Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Espresso Parkhurst

Espresso has been a popular eatery in Parkhurst, Johannesburg, for years. It's laid back style and good food has been a success, and is always attracting new comers and keeping them coming back for more.

The food selection is huge, from breakfasts to light meals to pizzas to salads to full meals, all of which have a great variety to choose from. Some of my firm favorites are the Halloumi basket with the amazing Gorgonzola sauce, the Prego rolls with peri-peri sauce and the Beef Schnitzel with mushroom sauce. The pizzas are always popular with their thin crispy bases and interesting toppings.

The wine list isn't huge but the selection offers a good variety of styles and price range, with some more interesting by-the-glass options than some restaurants offer.

The laid back vibe makes you feel relaxed and gives you time to enjoy the food, company and the people watching. The staff is very quick to strike up a rapport with regular customers. However, this laid back may become an issue when trying to call for the bill. Speaking of the bill, Espresso is a cash only restaurant, which I more than often forget and sometimes is my deciding factor for not visiting them, so keep this in mind.

The decor is a little tired and does need a bit of freshening up, but this doesn't compromise your visit the Espresso as you are soon distracted by all the people watching available to you. Besides the fact that with a revamp usually comes increased prices...

These slight irritations aside, I still enjoy going back to Espresso from time to time.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Avondale: Terra Est Vita

Avondale is a family owned farm situated in Paarl, South Africa. The estate is organic certified and keeps a holistic view of the vineyard ecosystem. Their attention to detail is impeccable bordering on engendered perfection.

They aim high with their 6 wines, ranging from R122 to R277, with a seventh flagship (blended red) to come. Each wine has a story that is encapsulated by their titles.

The MCC, Armilla (R179 , non vintage), is 100% Chardonnay with lovely crisp flavour and feel.

Their two whites are quite interesting, Anima (R163, 2009) is a Chenin Blanc which has a slight sweet aroma with a taste of yellow berries. The Cyclus (R204, 2009) is a white blend of 60% Viognier with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon making up the balance. The Cyclus has a much more open aroma than the Amina, with a complex taste and many layers of pear, apricot, light wood and slightly higher acidic finish. Both wines were delicious, and would be even better in a chilled decanter.

The Rosé, Camissa (R122 , 2010), it is 84% Muscat de Frontignan and 16% Mourvedre. These big flavour grapes make this wine the most surprising, with it's beautiful copper colour, sweat Turkish Delight aroma, and off dry crisp flavour.

The current red range consists of, Samsara (R277, 2006), and La Luna (R277, 2006). Samsara is 100% Syrah, with pepper and wild berries on the nose and dark fruits and cloves on the palate. La Luna is a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. This had an big earthy nose but a lovely layered palate of dark berries. Both these wines where very well balanced with controlled tannins.

Over all the range was very enjoyable, as one would expect for the premium prices, and the estate sounds like an interesting stop if you are in the Paarl area. I wait with baited breath for the release of the flagship Navitas.

Monday, 16 April 2012

A Call to Arms Against Bad Service!

This is a request for us, as customers, to take a productive stand against bad service in restaurants (and in general).

Have you ever had service that was not satisfactory? If so what did you do about it? Have you ever though that the issue isn't big enough to complain and risk having your food sabotaged by the staff?

I have had a string of bad experiences and have had a sharp learning curve on how I best handle these situations. It all comes down to letting the correct people know about your issue and informing them without attaching them.

Recently I took some advice from a restaurant to visit, with my dinning partner, their sister restaurant as they were closed for dinner. The sister restaurant turned out to be a cigar lounge/bar. To us it was unacceptable to eat bathed in smoke so we left. I took the time to email the original restaurant that we were unhappy about the advice, which turned out to be a miscommunication on the nature of the venue. They were exceptionally apologetic which was an acceptable end to the issue, however they invites us back for a complimentary meal. The meal ended up being a full dinner with wine included, the experience was surreal and fantastic.

At another restaurant that we visited was out of stock of the first three wines that we tried to order and to add to the frustration the main I wanted was also out. Again I sent an email detailing the events. They researched what had happened that night and sent me a full report and an invite to dinner for two.

This is not meant as a challenge as to who can get the most complimentary dinners, but rather to remind restaurant management that bad service comes from bad management.

If you can see a potential issue that may undermine your experience, be proactive about it. If you don't like your waitrons demeanour, ask for someone else to serve you. If this is too upfront for you, ask the manager to move to another section and inform the manager that you want a different waitron. Unsatisfactory food should be dealt with immediately, not with a snide remark when the plates are cleared. Enough with leaving a restaurant unhappy and only complaining to your friends!

Lets make a concerted effort to make any bad experience be followed by a good one. Eating out is supposed to be an enjoyable experience in the least!

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Daily Grind (Blade vs. Burr)

I just love a gorgeous cappuccino, especially one with dark smooth flavors and creamy foam. It's one of the small things that completes my day, and the one thing that makes it even better is when I make it myself!

In my pursuit to be self proficient in cappuccino making has taken me on quite a learning curve, from coffee beans, levels of roast, espresso machines and coffee grinders. The one thing that has become the most clear is most important part is the grind quality.

There is not doubt that for the best flavor from any bean is for it to be as freshly ground as possible when making coffee. 

Using the same espresso machine, my first attempt to grind my own beans was disappointing to say the least. I had a bought some beautiful beans from Truth coffee, and tried to grind them with a food processor grinding attachment. The second time was with a bladed coffee specific grinder, which was a bit better with some of the flavor coming through a bit better but still not perfect. Finally I used a burr coffee grinder... the result was amazing, the flavor came through perfectly. So it comes down to Burr vs. Blade grinder.

Blade Grinder
Burr Grinder

The blade grinder consists of one or two blades spinning at high speed and chopping up the beans. The longer you leave the blades spin, the finer the beans are chopped. The problem is that it is impossible to get an even cut, and to get a grind that is fine enough for espresso means that you might burn (friction) the coffee by running the blades for too long.

The burr grinder works by two burrs (cutting/grinding gears) rotating at a relatively slow speed, they crush the beans as they are fed into them. The size of the grind is controlled by adjusting the space between the burrs. The issue with burr grinders is they are the more expensive option.

There are many options available for grinders, bladed and burr. The bladed grinder being the cheaper option with prices starting as low as R150, and burr grinders starting at about R525. There are beautiful manual burr coffee grinders available that add to the poetry of making your coffee, but this is not the cheapest option starting around the R1000 mark.

Krups Burr Grinder
Even though the the burr grinders are more costly, there are affordable burr grinders that will give a superior result that will not disappoint...  thus the burr is greater than the blade!

Zassenhaus Manual Burr Grinder

Russell Hobbs Blade Grinder
Bodum Burr Grinder

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Technically Old School

This past week I took the opportunity to join the Cellar Rats weekly wine tasting. This weeks feature was a presentation from Waterkloof wine estate, presented by beautiful and laid back Nadia Barnard.

Waterkloof's philosophy is that of a minimalist approach to winemaking, and through the use of biodynamic farming principles, they see themselves more as facilitators guiding the development of natures true potential

Nadia held us in varying degrees of intrigue, confusion, and fascination as she explained how Waterkloof goes about making their wines. The crux of the process being that they are completely organic on their own vineyards, using biodynamics to create their own fertilisers, and use high tech machinery to replicate old school wine making techniques.

Nadia brought us wines from three of Waterkloof's wine collections, the flagship, Circle of Life, the single varietal, Circumstance, and the everyday fine wine, False Bay.

From the Circle of Life range we had the 2009 red and the 2010 white, both being blended wines with well balanced flavours. The white is majority (60%) Sauvignon Blanc, with lightly wooded and lasting flavour. The red is majority (80%) Merlot with five other varietals and deep flavours.

From the Circumstance range we had the 2008 Chardonnay and the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were lovely with the Cab Sauv receiving the highest rating by the group for the evening. Interestingly the Chardonnay is served from a chilled decanter in the restaurant at Waterkloof.

From the False Bay range we had four wines to sample. These wines are the everyday wines which had some interesting offerings at fantastic prices. This range's grapes are sourced from other farms and undergo the Waterkloof modern/old school/minimalist process to create great wines.

We sampled the Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and Pinotage, all of which are good wines at good prices. The two that stood out the most for me were the Rosé with it's lightly spiced and soft toffee notes, and the Shiraz with it's dark berries and light pepper tones.

The evening was most enjoyable and after learning so much about the estate and it's techniques, I can not wait to visit Waterkloof on my next Cape trip.


Monday, 30 January 2012

Drifting through Robertson

In the festive season that has just gone by (for too quickly), my better half and I embarked on a road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The idea was to see parts of the country that I have never seen before and to experience more of South Africa. There were many highlights along the way, but the one I would like to share with you first was at the end of our trip, when we started our return journey.

The plan was to leave Cape Town relatively early and drive through Robertson and find accommodation somewhere there after. I had never been to the Roberson area, and in my mind had never really considered it as a destination to visit... I had no idea the area was so beautiful and so full of things to see and experience.

Robertson is about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town, and it is over looked by the Langeberg mountains with the Breede River running through it. It is known as the  "small town with a big heart", and for it's wine production.

As we were not staying in the area, we were limited on time to spend, but we had heard of a couple of places in particular to visit.

Viljoensdrift was our first stop. It is a family owned farm and winery, with brothers, Fred and Manie Viljoen, working their wine making magic since 1998. What attracted us to Viljoensdrift was the boat cruises that they run on the Breede River, or you can picnic on the banks of the river.

Booking is essential for the boat cruise during the peak season, but once the formalities are covered, you can create your own picnic from the deli by ticking off selection on a menu. There are a variety of things to choose, from freshly baked ciabatta to pate's to conserves. We opted for the ciabatta, mozzarella, cheddar and ham roll, butternut and Ppperdew pate, and the sweet and sour pepper jam. It all gets neatly packed up in a wooden box with the necessary crockery and cutlery, and is ready for you to collect as you board the boat.

Apart from the deli, there is of course all the Viljoensdrift wines to taste. They have three ranges, Viljoensdrift, River Grandeur, and Cellarmaster's Selection, with a few of the wines claiming high accolades. We tasted the Sauvignon Blanc, Cab Sauv, Shiraz, and the Villion Methode Cap Classique.

All the wines were very easy drinking with their bold yet smooth flavors. The Sauvignon Blanc has sweet grassy notes with granadilla in the background, it is a perfect summer time fresh wine. The two reds where surprisingly sweet, with the Shiraz (Veritas 2010: Gold, Michelangelo 2010: Gold)  having more dark chocolate notes and the Cab Sauv (Veritas 2011: Silver) having more dark berry notes. Our surprise favorite was the MCC (Platter 2011: 4 Stars). It has a fine mousse texture with honeysuckle flavors making this MCC crisp and refreshing, all of this left us with no choice but to enjoy a bottle with our boat cruise picnic.

The boat cruise was tranquil as we puttered along the river with the picturesque river banks, our picnic selection was tasty and more then enough to call it a good lunch, with the excellent MCC to round everything off.

Our time at Viljoensdrift was most enjoyable and I recommend to anyone visiting or passing through the Roberston area to make a stop here, I will visit them again!


Monday, 23 January 2012

Dinner in Makhado with a 2003 Pinotage

Recently I was up north visiting my better half who resides just outside Makhado (formally known as Louis Trichardt).  It is a picturesque town at the foot of the Soutpansberg mountain range in the Limpopo province.

Aerial view of Makhado

With the town being relatively small to Johannesburg, the choice of restaurants is limited, however, there are some diamonds in the rough. Such as the Mountain Inn Country Hotel. 

The hotel is a few kilometres north of the town, nestled on the mountain just off the N1 highway. The setting is surprisingly beautiful with the hotel being surrounded by trees and the mountain range. The restaurant has a deck that takes full advantage of the view, it overlooks the town and the surrounding area.

The restaurant itself is comfortable, but could do with a bit of a revamp, but the service is helpful and tries hard to please. The wine list is larger than I had expected, with a good variety of South African wines and reasonably priced. However, on this occasion we chose to take our own wine along as they do allow bring your own for a small corkage fee.

The wine we chose was a Cloof 2003 Pinotage which was recently bough from the Cloof wine estate situated in Darling in the Western Cape. The wine was beautifully smooth, with notes of dark berries and prunes. This has a few accolades such as the '99 being crowned as South Africa's champion in 2002, the '05 made it into the Absa Top Ten, and this '03 Pinotage was selected by SAA for First Class.

As for the food, it was lovely. Their speciality seems to be steaks with a menu to satisfy most tastes, but we decided to stick to the steaks. I had an ostrich steak with a claret and cranberry sauce, with  roasted vegetables and potato croquettes, and my partner had the beef fillet medallions with a hollandaise sauce and the roasted vegetables and potato croquettes. Our steaks where cooked exactly to our liking, and the potato croquettes perfectly crisp on the outside and smooth on the inside. My claret and cranberry sauce was exceptional, although I doubt they used an actual claret (a Bordeaux red wine) it completed the dish all the same. The hollandaise sauce was not quite to my liking as I found it overly tart, but the dish as a whole worked well, with the sauce helping cut the richness of the steak.

Over all it was a good night out with delicious food and a wonderful view, and I will definitely visit the Mountain Inn again!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Hello one and all,

I am super excited about this new adventure of sharing my experiences of foods and wine, this has been a long time coming.

I will try my level best to try as many restaurants as possible, sharing with you my full experience from decor and service to the all-important food.

Apart from restaurants, I am a keen novice chef and will be trying my hand at as many recipes that catch my fancy. From these I will dispense results great, good and not so good, as well as things learnt and of course the recipes.

Along the way I will also be working hard to, expand my knowledge and my already great appreciation of wine, sample as many variations of coffee as I can, and dole out any titbits of info or news that I come across.

I trust you will find all of my endeavours informative and most of all engaging.

Welcome to AJ's Food and Wine!