2012 Gianni Masciarelli Montepulciano D' Abruzzo

Monday, 27 July 2015

Montepulciano is a red wine grape variety grown widely in central Italy, most notably its eastern Abruzzo, Marche and Molise regions. Globally appreciated for their soft flavors, strong color and gentle tannins, Montepulciano wines are typically best consumed in their youth and with food. This is not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is a Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany.

This classic, well-rounded Italian red has hints of plum, cherries, spice and licorice on the nose, with hints of black cherries, blackcurrant and a savoriness/earthiness on the palate. It has medium acidity, soft, spicy tannins and a long finish. A delicious drop that will go well with many earthy, flavorsome dishes.

Verdict: An excellent wine for its price, will go well with some classic Italian dishes, ex. pizza, Bolognese, or a juicy steak.

Restaurant Month returns to Auckland!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Auckland’s preeminent dining event, Restaurant Month, returns this August promising to give Kiwis a taste of some of New Zealand and the world’s best chefs and sommeliers, the chance to savour over 100 special menu offers and access to over 30 foodie-inspired events.

The month-long celebration, created by Heart of the City and presented by headline sponsor American Express®, will see the return of big annual events including The Chef Dining Series, Wine AKL and the very popular “Street Eats”, plus a new dinner-by-bike event and new sustainably-focused menus from participating restaurants.

A few of the highlights of Restaurant Month:

A Taste of Matterhorn, Past & Present
Incredible food, even more incredible cocktails and music that reels you in and makes you never want to leave – the ingredients of a classic Matterhorn night out. Matterhorn, born in Wellington in 1963, celebrates their first Restaurant Month with the help of the chefs (Rob Mayback, Sean Marshall, Dave Verheul, James Pask and Ben Tuhakaraina, to be exact), mixologists (Riki Carter, Claire Harlick and Calem Chadwick will be on the bar), and musicians that shaped the institution.

With five degustation courses, wines and cocktails to match and a performance by long-time Matterhorn residents, Wellington-based funk and boogaloo band The Eggs, a Taste of Matterhorn will be a great, very late night. (A Taste of Matterhorn is part of Restaurant Month in the Heart of the City’s Chef Dining Series.)

Wednesday 5 August, 6.30pm - late
Matterhorn, 37 Drake Street, Freemans Bay
Tickets available from iTICKET - $220 including 5 courses, cocktail on arrival, matching wines and live performance by The Eggs

Louis Roederer Champagne Dinner
Indulge yourself with a 5 course degustation menu in the intimate setting of O’Connell Street Bistro’s dining room, matched to Louis Roederer Champagne & Chateau de Pez wines and featuring the renowned 2005 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne. Hosted by O’Connell Street Bistro Proprietor Chris Upton and Ben Longhurst, Fine Wine Manager of EuroVintage.

Friday 7 August, 6.30pm
O’Connell Street Bistro and Bar, Cnr Shortland and O’Connell Streets
Tickets $295 available from iTICKET

Britomart Progressive Dinner
This now annual Progressive Dinner as part of Restaurant Month invites local food and wine lovers to visit some of Britomart’s finest bars and restaurants for a decadent five-course meal. Guests will begin the evening at Tyler Street Garage for cocktails and canapés, then split into smaller groups for entrées, mains and desserts at Ebisu, Ostro and Cafe Hanoi. The evening will end with après-dinner drinks at Britomart's 1885 basement bar. Tickets are restricted to those 18 years and over.

Thursday 13 August, 6.30pm
Start at Tyler St Garage, Tyler St
Tickets $165 available from July 2 from iTicket including 5 courses and wines

Wine AKL
The wine buff’s ultimate day out returns with over 80 top New Zealand wineries. Taste your way around the country’s vineyards and varietals with the winemakers at hand to discuss the finer points of each drop. Learn food and wine matching tips from the city’s leading restaurateurs and sommeliers, grab a bite to match what you’re drinking from the pop-up Euro restaurant on-site plus catch up with international and local wine experts including Nick Stock (AUS), Jorge Nunes (Portugal) Bob Campbell MW (NZ) and Yvonne Lorkin (NZ).

Friday 14 August, 5pm – 8.30pm & Saturday 15 August, 12pm – 3.30pm and 4.30pm – 8pm
Shed 10, Queens Wharf
Tickets available from iTicket. Advance sales $25, door sales $30 – including a tasting glass, your first 5 tastings and a wine guide.

Dinner by Bike
Explore Auckland’s streets and flavours from a new perspective with Dinner by Bike, a progressive dinner by cycle. Your journey will take you on a scenic route through the city, starting in Britomart and taking in streets and spaces made for biking between courses.The menu for the evening will transport you through acclaimed restaurants serving up the flavours of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with your entrée at The Black Hoof, main at Ima Cuisine, dessert at Café Hanoi and after-dinner drink at Fukuko. Dinner by Bike is presented by Auckland Transport.

Tuesday 18 & Wednesday 19 August
Start Café Hanoi, Britomart from 5.50pm for group 1 and 6.40pm for group 2
Tickets $69 incl. 3 courses, after-dinner drink, bike hire (optional), guide and wet weather gear.
Available from iTicket

Street Eats
It’s loud, it’s busy and it’s a whole lot of foodie fun. Auckland’s Street Eats returns with a diverse line-up of central city restaurants serving up their favourite street food in a gourmet hawkers market complete with beer and wine bars, kids’ entertainment and live music.

Follow your nose and the aromas of exotic spices and grilled meat will lead you towards tasty eats from Mexico, Israel, India, France, Italy and more. This year Street Eats is spreading out across more space and bringing in more food than ever before – so join us for brunch, lunch, dinner or all of the above!

Saturday 29 August, 10.30am – 8pm
Shed 10, Queens Wharf
$5 entry for adults and free entry for supervised children


There is much, much more going on during this month-long culinary celebration - far too many for me to list here. Check out Heart of The City for a full-list of events, and visit my Facebook page here for your chance to win a Double Pass to Wine AKL!

Strasbourg, France

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

There are a few places in Europe that are incredibly special to me and Strasbourg, France, is undoubtably one of them. Located just on the border of where we lived in Karlsruhe, Germany, I still remember the very first time we drove across the border to Strasbourg on a Sunday morning. 'Bonjour!' The Husband cheerily announced thirty minutes into our drive, and just like that we were officially in France.

I didn't know much about Strasbourg then. It isn't an overly famous or popular city like Paris, London or Venice, and it certainly wasn't part of my experience or geographical knowledge, as a child growing up in Malaysia. Needless to say, I was awed from the very first visit. There is something so quintessentially charming about this city, with its combined German-French influences, without being in the least old-fashioned. It is picturesque, full of tradition and history, and paradoxically also incredibly modern.

Strasbourg was, and still is, the European Capital, although not many people know this. Just two hours from Paris and a mere three kilometers from the German border, Strasbourg was designated 'European capital' just after the Second World War, and today hosts numerous international institutions. 

Because it is so close to the border of these two countries, it has a unique blend of both French and German architectural and design styles and cuisine. This spectacular city is bursting at the seams with colorful buildings, canals, and interesting people and is likely one of the most fascinating, beautiful cities you’ll ever visit. It certainly was for me!

The ornate 15th century Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral in Strasbourg dominates the city centre and is a sight to behold. The Strasbourg cathedral stands on a wide cobblestone square as in the Middle Ages. Built from pink sandstone, its tower was the tallest building in the world for over two hundred years.

You can climb the 332 steps to see the spectacular view from above and admire the medieval cityscape of black and white timber-framed buildings, particularly visible in the Petite-France district. On a clear day you can see both the Black Forest and the Vosges mountains. Legend has it that an underground lake exists beneath the cathedral. In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg also houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions that have plagued the city.

A mere stone's throw away from this breathtaking cathedral, you'll find the three main museums in Strasbourg: the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Archeological Museum. From there, you can also explore the historic quarter, an area known as Petit France in Strasbourg, which you'll find on the Grande Ile (Grand Island). Strasbourg’s historic city centre, the Grande Ile, was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honour was placed on an entire city centre.

The medieval town of Petit France was formerly the fishermen’s, millers’ and tanners’ district. Today, it is a peaceful tourist district and the narrow streets are dotted with original half-timbered houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, huge interior courtyards, and large sloping roofs opening out onto lofts where animal hides were once dried.

The Petite France district leads on to the Ponts Couverts (the covered bridges). They have kept this name despite the fact that their roofs disappeared during the 18th century. The Ponts Couverts is overlooked by four towers dating from the 14th century, remnants of the town’s former ramparts, which once guaranteed the independence of the Strasbourg Republic.

Strasbourg is of course famous for its fine food. Alsace is the home of choucroute, sausages, foie gras, cheeses, pain d'epices (gingerbread), smoked meat and fine pastries and breads from plum tarts to pretzels. It's the best of French and German cuisine. Head for a "winstub" (small taverns typically run by families) if you want an authentic experience offered by these traditional restaurants in Strasbourg.

Alsacian specialties include sauerkraut with knacke, pretzels, baeckoffe (meat and potatoes simmered in white wine), flammekueche (flambéed onion tart), kougelhopf (sweet or savoury brioche cake), and spaetzle (a variety of noodle). For dessert, the sampling of the full-flavoured Munster cheese is typically followed by a whole array of bilberry, plum and apple tarts. Not forgetting of course the special cheesecake as well as the famous kougelhopf (marble/bundt cake).

Wine lovers will not want to miss tasting some of the renowned Alsatian wines, mainly of the white variety. Contrary to other French wine regions, the wines of Alsace are not named after the villages or vineyards from which they come, but after the grape variety. Here you'll find both fruity and dry wines (Gewurztraminer, Muscat d’Alsace, Pinot Blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sylvaner) to tempt the palate.

Beer lovers need not feel left out either. With a rich tradition stretching back to 1260, Alsatian beer is universally recognized and it succeeded very early on in imposing its quality, allowing it to rival foreign beers. Kronenbourg is the most common beer in Strasbourg, as it is made in the area.

If you happen to be in Strasbourg in December, make sure you pay a visit to its immense Christmas market (not that you can really miss it if you're in the city), which has been in existence for 443 years. The oldest Christmas market in France, the Christmas Market itself spreads out into many streets and squares from the city centre, in particular Place Broglie and the Cathedral Square.

A giant Christmas tree is planted in Place Kleber close to the "Sharing Village, while an ice skating rink at the foot of the cathedral delights families and children. There are also many treats to feast on while you enjoy the sights, from sweets of all variety, to hot, delicious mulled wine, doughnuts and local crepes.

There's much to love about this gorgeous French city, and I consider myself very lucky to have lived so close by and been able to 'hop over' just for breakfast, some shopping, or to spend a leisurely day. Strasbourg will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope you've enjoyed my trip
down memory lane!

Let Us Cook: Butternut

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

We are absolutely loving NZ Masterchef winner Nadia Lim's cookbook Easy Week Night Meals and decided to pick an ingredient/recipe from the book to cook for some friends during the weekend as part of our challenge. 

We settled on her Thyme-stuffed Chicken, Butternut and Spinach with Mushroom Sauce, and it was every bit as delicious and wonderful as all the other dishes we've made from her book so far. 

It took a little longer to prepare than our usual 'let's just throw it all together' meals, but it was well worth it. The chicken was surprisingly tender and juicy, the butternut was soft, savory and tasty (first time I've tasted Butternut actually), and the mushroom sauce was absolutely amazing. We didn't end up with quite enough sauce for our meat, so next time we might make a little more, but this is definitely one we'll be going back to again and again. See recipe below. =)

Thyme-stuffed Chicken, Butternut and Spinach with Mushroom Sauce

4 chicken breasts (skin on)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
30g softened butter

Butternut and Spinach:
800-900g butternut (skin on), cut in half lengthways and cut into 1 cm-thick slices
1½ tablespoons maple syrup or runny honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
4-5 cups baby spinach leaves or chopped spinach

Mushroom Sauce:
¼ cup white wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
250g button mushrooms, quartered
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ cup cream
Juice of ½ lemon


1) Preheat the oven to 200°C. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
2) Mix the garlic, thyme and butter together. Divide the flavoured butter into four and push under the skin of each chicken breast, distributing the butter evenly by squishing it around with your fingers. Season the chicken with salt.
3) Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook for 3 minutes or until the skin is golden brown. Flip the breasts over and transfer to a roasting dish (but don't wash the pan).
4) Lay the butternut on the prepared oven tray and drizzle over the maple syrup or honey and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
5) Roast the chicken and butternut in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through (when the juices run clear when pierced with a knife) and the butternut is soft and slightly caramelised.
6) Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest in a roasting dish while you make the sauce.
7) Put the frying pan you cooked the chicken in back on medium heat. Add the wine and use a wooden spoon to rub the bottom of the pan to release the brownings into the liquid while the wine bubbles away. Add the olive oil and cook the onion until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. Add the soy sauce, cream and lemon juice and simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.
8) Wash the spinach, scatter on top of the butternut and return to the oven for 2-3 minutes until the spinach has wilted.
9) To serve, divide the butternut and spinach between plates, top with a chicken breast and spoon over the sauce.

2013 Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir

Thursday, 16 July 2015

This special wine is named after Project Crimson, a trust to conserve and regenerate the magnificent forests of a kiwi icon – the Pohutukawa.  Every time you drink a Crimson, Ata Rangi will give a donation to help the lost Pohutukawa forests of the Southern North Island.

There is plenty of suppleness in this wine, with complex, earthy nuances and savoury character. Flavours of light cherries, berries and spices on the nose and palate give way to hints of chocolate and smoky oak. This is an elegant and classy Pinot Noir with good acidity, depth and length that feels like it will continue to be expressive in the coming few years although it is imminently drinkable now.

Verdict: An enjoyable wine with savory, earthy tones that balances the concentrated fruit characters beautifully. Lovely complexity and a good length. Will go wonderfully with meat and some cheeses. 

Graze and Feast

Monday, 13 July 2015

I was excited to learn about Graze and Feast, Auckland's newest independently owned and operated food market, based at Shed 10 on Queens Wharf every Friday evening for the month of July.

Growing up in a country like Malaysia means I'm no stranger to street food, and I love the concept of a gathering of food trucks all in one location. While I quickly realized that 'street food' in Auckland does not quite share the same meaning or concept as Asian street food, where it's mostly deep-fried, snack-sized, not very healthy but incredibly tasty, it was no less exciting to see so many vendors selling all sorts of interesting food from different cuisine styles.

From wood fire pizza, burgers and tacos, to South African bunny chow, Indian curries, Vietnamese spring rolls and ice cream, baked goods and desserts, The Husband and I had a fun Friday evening checking out Auckland's latest food event, and of course, stuffing ourselves with delicious food.

Part of the charm of this event, I think, is the fact that it's only held on Friday evenings for one month. It's also a great concept and we enjoyed exploring the different offerings from each vendor, eating all sorts of food from a hotdog to a curry puff, and also the huge space with plenty of seating and relatively quick service. 

I didn't quite like that we had to pay an entry fee to get in - $5 is quite a bit just to enter an event when you don't really know what's going on inside or if you'd want to buy anything from any of the vendors. For a family of four, it means $20 just to enter the venue, which is a little much in my opinion. 

As for the food, while a lot of what we had were really tasty (I especially recommend Ekhaya's Bunny Chow and their Chocolate tart, as well as the Pulled Pork from Al's Deli!) I would have much preferred smaller portions of food for less money, so we could taste and try more from the different vendors. 

As it was, I would have been full on just one burger from Al's Deli, or a Hot Dog from Brooklyn Dogs, if I didn't have The Husband to help me finish up everything I couldn't. A lot of the dishes on offer ranged from $7 - $15, which is quite expensive for 'street food' in my opinion. 

A $15 pizza, plus entry fee and a glass of wine served in plastic cups, and it would be more than what you'd typically spend at an average Auckland restaurant. Again, a little too much for an event like this.

Nevertheless, it is a novelty, and despite the high prices, there is a good vibe at the event, with plenty of tasty grub on offer and a really efficient clean up crew! We had a good time, which is of course, what matters the most, but I think it would be fair to say that we won't be going back for a second visit as we could have probably dined at a very nice restaurant with the amount we spent on the first visit alone, including parking in the city.

Graze and Feast is running for the month of July from 5pm - 10pm on Friday nights with $5 entry. You can also visit their Facebook page here to find out more. (p/s: Bring cash as some vendors are cash-only.)

2006 Pegasus Bay Riesling and Pinot Noir

Friday, 10 July 2015

Waipara is a picturesque valley just 45-minutes north of Christchurch, and the first thing you’ll notice here is acres of grapevines. This is one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions, with Pinot Noir and Riesling grapes doing especially well in the region.

It is no surprise then, that Riesling and Pinot Noir are also the two star varieties at Pegasus Bay, located within the Waipara Valley. At a recent wine-tasting over at a friend's, I had the pleasure of trying the 2006 Pegasus Bay Riesling and Pinot Noir, which were both rather outstanding and memorable.

Warm days and cool nights in the region results in ripe, rich fruit while retaining knife-edge acidity in the Riesling, which had a lovely lemon hue, with citrus notes coming to the forefront and a background of stone fruits, spice and honey. The wine was full-bodied and crisp with solid acidity that would go well with oily fishes such as salmon, seafood, and would also hold up to a number of Asian dishes.

The Pegasus Bay Pinot was earthy and rich, with plenty of ripe berry characters and gamey undertones that gives this wine complexity and depth. This is an elegant, expressive and imminently drinkable wine, good on its own or with cheeses and some meat.
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