more than competes with the best Champagne can throw at them. It's creamy, vanilla, sweet almond and citrus. As well as the smoked salmon this wine would work well with crab, poached fish, lobster and even fish and chips for a decadent treat.

2) Pouilly Fumé, 2008, Seguin – Served with Goats Cheese.

This Sauvignon Blanc works really well with Goats Cheese. The wine has been produced without any Oak. The nose is stone fruit, leafy and minerality. The taste is very crisp acid which cuts through the cheese brilliantly.

3) Grosset Watervale Springvale Riesling, 2009 – Served with curried turkey patties

From Clare Valley in Australia this Riesling is a perfect foil to spicy foods as well as smoked fish. The nose is full of lemon and lime and the wine has a very fresh, clean taste.

4) Iocalia Vermentino di Sardegna, 2009 (Melis) – Served with charcuterie

While instinct might lead us to match a light red with charcuterie this Sardinian white worked very well. The acidity of the wine cuts through the fatty meat wonderfully.

5) Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, 2007 – Served with Christmas turkey and trimmings.

The wine offers a little bit of everything it is Spicy, Creamy and Fruity and will complement the turkey while having enough backbone to stand up to some of the traditional accompaniments. The alcohol levels are high like a Rhone valley red but the nose is much sweeter.

6) The Society's Exhibition Martinborough Pinot Noir, 2008 – Served with Brie.

From the south east corner of New Zealand's north island this full and savoury wine is brimming with cherry. Brie and pinot noir is a great combination.

7) De Martino Legado Reserva, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 – Served with Organic Cheddar

A very ripe wine, cassis, mint, smokey, spicy with dried fruits and some vanilla. From the Maipo valley in Chile which is the region where they grow most of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

8) The Society's Viejo Oloroso Dulce – Served with Stilton

Made by Sanchez Romate bodegas in Jerez this Medium Dry sherry is sweetened with Pedro Ximenez. The combination is good with the sherry offering a rich burnt taste, figs and good levels of acidity.

9) Henriques & Henriques Malmsey, 10 years old – Served with Christmas Pudding

Malmsey is quite a sweet Maderia. It has been fortified with spirit and will therefore last for a long time.

10) Maydie Tannat Vintage, 2008 – Served with Chocolate Fudge Brownies

This unusual wine matched the chocolate well but wasn't really to our taste.

About Wine: What can I expect from Burgundy?

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Wine | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Burgundy is situated on the Eastern side of Central France running South from Dijon past the city of Beaune. The area north of Beaune includes villages like Gevrey-Chambertain and Nuit St Georges and is known as the Côte de Nuits while the area south of Beaune is called the Côte de Beaune and incorporates notable villages Pommard, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. The first thing to know about drinking Burgundy is that nearly all of the white wines will be made from Chardonnay grapes and the reds will almost certainly be made from Pinot Noir. Simplistically the quality scale of Burgundy wines is based on the proximity of the vineyard to the bottom of the valley. With the entry level wines simply named Bourgogne, the next step up are wines from a named village such as Gevrey-Chambertain or Meursault. As we climb up the slopes of the ridge we start to encounter the more prestigious vineyards these are labelled Premier Cru and for the exceptional vineyards Grand Cru.

The Crown at Whitebrook

Posted: October 7th, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Restaurant, Travel | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

A week after our trip to Ludlow food festival and the fantastic La Bécasse we were back for more gastronomy. This time in the form of Abergaveny food festival and Wales premier restaurant with rooms The Crown at Whitebrook. The Crown is tucked away in the beautiful surroundings of the Forest of Dean and has a cosy atmosphere. Our room was nicely furnished with a big bathroom, a four poster bed and a wooden floor which I was really captivated with.

Dinner was a bit of a novelty. In celebration of the food festival the Crown at Whitebrook put on a 7 course banquet. The restaurant was setup with one long table seating 30 diners and guests were asked to guess what they had been eating and drinking after each course. We were some of the first diners to arrive and enjoyed a chat about the upcoming Ryder Cup with Head Chef James Somerin.

As the lounge started to fill up we were all welcomed by the efficient maître d’ Clare who explained the format of the evening. Canapes were served alongside a couple of glasses of Welsh sparkling wine from just down the road and with introductions out the way the conversation started to flow. 

Clare called us to the table and Alex the sommelier asked us to guess the origin of the welsh wine which between us we managed to get. 

The first course definitely had the wow factor served in a closed kilner jar were cod fillet, a quails egg yolk, ham and truffle but what really set the dish off was the smoke filled kilner jar. Opening the dish to be treated to a plume of smoke was a great sensation. This was accompanied by a glass of white Coteaux du Tricastin(from the Rhone) which no one managed to guess.

Next up we were treated to tomato, goats' cheese, olive and horseradish served with an obscure Spanish wine made from the Godello grape needless to say nobody managed to guess this.

Turbot followed with a breaded fried ball of bone marrow and a cep risotto. The wine was a Pinot Noir from Marlborough which Becky kicked herself at not guessing when she realised she knows the winemaker. 

Becky's poor luck with the wine guessing was about to change and to the amazement of the rest of the table she managed to identify the rose served with the scallop, coconut curry and pig's ear scratchings as being from Lebanon. 

The last main course was chicken, langoustine and sweet corn foam. Once more Becky guessed the wine. Which was a Chardonnay from Santa Barbara.

Dessert began with a chocolate ganache, stewed apricot, hazelnut mousse and salted toffee The wine was a Rutherglen, Muscat and needless to say Becky guessed it almost instantly.

Following on from the chocolate ganache we were bombarded with apples. A cider jelly, was accompanied by a chunky apple puree, an apple ice cream and a cinnamon biscuit. The whole table guessed the drink we were served which proved to be a glass of local cider. The same that was used in the desert.

After dinner we all decamped to the lounge for coffee, petit four and calvados. The party slowly dispersed and we were left to reflect on a fantastic evening. James Somerin produces fun, vibrant food that focuses on getting the most out of the ingredients. The service was excellent and well marshalled by Clare. So often with service it is the little details that make a big difference. I loved the way that after we were asked once which type of water we wanted our decision was remembered for the rest of the meal. 

Bei Restaurant, Beijing

Posted: October 3rd, 2010 | Author: Bill | Filed under: Restaurant, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

A little note on a superb restaurant.

2nd September 2010

What a gem.  We booked this as the original restaurant, Salt that we were going to visit, run by the superstar female chef of Beijing Ana Esteves who is from Venezuela was away.

We then rang Bei and we managed to get in and booked an early table.  It is based in The Opposite House Hotel, a new hotel complex in the very busy Sanlitun Lu Village area which is buzzing and has so much life.  The Opposite House is a boutique hotel designed by a Japanese designer and it is wow.  We had a tour after dinner, but back to Bei.

The restaurant is serious, formal and wonderfully appointed.  The chef is Max Levy, he is an American, who learnt his trade in Japan and even worked in Tsujki Fish Market so understands fish.  His influences are Spain, Northern China and Korea.  He was this year 2010 voted Chef of the Year.  He has also worked at some of New York’s top restaurants.

The waiting staff are very impressive, formal, smart, very welcoming and with their finger on the pulse and they know their job.

The restaurant has amazing décor and as you walk into the restaurant, you walk over the amazingly lit swimming pool of the hotel – it is a very romantic walkway.

Once sat at the table, the staff ask if you have any allergies and they know what each menu item is.

The have an a la carte menu as well as set menus, along with a brilliant sashimi and sushi menu with very fresh fish.

The wine list is excellent and not pricy with a great range of Sakes and Sochu’s and Japanese beers, some of which I had not seen before, so I had the Tokyo beer at 60 Yuan a bottle.

The bread comes cut into small squares but wonderfully presented, with soya bean butter, popcorn butter and pork fat to spread on your bread, presented in square dishes on a tray.  It was great presentation.

I ordered some amazing sashimi and before they brought this to the table, they grated the wasabi in front of you at the table, as per the University trip to Japan in 2009.  The waiting staff were possibly the best I have seen.

The difference in taste with the fresh wasabi is amazing.

I ordered a starter of a warm beef fillet and spinach in a bean curd wrapper.  Very tender, brilliant presentation and flavour.

The next course – like being in heaven, it was Eel Foie Gras, served on a jazzy presentation bowl/plate.  Foie Gras in the bottom of the bowl with Japanese style eel on the side (one of my all time favourite foods) with sliced cucumber.  I wrote on the night sensational – it was just fantastic, the flavours, depth of cooking precise.


Next it was onto suckling pig, it was fabulously crispy crackling, sliced on a bed of sweet potato, great flavours, wonderful hot, earthy and excellent.


The pudding was a plum consommé with a Shiso ice cream with candy floss with a brochette on top, that you eat together with the ice cream.  The visual effect was stunning and the taste just amazing.  The waiting staff tell you that you have to eat the dish to get the best effect.


Jinzhao’s dinner was just as amazing.  The water with the dinner was Voss, far cheaper than London!!


It was excellent, one of the all time best meals.


The tour of the hotel was very impressive including the egg lift.  Beijing/Tokyo is way ahead in terms of food, flavours, presentation and customer skills.

The Plough at Bolnhurst, Bedfordshire

Posted: October 1st, 2010 | Author: Becky | Filed under: Restaurant | No Comments »

During the week I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful, rural pub in quiet Bedfordshire. Staff were welcoming and professional and the menu extensive, with a choice from a written menu and a blackboard full of daily specials. The drink selection was refreshing with plenty of interesting soft drinks available for drivers (Fevertree, Fentiman's to name a few) and a decent wine list with a good selection of wines by the glass.

We just went for main courses and despite having to wait a little while for our food to come out…it was surely worth it. I ordered a rump steak with all the trimmings and I think it was probably the best steak I have ever had. Talk about melt in the mouth… My carnivorous South African colleague sitting opposite me also went for a rump steak and he too could not have rated it highly enough. The obviously homemade béarnaise sauce was sublime and complemented the steak beautifully. Neither of us left a morceau on our plates. At the end of the table, James had ordered monk fish wrapped in Parma ham which looked delicious and also received fantastic feedback.

Although not a cheap meal out, I will definitely seek to return to The Plough at Bolnhurst as the setting and the quality of the food are exceptional.

About Wine: Why don’t you find vintage Sherry?… Very often

Posted: September 30th, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Wine | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Sherry's are fortified wines made almost exclusively from the palomino grape. For a wine to be called a sherry it must be from a particular area in southern Spain around the towns of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María and Jerez de la Frontera. The process of making sherry is pretty unique and is known as the Solera process. The winemaking process is on going and works like this:

The inside of a Bodega cellar

In the cellars of a Bodega in the Sherry region you will find row upon row of wooden barrels. These rows known as criadera are the key to the consistency of the wine and also the answer to our question. The criadera are ranked and the last criadera is called the solera. When the sherry is bottled it comes from this last row of barrels. The winemaker won't empty the barels in the solera and will typically only bottle about a third of the sherry within. He then replaces the sherry taken from the solera with the same amount from the previous criadera. This is repeated until the first of the criadera is reached and this is topped up with newly harvested grape juice. Typically the solera is the fifth criadera so the sherry in the bottle will be atleast 4 years old but could be older and the bottling cycle is performed every few months. So this is why you don't get vintage sherry(although occasionally a few winemakers do make sherry from a single vintage of grapes.). 

The last thing to note are the different types of sherry that are produced and what makes them such different wines. The first thing to know is that a sherry barrel is a living thing. Floating on top of the sherry in the barrel is an inch thick layer of yeast called the flor and it is the flor that is responsible for the different styles of Sherry. 

The main styles are Fino, Manzanilla, Amontilado, Oloroso, Palo Cortado, Cream, Pale Cream and Pedro Ximenez. 

Fino – Along with Manzanilla are the driest sherries available and they are also the least alcoholic. These two facts are related and are a consequence of our friend the flor. The flor prevents the sherry from oxidising and taking on the nutty flavours associated with Amontilado and Oloroso. The flor is present in Fino and Manzanilla barrels throughout the whole process and the alcohol level in the wine must be kept at a level that can sustain the yeast. This is why Fino and Manzanilla sherry is usually around 15%.

Manzanilla – Depending on who you speak will depend on what the difference is between Manzanilla and Fino. A Manzanilla has to hail from Sanlúcar de Barrameda where locals will tell you the micro climate induced from sea breezes and the marsh land surrounding the town affects the wine as it ages in the criadera. Asking the same question in Jerez you're likely to be told the micro climate makes little difference. Either way the beautiful old bodegas in Sanlúcar oriented to take advantage of the cooling sea breezes are something to behold.

Amontilado – Starts out life in the same way as Fino and Manzanilla but at some point the sherry is fortified. This action kills the yeast that makes up the flor and allows the wine to oxidise. The colour deepens from the straw coloured Fino towards the caramel tones of an Oloroso. The flavour also moves this way maintaining some dryness while shifting towards the nutty taste of Oloroso.

Oloroso - Fortification at the start takes the wine to about 18% alcohol. This removes the flor and allows the sherry to oxidise. The wine develops a deep nutty and caramel flavour and takes on a lovely brown colour. Oloroso is a great partner to cheese and is a nice change to a glass of port.

Palo Cortado – This is one of lifes great accidents. Palo Cortados are some of the best sherries and are produced by complete luck. During the production of Fino the flor sometimes disappears. This can sometimes be a bad thing and might mean that the wine is faulty but at other times there is nothing wrong. These wines are kept in the Solera system and become Palo Cortado. Due to the lack of flor Palo Cortado takes on some of the characteristics of Amontilado but is a bit drier and lighter in colour. 

Cream and Pale Cream – To quote one acclaimed sherry producer: "What is the point of cream sherry? What do you do with them? When do you drink them?" The wines are typically made by sweetening drier sherry(Oloroso for Cream and Fino for Pale Cream) with grape juice. These wines are sickly sweet and uncfortunately are what so many people associate with sherry. 

Pedro Ximenez – Finally Pedro Ximenez or PX is a top desert wine. Unlike the other sherries talked about it is made from Pedro Ximenez grapes rather than Palomino. The grapes are dried in the sun turning them into raisins. The wine is made from the raisins which are full of sugar. This leads to a very dark, sweet, syrupy wine.   

About Wine: An introduction

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Wine | Tags: | No Comments »

So many people myself included can't answer seemingly simple questions about wine: 

What makes a Rioja, a Rioja?

What should I expect from a Cote de Rhone, a South African Pinotage, a Chilean Merlot, etc?

Why does a Sancerre taste different to a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand?

Why don't you get(very often) a vintage sherry? 

I frequently find myself asking Becky questions like this and it got me thinking that I should start a series of blogs titled About Wine to share the answers. If you have questions you want answering please post a comment and I'll do my best to find the answer.

Cortado Coffee Shop, Kettering

Posted: September 27th, 2010 | Author: Dunc | Filed under: Restaurant | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

This cosy coffee shop hidden away on Montagu Street is a real gem. The premise is straight forward blackboards behind the bar display the available selection of sandwiches, bagels, salads, snacks, cakes, teas, coffees and milkshakes. When in Kettering I invariably treat myself to a bacon and cheese wafflewich (A doorstep granary sandwich containing bacon, cheese and a potato waffle.) accompanied by a banana milkshake served in a milk bottle.

Also look out for their themed dining club events.