Thursday, August 20, 2015

Not Haute Horlogerie but not too bad!

Earlier this week Aldi was offering for sale some automatic mechanical watches and also watchwinders for $79.99 each.

They advertised six different styles of watches, although some were the same model with a different dial colour.

My closest Aldi store opens at 8am and I arrived at 8.05 to find that all the watchwinders had gone (they must have only had a few available) and there were only a few watches still left. I bought one just for fun. They had all been sold when I left the store just before 8.15.

The model I purchased was in a stainless steel case of 39mm and had a silver dial. It was, of course, made in China. There was mineral crystal glass on the front and also the back of the watch so the movement could be seen. It was on a real leather band, but not croco or alligator which is hardly surprising at the price.  

There was a big date in two windows at 12 o'clock and subdials for the month and the day at 4 o'clock and 8 o'clock respectively. These were all adjusted by pushers in the side of the case.

The movement was a hacking movement and surprisingly, the rotor and the plates were decorated, the rotor with an inner perlage pattern and a radial decoration on the outer edge.  I have purchased Swiss watches in the $1,500 to $2,000 price bracket which have had no decoration so that was impressive.

Unlike some earlier Chinese watches I have seen, the date in the date window changed from 31 to 01 instead of continuing on to some random number like 55 before returning to 1.

It claimed, both on the package and on the back of the case to be a "limited edition" though of course that means very little without a number being specified, and in this case I would imagine think a large number.

I thought it was very good value at the price, but of course they are no longer available as Aldi's specials are mostly one-offs and they all sold. Not that it's so good that you would anyhow want to chase one. As I said at the head of this article, the watch is not haute horlogerie, but at the price it was being sold for it was not too bad!

If nothing else it indicated to me how good Chinese watchmaking has become when a timepiece like this could be purchased at such a low price. One wonders what the ex-factory price would have been!

It also shows what the Chinese are capable of manufacturing and how excellent knockoffs of premium brands can be manufactured to be sold at higher price points that are so good they sometimes fool the experts.

For your information, Aldi will offer a Smart Watch in their stores for $129 on Saturday 29 August. This is just to let you know and is not a recommendation. While it won't be as cool as an Apple Watch (I don't know why they didn't call it an iWatch) the model on offer supports both iPhones and Android phones and does more than most of the so-called Smart Phones do, many of which are only activity trackers. Apparently it can make and receive calls and messages, takes photos and videos, has Bluetooth and a micro USB port. It will be offered with an extra strap.

You can get more information on the Aldi web site but if you want to even see one, based on my experience with the offering of the mechanical watches, you will need to be at your Aldi store when they open their doors at 8am on 29 August. Again I stress that I am not recommending this!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kaiseki Times Two

While in Tokyo we finally tried Hanasanshou in the Park Hotel, Shiodome and revisited Kazahana at The Conrad Tokyo. Both are Japanese restaurants offering Kaiseki menus.

Kaiseki is a traditional multicourse lunch or dinner, sort of like a Japanese version of degustation. In Japan Kaiseki can be extremely formal, stemming from Kyoto court traditions, contemplative stemming from links to the solemnity of the tea ceremony, or modern style and more relaxed. The food served is  always linked to the seasons and seasonality of ingredients. You will not find a winter dish served in summer etc.

Plates, bowls, crockery and décor are also taken in to account for kaiseki meals. Décor will be adjusted to reflect the season, with bonsai or ikebana being used, scrolls and other art work are also used sparingly in the room. As the dishes are bought to the table they are placed on a tray in front of each diner,sort of like a placemat.

Our first visit to Hanasanshou was a fantastic dining experience. We did not realise how popular Hanasanshou is. On several of the days during our stay, it was always full and not just with hotel guests. Thankfully, as we were going out one morning, we managed to make a reservation.

Located on the side of the hotel that faces east, the room has a main dining area along the window and then to each side of the bar a curtained area for a more private dining experience. Lots of dark woods are utilized throughout the room with trendy blue lighting around the bar.
Hanasanshou had a special menu for house guests so we chose to have that. 8 courses served Kaiseki style for around A$50. The other menus were also Kaiseki style with the difference between each being the number of courses.
First courses out was a bowl of boiled taro stem from Kyoto served simply with a bonito and soy sauce. Very light and refreshing.
The appetizer was a plate of seasonal specialties. Fresh thin wheat noodles, sushi of conger eel, Chinese lantern fruit, fruit fed sweet fish salted and dried overnight with boiled octopus, young corn, grilled eggplant with sweet miso sauce.
Clear soup with a steamed pike conger eel dumpling. Very tasty and the dumpling was light and fluffy. Those little bits floating in the soup are seaweed. Here you can really see the use of bowls reflecting the dish/season.
Tuna sashimi was next, it was meant to be yellowtail but they had run out so they gave us tuna. Any kind of sashimi is alright by us. The wasabi was super fresh and grated just before serving, a taste revelation!
 Next up was our grilled dish of black cod baked in magnolia leaf, accompanied by edamame and ginger shoot.
A simmered pork belly with a thick, unctuous sauce, potato and beans was next. This was delicious and the pork melted in your mouth and was not too fatty.
Second last dish was rice cooked with barracuda and burdock along with miso soup. One of the best miso soups we have tried.
Finally seasonal fruit and green tea. Simple but refreshing end to a very flavoursome meal. Bright green maple leaves seemed to be the garnish of the season.
After checking in at the Conrad Hotel, it was time for lunch. It seems to be becoming a ritual that our first lunch when we stay at the Conrad is at Kazahana. 

Décor is fairly sleek, modern and minimalist. Charcoal grey, white tones and dark woods predominate. Miniature bonsais adorn the table and are changed as the seasons change.

A view of Hama-rikyu Onshi Tien and Tokyo Bay is the best decoration you could have.
We have tended to avoid uni (sea urchin) this trip, the appetizer had uni but they were happy to swap it out and it was replaced with abalone. Braised white Taro stems with abalone was our appetizer.
Second course was soup with tofu, a very interesting seaweed and fish cake. The seaweed was a new one to us and very slippery. It reminded us of the stamens in a lily but with a gelatinous bubble around the ‘stamen’ part.
Our third course was the seasonal delicacies. A selection of cold and hot dishes. Left to right tempura conger eel with braised eggplant, braised octopus and daikon radish, sashimi of squid and seabass, chilled soba noodles with accompanying sauce.
Generally at a kaiseki meal everyone gets the same dishes, at Kazahana we were able to choose which main meal we wanted, I chose grilled scallops and salmon which was accompanied by roasted vegetables with a Japanese pepper sauce. The sauce was quite mild but went really well with the seafood.
My wife opted for the pork stew dish (kakuni) which included a softly poached egg topped with summer truffles. Both main meals were accompanied by rice with perilla seasoning, Japanese pickles and Miso soup.
With dessert we were also able to choose between two options, I had the brown sugar cake with caramelized banana served with ice cream.
My wife ordered a pumpkin pudding with ice cream and a white cherry. Not a cakey pudding, this was more of a custard style. She said it was quite dense yet creamy.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our experience with the modern versions of kaiseki cuisine. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Seiko's 1964 Tokyo Olympics Stopwatch

The stopwatch pictured is one of the stopwatches designed and manufactured by Seiko for use at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

It is one of the standard stopwatches, not intended for any particular sport or event.
It measures up to 10  minutes and can measure time to 1/100th of a second.
The large sweep hand goes around the dial every 3 seconds. The inner dial measures up to 10  minutes and the sub-dial at 12 o'clock is a 60 second dial.
The outer scale allows time measurement to 1/100th of a second.
It is fascinating to watch the speed at which the sweep hand traverses the dial.

This model, along with others, some designed for particular sports, appears in the Seiko 1964 catalogue.

Among others, a similar model is also displayed in the Seiko Museum.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Patek Philippe, ARIA And The Celestial Dance

It seems like all the stars have aligned this week as my wife and I found out that we will be attending a Patek Philippe factory tour in September. To celebrate we decided to have dinner at ARIA. As an avid and passionate Patek Philippe collector for around 10 years, this was a welcome surprise. We felt like we had won a trip of a lifetime, that only fellow watch enthusiasts would appreciate the significance of.

The evening was crisp and clear, with a stunning full moon illuminating the night. We were also lucky to look up and see Venus and Jupiter doing their celestial dance and appearing close together even though they are hundreds of millions of miles apart. At first I thought one was a plane until my wife remembered it was the celestial rarity that she had quickly read about on FaceBook. A rarity because most of the conjunctions between these two planets happen during daylight hours.

Enough of the stars, and on to dinner. We decided to have the pre-theatre menu, which offers great value. But first things first we had to choose a wine. After perusing the wine list we decided to have a 2009 Linnaea Rhizotomi Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. We like our Napa Valley Cabernets and this did not disappoint. Great flavour without being too heavy and a fabulous aroma which opened more during the evening.

A concise menu of five items per course, plus an entree extra, made choosing easy. After ordering, an amuse bouche of house made lavosh, topped with broad bean and ricotta purée topped with a little dot of lemon curd was presented to us.

A waitress came with a basket of bread from which we both chose a sourdough roll (from Iggy's Bread) which was accompanied by salted butter and a black garlic and porcini butter (both from Pepe Saya).

My wife ordered Yamba Prawns with smoked eggplant, pickled radish and finger lime (the entree extra). The prawns were roasted with the little bubbles of finger lime pulp and then stacked on the pureed smoked eggplant. Slices of pickled radish and herbs were placed around and on top of the stack.

I ordered Southern calamari with Iberico jamon, dashi custard, and shiitake mushroom tea. The dish was topped with an intriguing squid ink and tapioca crisp.

My wife chose the lamb rump, globe artichoke barigoule, green olives, eggplant and capsicum ajvar. Cooked medium rare, with the small amount of fat on top salted just the way she likes it. We also ordered our favourite side truffle mash, (mash potato finished with truffle oil) so creamy and delicious.

I ordered the Cervena venison loin and sausage, farro, parsnip, grapes  and rosemary. The parsnip came as a finely shaved crisp and puree. This was my first experience with farro on a menu and it is an ingredient I look forward to having again.

Initially we were only going to have two courses but we decided to go for broke and order dessert. Possibly not a good judgement call as we realised later. An interesting sounding tart caught my wife's eye and I chose the cheese plate.

The tart was caramel and cep, accompanied with mandarin wedges and espresso ice cream. The tart had a good depth (about 2cm of filling) and was quite light. The flavour of the cep mushrooms was delicate but was not overpowered by the caramel. The mandarin gave a refreshing burst, and the espresso ice cream was enhanced with the addition of ground coffee, which gave it a bit of grittiness. Cracked hazelnut kernels and a hazelnut ‘soil’ finished the plate.

The cheese selection consisted of Munster and St Agur from France, La Luna from Holy Goat in Victoria and Manchego from Spain. The cheese was accompanied by crackers and fresh grapes.

A plate of varied petit fours was delivered to the table and was duly consumed.

We practically waddled out the door into the chill night air and headed home.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dazzling Dubai

Deciding to take a sabbatical from the wearisome banking world, I was drawn to go on a personal adventure which would cover Dubai and parts of Asia. My magic carpet ride into this dazzling city was flying on a Qantas A380 in a First Class Suite.
The flight was so pleasant and devoid of any harsh turbulence that it made one feel as if one was on a grand rail journey. Maybe it was the endless flow of Pol Roger Winston Churchill that dulled the senses.
As Dubai is a city of excess this participant was more than happy to further support that notion. A Mercedes limousine quickly shuttled me to a humble corner suite at the Conrad Dubai. One quickly realizes that in a land of oil riches the only way to traverse this vast urban sprawl is via taxi or personal driver.
One of the primary reasons for coming to Dubai was to scale the permissible heights of the world’s tallest building, the iconic Burj Khalifa.
Level 148 at 555 meters is the highest outdoor observatory in the world.
For such an oil rich state the obsession with water is very apparent. Why else with all this available land would one dredge the ocean to build the Palms (Jumeriah and Jebel Ali) along with The World islands and then conceive some of the most astounding aquariums.
Apart from its size, the luxurious Dubai Mall is known as an enthralling watch and jewelry mecca with most major brands sporting their largest flagship boutiques globally.
It always makes one feel good when you visit a boutique before it has been officially opened with this instance being the Hublot boutique which none other than Jean Claude Biver would open the following week.
My watch collecting highlight was when the A. Lange & Sohne team at the Dubai Mall boutique invited me to an exclusive cocktail party that was showcasing the 2015 novelties.

The star of the show was the platinum Zeitwerk Minute Repeater in Platinum.
Here is a watch fit for a Prince(or Emir), the Lange 31, in platinum with baguette diamonds. It is a unique piece that comes in a set of three. The other two in the set are white and rose gold. Wonder where you could wear this in Sydney?

I also got to try the 1815 200th Anniversary in platinum.
The 1815 Rattrapante Perpetual Calendar was another standout piece from the collection.
Literally next door to the Lange boutique was Ulysse Nardin and naturally there were a few spectacular pieces on display.
At the Ulysse Nardin boutique I met a pair of Strangers.
Arabian tales are always filled with exotic mystery and wonder, my first journey to Dubai was a definite confirmation.