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.