‘Family Holidays’ by Nigel Greening
The Family of Twelve Asian Trip November 2012
It’s not often that we get the gang together to do a bit of globe-trotting, so we were definitely looking forward to this one. It started in Melbourne over a beer after we spotted Richard Riddiford in the Hyatt bar as we checked in. I was somewhat taken aback to realise he had ordered sandwiches for us so we could get lunch before the tastings: here we were sitting not 50 metres from what might be the best lunch venue in the Southern Hemisphere (Coda) and Richard had ordered hotel sandwiches. This did not look like a good start.
The tasting at the Botanical was fun and full. I am always amazed how a flight of wines changes from day to day, but today they looked great and the mood was chatty and enthusiastic. On to Dinner at PM24, again fun, but really just the preliminary for 2 weeks of gastronomic overkill.
How many events can you squeeze into 4 days? We certainly went for the record, with Curtis Marsh filling every available second, starting with a chilli crab dinner with our trade and Lisa Perotti Brown MW within a couple of hours of our landing. Is the perfect food match for Singapore Chilli Crab, beer or Riesling? Hard to tell as we’d need some seriously good beers to conduct a proper taste off. My money is on Riesling, though.
And then the whirlwind began: Just a blur of duck, seafood, a Persian lambshank curry that came around twice, as did an amazing Iranian Muhalabolah, late night Russians, and the incredible sight of looking down on a storm sweeping over the city below us as we stood behind the 66th floor glass cliffs that are Salt Restaurant. Singapore is surreal to those of us who live in a town with not even a singe traffic signal; a crazed testament to mankind’s refusal to swap lifestyle for quality of life. Sometimes we are berated in New Zealand for our lowly position in the OECD productivity stakes. It takes trips like this to remind us why we like it that way.
Somehow we ended the thing with almost as many boxes and bags of stuff as we’d started with and leaped into the jumbo sized taxi. (long ago I realised that one of life’s fundamental skills is to learn “Taxi, airport” in every major language, something we didn’t need in Singapore’s English speaking culture). Hong Kong beckoned.
By comparison Hong Kong was relaxed. One masterclass event, a dinner or so and three days at the Hong Kong Wine Show.
I was keen to recruit a family team to conduct a search for the Cantonese Roast Pigeon champion 2012. There would be a lot of contenders, despite the tragic closure of Han Lok Yuen: the famous Pigeon restaurant on Lamma Island, with its ancient, but proud neon sign reading “igeon” on the hilltop.
We started with a quick orientation exercise, a flick over to Jumbo in Aberdeen harbour for some tourism, then back to Yung Kee for goose and pigeon.
I diverted to Macau for a night of madness in the second largest building on earth (The Venetian) and a brilliant wine dinner, before returning to continue the chase for great food. A really good masterclass at the Renaissance was followed with a dinner there at Scala. It was rather strange to swap the pigeon quest for Italian, but all good fun and possibly an easier wine match.
The next day produced a memorable lunch. A small faction (is that what you call a subset of a family) headed off to lunch at Zen, a long time favourite of mine, it started in London some 30 years ago and was a regular haunt of mine back then. No sooner had we picked up menus to order a modest dim sum plan than a text came in telling us the good news that Obama was back. Mary Jeanne reached for the champagne section of the wine list and I started lengthening the list of treats we should order (I always write out yum cha orders, easier to keep track). It went for some hours, buoyed by the fact that the world may be rather safer for us all without another teetotal president.
And so it went… most of the memories are of dinners: my leading Phyll and Judy to what must have been one of their scarier evenings at a small private pop up Szechuan restaurant in Wan Chai, (it has no name I’m aware of, in English anyway). Despite the almost unbelievable numbers of chillies in the dishes and the stark warning on the wall of a $500 “vomit charge”, I think they had a great night. That night we went to another Szechuan: Crystal Jade in Wan Chai, great food and great value as well. Then there was Under Bridge Spicy Crab, a challenge to the Singapore supremacy in this department.
We ended as we had begun, with a meal: yum cha at Maxims City Hall. A Hong Kong tradition worth the hour wait.
But what about the wine? Well, yes, but for us family holidays are about the company: hours to sit and talk, and eat, and yes drink a glass or two, and talk some more. We often talk about wine pairing with food. What about wine and food pairing with talk? We gather and eat and drink together for the human contact, the pleasure of being with those whose company we enjoy, whose intellects delight us, amuse us, maybe sometimes frustrate us.
We met a lot of great people along the way, set the world to right in as many ways as we could, downed some great bottles, certainly nailed some good pigeons, but more than anything we did what all families do: we talked. It was great.
Tanya Orchard (Lawson’s Dry Hills), Annie Millton (Millton Vineyard), Paul Donaldson (Pegasus Bay), Mary-jeanne Hutchinson (Craggy Range), Will Hoare (Fromm Winery), Clive Weston (Nautilus Estate), Charlotte Read (Villa Maria), Judy Finn (Neudorf Vineyards), Nigel Greening (Felton Road) & Phyll Pattie (Ata Rangi).