Tag Archives: wine

Why you owe it to yourself to try a fine dining restaurant at least once.

restaurant

Everyone loves a bit of luxury once in a while. Whether it’s wearing some classy piece of clothing or jewellery, or a nice watch maybe, or driving a nice car. There’s no escaping it, it makes you feel good.

Some years ago one of my ambitions was to eat in a recognised fine dining restaurant. Not just a step up, but a HUGE step up.

For my birthday one year, my wife treated us to a weekend in London, including tickets to a show and lunch at The Ivy in Covent Garden.

I can’t even remember what I chose for my meal but I do recall we shared a baked alaska for dessert which was brought to our table and set alight. ( My Top 5 London Restaurants)

But why choose a top class restaurant?

The Service

service

Service in a top-end restaurant is like nothing you’ve experienced before. These waiters are proper professionals. Chairs are pulled out for you to be seated, linen napkins are laid out on your lap.

The sommelier will advise you on the wine choices and don’t worry even though there may be bottles on the wine list for £1000’s there are always some affordable and very good wines too and don’t even think about refilling your wine glass, someone will be over to do it for you.

The food

dining

The people preparing the food in these places are ‘chefs’ not ‘cooks’, they are chefs and they know exactly what they are doing. These people take time to choose ingredients that are in season, complement each other and taste amazing. In these restaurants, you won’t be getting defrosted, microwaved food. You are getting freshly prepared, beautifully constructed and tasty food. And the food is seasoned properly, so don’t go covering it with salt and pepper.

I’m a real lover of trying new things, ok, maybe sometimes it doesn’t work but I’ve had some superb dishes; steak tartare, foie gras, pigeon breast, quails eggs, pheasant, lobster, partridge and guinea fowl to name a few. The sauces are also incredible, rich and unctuous.These are sauces that have been reduced and tasted until they are perfect.

The wine

vine-bottles-post

I enjoy eating in good restaurants. I enjoy drinking nice wine BUT I’m not a millionaire. I can’t afford to be doing this every week. So when we do eat in a good restaurant we want it to be worthwhile and a good bottle of wine is worth buying to add to your meal. I’m a fan of red wine, a decent Merlot or Cabernet and I particularly enjoy South African wines. Five reasons why South Africa should be your next holiday destination

 

The ambience

If you’re treating yourself and your partner it’s nice to make it an occasion and going to a decent restaurant is exactly that. I love to get into my suit and tie and make a special effort when we go out somewhere really good.

When you eat in a good restaurant, the other people there are there for the same reason. They enjoy the food, the wine and the service. Anyone can make a meal at home and some people can do a really good job of it, but what better way to spend an evening than with like-minded people being pampered and spoilt eating exquisite food and drinking good wine.

The cost

Like with anything of luxury, the cost is whatever you want it to be. Expect to spend two or three times more than you would if you were out at your local restaurant at least and if you want to push the boat out then maybe four or five times more. Personally, I have found that even the best restaurants I’ve been to will cater for someone not wanting to go overboard on price.

The experience

Life is made up of experiences and memories and what better way of creating a memory than eating out at a top restaurant. As far as luxury goes we don’t all need to drive, we don’t all need the best watches but we do all need to eat, so why not save up, have a look at what’s on offer in your area and push the boat out.

If you’re in  London here are some that I’ve tried and can recommend;

The Ivy, Covent Garden

Le Caprice, Piccadilly

Ormer, Mayfair

Galvin at Windows, Hilton Park Lane

Babylon Roof Gardens, Kensington

Roux at The Landau

Quillon, Westminster

Craft at the O2

 

Five reasons why South Africa should be your next holiday destination

Last weekend I returned from an unforgettable 11 day trip to South Africa. This was my first ever visit and was to celebrate my wife’s birthday.

I had all the usual concerns before we  went and had no real idea what was in store for us.

So why then, should you choose to visit South Africa ?

Reason 1; The scenery is breathtaking

DSC00068

The mist falls over Devil’s Peak towards the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town

We hired a car and drove the garden Route for most of our holiday and took shed loads of photos but looking back at a two dimensional snap just doesn’t communicate in any way just how immense and spectacular some of the scenery like Table Mountain and the national parks are. Table Mountain dominates the Cape Town skyline in a way that no other landmark could and just a few hours from Cape Town enormous granite cliffs stretch  into the sky  as far as the eye can see and look like they could engulf you in an instant.

Reason 2; The wine is stunning

IMG_0837.jpg

We are big fans of South African reds so to go to a place like this where Stellenbosch is on the doorstep is like a trip to Mecca. We booked a winelands tour with an independent guide , Hein Dornbrack of www.socialtrekking.co.za, who showed us around 4 of the vineyards near our hotel.To put this number into context, in the Stellenbosch area alone there are about 150 separate vineyards all producing wines of the very highest quality. We had to concede defeat at about 4.30pm after tasting, and drinking, some of the best wines we’ve ever had.

Reason 3; It’s very inexpensive

When you live in a country like England you become used to paying £5 for a pint of beer, £6 for a glass of mediocre red and anything from £50 plus for an average two course meal. It’s a real eye opener to sit and eat a delicious three course meal in a restaurant with superb views and enjoy a bottle of great wine and to be charged £30 ! Going out for a drink in the evening costs £4 for a glass of wine and a beer. To fill the car up with petrol cost only £35. Are you listening England ? It can be done !

Reason 4; The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming

I realise that we were tourists and were seeing people in restaurants, hotels, bars and tourist attractions but you cannot feign that friendliness.Everyone we met, from taxi drivers to petrol pump attendants were smiling and accommodating and willing to go the extra mile for us. What was also noticeable was the pride they have in their country and where it has come from since the days of apartheid. Everyone we spoke to was knowledgeable about the history, the habitat, the flora and fauna, the politics and wanted to share that knowledge with us.

Reason 5; The wildlife is unbelievable

DSC00125

Up close with a lioness on our game drive

We were fortunate to go on a few game drives in a private game reserve during our time there so we were pretty much guaranteed to see a wide variety of wildlife. But South Africa is teeming with wildlife everywhere. On our first afternoon in Cape Town we saw a seal taking a leisurely swim at the V & A Waterfront , we saw a dassie ( a small dog sized animal) at the top of Table Mountain, we saw baboons on a rooftop on our way along the garden route, ostriches in a field along the road. We were sadly out of season for the spectacle of whale watching at Hermanus ( September-December) but can only imagine how breathtaking that must be.

DSC00168

South Africa is an immense country and we have merely scratched the surface but what we saw and experienced of the people, the scenery, the wildlife I think we can say with some certainty that we will be back.

No corkscrew ? No problem. A handy guide on how to open a bottle of wine.

vine-bottles-post

Now before we start let’s get this clear. This handy hack is for CORKED bottles only. I know that screw tops are becoming the rage now and you may not need this , but hey, you never know.

I’ve used this method several times and it doesn’t fail.

It would be super cool if this guide was to show you how to slice the top of a bottle off with a sword  like they do in Spanish sherry cellars but that would mean carrying a sword around with you JUST on the off chance that someone might have forgotten the corkscrew.

I don’t advise it.

Thus method is really simple and may come in handy if you’ve decided on an impromptu picnic for example and it was left to you to pack everything. First of all you go…Damn, I’ve forgotten the corkscrew. What are we going to do ?

Well, here’s what.

Get yourself a tea towel or a cloth of some sort and fold it over to cushion the base of the bottle. Then , hold the towel against a hard surface , a wall or a tree for example. Then, holding the bottle horizontally GENTLY but firmly tap the base of the bottle against the cloth. Continue doing this and you will see that gradually the pressure in the bottle will force the cork out. Wait until the cork is far enough out to grip it and then ease it out with your fingers. The wine has become a bit shaken so wait for it to settle.

Voila. You are welcome.

Probably best not to do this in a restaurant or with really expensive wine , but it’s a good one to keep up your sleeve for emergencies.

 

Taste wine like a pro

A few years ago I went out for dinner with a friend and was asked if I wanted to taste the wine. I did. And I did the usual thing we all do when we THINK we know what we’re doing but really haven’t got a clue. I raised the glass up , sniffed the wine and tasted a bit and went ‘ Mmm, yes , that’s fine.’ To be honest unless I’d been served cat piss I don’t think I’d know one from another.

I got the p.. taken for my sad efforts and rightly so. That year though , presumably having taken pity on me  , my friend bought me a wine tasting course as a birthday present and I’ll share with you here what I learned because believe me it does make a difference to your enjoyment and it’s the sort of thing that we as 50+ men should be confident in doing. We’ve been around long enough to have found stuff like this out.

Firstly , look at the wine. Hold it up to the light and check the clarity.

Secondly when the waiter has poured a little wine into the glass , swirl the wine around wine-legsgently so it rises up the sides of the glass. This serves two purposes ; one it allows the wine to aerate which improves the aroma and secondly when the wine pours back down the sides of the glass it leaves a trail known as ‘legs’. The legs of the wine are not an indication of quality but alcohol content. The thicker the legs , the higher the alcohol content. So try to avoid those wines that look like a glass of water with two drops of blackcurrant cordial in them.

Thirdly raise the glass to your nose and sniff…hard. That’s not the one that does anything wine-sniffthough. What you do now is sniff again and allow the bouquet to reach the back of your palate and stay there. The longer the bouquet stays on your palate the better the wine.

 

 

Then, and only then do you taste. Try and suck the wine through your pursed lips a bit like Hannibal Lechter when he does his ‘I ate his liver with some fava beans and a fine Chianti’ line. And do this twice. The first one is to prepare your palate and the second is the real taste. You will notice a difference between the two, I promise.

When you’ve gone through this whole palava you can then look at the waiter and go ‘That’s fine thank you.’ Pretty much the same as before but at least this time you look like you know what you’re doing. And when you do get a wine that tastes particularly good it is worth it.

Good luck with it.