Monday, January 30, 2012

Season vs Shimizu Part 1

After sampling various local high end/ fine dining restaurants (if you can call them that) we find ourselves keep coming back to these two. Granted, they're still not inexpensive all things considered, but at about $50 per head (fully fed with drinks) it's relatively acceptable in terms of having a good night out. Of course, this could blow out quite a bit if you choose to have a more expensive drop, or order the absolute most expensive dishes from each course.

We feel that many of the so-called high-end restaurants are just not good value for money. Either in terms of the food quality, quantity, the service quality, attitude, even the atmosphere are nowhere close to what is expected at their price point.  And this is a cryin' shame. We've kinda lost faith in these kinds of places and are happy to stick to the following two favourites.

There are quite a contrast between the two places, and depending on your mood, you can choose from having a quiet evening or a lively atmosphere.

Part 1:  Quiet Night Out in Willoughby

A la Façon de Shimizu
537 Willoughby Road
NSW 2068
(02) 9958 8782537

The name roughly translates to "The way of Shimizu". This is a 'French' influenced place run by a Japanese Chef. But it felt more like a Japanese/ French influenced fusion western style restaurant. I don't think I can pigeon hole this place, and that is part of their charm. From the looks of it, all the staff (including kitchen staff) are all Japanese, so you immediately get that extremely polite Japanese service. It is not one bit pretentious which we really like. If you ignore what's going on outside (it is on Willoughby Road after all) you could imagine yourself in a little rustic European back alley restaurant with stone paved roads outside, and fire crackling in the fireplace. They are genuinely welcoming and appreciative of your patronage in a very Japanese kind of way, and there is a warmth in their greeting that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Now the dishes aren't exactly what you'd call 'fine' but again, there is none of that over-the-top presentation and plating up that we're so accustomed to from these far-from-realistic cooking/ competition shows. You don't get a big empty plate with the food stacked 30cm tall in the middle. None of those artistic spreads of bright/ matching colour sauces nor the little dabs here and there that leaves you confused as to what goes with what. The presentation is functional like a Toyota, but it's reliable and won't age over time.

Of course, being a fairly small restaurant with minimal staff, there can sometimes be a bit of a lag between courses, and this is more noticeable when the restaurant is fuller and you can almost see the kitchen straining at the seams. However, when you're with good company (and this is a place you would take good company to) the lag won't be as glaring.

Grilled Lamb Cutlet with Miso Sauce

To the dishes. For those who are accustomed to the "full-on-hit-by-the-train" flavour of the Chinese takeaway, this place is most definitely not for you. Their flavours might be light, but certainly not lacking. I find them balanced and intricate, and you want to take things slow and savour each mouthful, for fear of possibility missing out on something.

Although they do have a special set menu - a bargain at $35 for 3 courses, for the past few visits, my slightly high maintenance palate has found me a set of "usuals" that I have ended up ordering upon each returning visit.

Fresh Salmon Tartare - Fresh salmon and avocado tartare with dill, capper and olive .Served with wasabi-mayonnais and bread

The soft texture of the salmon and avocado is juxtaposed with the crunchy bread with a soft centre. It's presented in almost a grid of salmon, avocado and the mayo that you don't want to mess it up. But you should.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Full list of Panerai 2012 releases

For those who have found it hard to find a complete list of Panerai’s SIHH 2012 offerings, here’s a run down of OP’s new models for this year.


Ø 47 MM PAM00424

Hand-wound mechanical, Panerai P.3000 calibre, executed entirely by Panerai, 16½ lignes, 5.3 mm thick, 21 jewels, Glucydur® balance, 21,600 alternations/hour. Incabloc® anti-shock device. Power reserve 3 days, two barrels. 162 components.

Hours, minutes, date.

Diameter 47 mm, polished steel with removable wire loop strap attachments (patented). Screw-down winding crown personalised OP.

Polished steel.

See-through sapphire crystal

Black with luminous Arabic and Roman numerals and hour markers.

Sapphire, formed of corundum, 2,8 mm thick. Anti-reflective coating.

10 bar (~100 metres).

Leather strap and large-size polished steel buckle.

Ø 47 MM PAM00425

Hand-wound mechanical, Panerai P.3000 calibre, executed entirely by Panerai, 16½ lignes, 5.3 mm thick, 21 jewels, Glucydur® balance, 21,600 alternations/hour. Incabloc® anti-shock device. Power reserve 3 days, two barrels. 160 components.

Hours, minutes.

Diameter 47 mm, polished steel with removable wire loop strap attachments. Screw-down winding crown personalised OP.

Polished steel.

See-through sapphire crystal

Black with luminous hour markers.

Sapphire, formed of corundum, 2,8 mm thick. Anti-reflective coating.

10 bar (~100 metres).

Leather strap and large-size polished steel buckle.

Ø 47 MM PAM00421

Hand-wound mechanical movement, Panerai P.3001 calibre, executed entirely by Panerai, 16½ lignes, 6.3 mm thick, 21 jewels, Glucydur® balance, 21,600 alternations/hour. Incabloc® anti-shock device. Power reserve 3 days, two barrels. 210 components.

Hours, minutes, small seconds, date, second time zone, power reserve indicator on the back, seconds reset.

Diameter 47 mm, polished red gold with removable wire loop strap attachments. Screw-down winding crown personalised OP.

Red gold steel.

See-through sapphire crystal

Brown with luminous Arabic numerals and hour markers. Date at 3 o’clock, seconds at 9 o’clock.

Sapphire, formed of corundum, 1.4 mm thick. Anti-reflective coating.

5 bar (~50 metres).

Alligator strap and polished red gold buckle.

Ø 47 MM PAM00422 

Hand-wound mechanical, Panerai P.3001 calibre, executed entirely by Panerai, 16½ lignes, 6.3 mm thick, 21 jewels, Glucydur® balance, 21,600 alternations/ hour. Incabloc® anti-shock device. Power reserve 3 days, two barrels. 207 components.

Hours, minutes, small seconds, power reserve indicator on the back, seconds reset.

Diameter 47 mm, AISI 316L polished steel.

Polished steel.

See-through sapphire crystal.

Brushed steel.

Black with luminous Arabic numerals and hour markers. Seconds at 9 o’clock.

Sapphire, formed of corundum, 3 mm thick. Anti-reflective coating.

10 bar (~100 metres).

Leather strap and large-size brushed steel buckle. Supplied with a second interchangeable strap and a steel screwdriver

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Great watch - shame about the name

It's nearly three years since I had the unexpected and very rare honour of being able to photograph one of the most elusive, beautiful, and horologically significant timepieces of the century.

I refer, of course, to the somewhat pompously-titled Audemars Piguet Jules Audemars Watch With Audemars Piguet Escapement...

This absolutely gorgeous creature landed inside my light tent under very odd circumstances, recounted here. The watch you see above is a prototype that had been living on the wrist of its creator, Fabrice Deschanel (of Audemars Piguet Renaud & Papi) for some two years, although the watch had only been announced some two months prior to my encounter with it.

For the life of me I can't remember what case material was used for this prototype - possibly white gold. But the most significant thing about this watch is the fact that it was the very first to use AP's in-house modified Robin escapement at the extremely high beat rate of 43,200vph, with no lubrication.

Well, blow me down with a feather if a similar thing didn't happen last week. There I was at the AP booth in SIHH, photographing the new releases. I decided to ask my rep whether she had anything "really special" to show me. Possibly misinterpreting my request, she disappeared for a few minutes, and came back....with this....

Omigod omigod omigod.... it's the production version of the Audemars Piguet Audemars Jules Audemars Watch with Audemars Piguet Audemars rose gold.

And I thought the white metal version was beautiful. This thing is more than beautiful. It's heartbreaking.

You've already noticed by now that a gently spiralling brushed treatment has replaced the Clous de Paris finishing of the dial-side movement bridge, which if memory serves correctly, is now made from ruthenium.

Other substantive changes include register dials in black, and hands in gold instead of blued steel.

Holding the watch up to your ear, you can hear the thrillingly rapid little clacketty-clacketty-clack of the small escape wheel, beating its heart out twelve times per second -

Artya - Watches for iconoclasts

Yvan Arpa is a breath of fresh air in the watch industry. Having worked his way up to managerial level within established Swiss brands, he decided a few years ago to throw that all away, and do something really daring as artistic director for a new brand, Romaine Jerome.

A series of new models followed, each more daring and controversial than the last. Watches with pieces of metal from the wreck of the Titanic; double-tourbillon watches with no hands, which told the time to within an accuracy of 12 hours; a watch made from a case material so reactive, it had to be sealed inside a glass bubble from which the air had been evacuated. It was as if Arpa was thumbing his nose, not just at the industry, but even at the collectors who avidly flocked to snap up these preposterous creations.

Romaine Jerome was catapulted instantly from a no-name start-up to one of the most discussed and sought-after brands on the scene. Their tiny booth at Baselworld 2009 was packed with customers for the entire fair. But it was all to end badly - Arpa left suddenly under a cloud, legal action was initiated, and the resulting court battle with its attendant negative publicity, combined with the sudden absence of Arpa's creative drive, drove the brand into bankruptcy.

Arpa is not a man to stand still. Almost immediately he launched his own brand - Artya. It's a clever name which derives from his own surname but also states his value proposition: each Artya watch is a unique piece of horological, visual and tactile art. They are also exercises in playfulness, rule-breaking, and pushing at the creative boundaries of what we think a watch can or should be. Oh, and they're affordable too.

Artya is a highly streamlined operation. Most of the work is outsourced; however, assembly, testing and final adjustments are done by a small team of in-house watchmakers. Arpa took space in a big, unglamorous warehouse in a run-down and unfashionable corner of Geneva, and immediately set about installing the one critical piece of equipment which every watch manufacture needs: a massive Tesla coil.

Er, critical if you're Yvan Arpa, that is. You see, if your first range of watches features cases whose exterior finishes are fashioned from lightning bolts, then a room-sized Tesla coil is definitely going to be high on your equipment shopping list. It's certainly a safer bet than standing on your roof in a storm holding a watch case in the air.

Most, but not all, of the Artya watches have cases like this. However, the dials are where things get even more interesting. Arpa uses such unusual materials as bullets (real ones which have been fired from a gun); butterfly wings; dinosaur faeces; paint which doesn't dry; part of the blade from an Indonesian kris; a plectrum and guitar string used by Paul Stanley in a KISS concert; bits of electrical circuitry; and so on. He's ably assisted in these wacky dial-making adventures by his wife Dominique, who creates many of the dials herself using 17 different artistic techniques.

Even the straps are bizarre on Artya watches. The most common material is cane toad skin. Yes, you read right, cane toad. Funnily enough, these straps are breathtaking in the flesh - thick, crusty, and highly textural, they perfectly match the rugged case designs and colourful dials of the Artya timepieces.

Arpa is currently sourcing his cane toads from Indonesia but is in the process of applying for a licence to import them from Australia, where the toads are of course considered a major pest.

I met first with Arpa's incredibly energetic and enthusiastic assistant and general "girl Friday", Wendy Witte, in the lounge of the Kempinski Hotel, with its sweeping views across Lake Geneva. After an hour or so of photographing, we were joined by Arpa himself. I spent the next couple of hours with this highly entertaining gentleman discussing the industry, his new brand, his multiple lawsuits (the guy seems to specialise in offending and pissing off prominent and powerful players in the industry, just for the fun of it), and anything else that popped into his hyperactive mind.

The watches themselves start at under 4,000 euros for a simple ladies' watch with quartz movement, to six figures for the most complicated tourbillon pieces. Pricing is generally pretty low considering what you are getting: every single piece is unique, and they are mostly quite breathtaking. These watches are talking points for your wrist - you need a big personality to carry them off. Which, appropriately, reflects perfectly their creator.

First up, the "Son of a Gun" watch, new for this year.

The rotor is also made from bullets - in this case, suitable for a 357 Magnum: fit to blow your head right off.

SIHH 2012 : Grönefeld

What's this? - I hear you say. Grönefeld are most definitely not a Richemont brand, and they most definitely do not have a booth at SIHH.

All true. But they did have invitations, and so did I. Bart and Tim are big fellas, not easy to miss in a crowd. And so it came to pass that I stumbled across them quite early in the proceedings.

I first met Bart and Tim back three years ago at Baselworld when they had just released their first watch, a rather intimidating tourbillon/minute repeater in a case that would not have looked out of place on Conan the Barbarian's wrist. That's not to say it was not refined; but it sure was masculine.

This was their first foray into a self-branded timepiece, but actually the brothers have been working in the watch industry for over twenty years, having passed first through famed Swiss watchmaking school WOSTEP and then on to the complications department at Renaud & Papi.

Since moving back to their hometown of Oldenzaal in Holland, the Grönefelds have built up a steady business assembling and finishing complicated watches for all sorts of brands - including some top-tier ones. I'm sworn to secrecy, but let's just say that there are several high-end, "totally in-house" Swiss watch models that take a journey to Holland and back during their gestation.

This is the second time I have run into Bart and Tim during SIHH. Last year they were very excited about their new One Hertz watch. They had a working movement to show me, but there had been a frustrating delay with the case. Shortly afterwards, the first actual watch was cased up, photographed and announced.

It's a fascinating departure from the previous Grönefeld watch. Whereas the minute repeater was highly complicated, fantastically expensive, and based on a movement from their old friends Renaud & Papi, the Grönefeld One Hertz is relatively simple, featuring three different complications (deadbeat seconds, power reserve and a push-crown to toggle between winding and setting), and - here's the really interesting bit - is based on their own, in-house-designed movement. And what a movement!

All of this for less than 30,000 Euros in stainless steel. I call that a bargain.

Clearly I'm not alone in that assessment - the limited run of 12 watches in SS was quickly snapped up and there are none left. One client cancelled their order just before the show - it took the Grönefelds less than 24 hours to find another buyer.

So successful has the One Hertz proven, that Bart & Tim have announced a second run in Rose Gold with a chestnut dial, numbered LE of 20 pieces. These will naturally be more expensive, but still affordable. Other releases may follow, although again - I'm sworn to secrecy.

But in my opinion it's the SS version which will prove to be the most desirable, due to its limited numbers, the fact that it was the first version, and let's not overlook the fact that it's a damn fine-looking watch...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A GTG at Scopri Italian Restaurant

191 Nicholson Street
VIC 3053
Ph : (03) 9347 8252

A week after having spent a few days in Melbourne, I found myself there again for the Melbourne Watchband’s end of year dinner last month, having been talked into the overnight visit by a watch friend in Perth who would also be there for the occasion.

They'd booked out the private room at the top of Scopri, an Italian restaurant in Carlton which, happily, is BYO, allowing the wine buffs to bring a bottle or two. Despite being a group of 15 in the private room (or floor, rather), there was no requirement to abide by a set group menu, so apart from some shared starters, we chose from the a la carte menu. 

First up were some shared primi piatti:

Insalata caprese

Simple sweet flavours of good tomatoes, plenty of basil, good buffalo mozzarella.

Affettato di Bresaola di Wagyu
Local air dried Wagyu beef Bresaola with rocket, parmesan & cherry tomato salad

Unfortunately, because I was so distracted by trying talking and watches, I only managed to get one slice of the bresaola. Suffice to say that I wish that there'd been more of this smooth, rich charcuterie.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trunk Diner

Trunk Diner
275 Exhibition St
VIC 3000
Ph : (03) 9663 7994
Hours : Monday to Friday 7.30am – 4.00pm. Saturday & Sunday 8.00am – 4.00pm

So I was in the Melbourne CBD, and I felt like a burger.

Situated on a major thoroughfare and open for breakfast until 11.30am, after which the menu changes to the "lunch and onwards" options, Trunk Diner is the small American themed attachment to Trunk Bar and Restaurant.

As well as burgers, there is fried chicken, salads, half a dozen baguettes, quesadilla, and half a dozen sweet items, including apple pie. Fries don’t come with the burgers, but are an additional $3 or $6.

At $10, the basic Diner Burger is a Wagyu beef patty in a grilled brioche bun, with baby cos, thick cut tomato, house-made pickles, a choice of 4 cheeses (Gruyere, Monterey Jack, Raclette and Cheddar), and extras like crispy bacon, caramelised onions, sautéed mushrooms, guacamole and jalapeño. I chose to add mushrooms and Gruyere to my basic burger, and a small order of fries.

If you’re famished, you can order a double burger, for $19.

Arriving on a tray in a slightly deconstructed fashion (why were the tomato, onions and lettuce not in the burger? Yes, I put them in), with the pickled vegetable being a nice bit of unexpected pumpkin, this is not a huge burger, but still a decently sized one. Along with a serving of chips, it is enough for a meal.

Brioche are my favourite burger bun. Though this one was good, it wasn’t the best brioche burger I’ve had, being a little on the bland side. The patty was the best thing about the burger. Perhaps a tad raw for some folks, it tasted like quality beef, was nicely pink the middle, a good thickness, and a decent size, proportionate to the bun. Interestingly, it was not as juicy as I thought it would be, given how the meat looked and tasted. Perhaps the biggest disappointment, given that it was an enjoyable burger, was the quantity of the extras. Or rather lack of quantity, as the case may be.

Trunk Diner is split between an enclosed area and a large courtyard that is presumably also used by Trunk Restaurant & Bar as well. On a sunny day, it's a great place to sit outside for a burger, and good for groups. This is a 'diner' burger whose strength is in its meat. Is it a burger I'd order again? I might, with a different combination of extras, but I did enjoy visiting Trunk Diner, and wouldn't mind going back to try something else. If you're in the mood for a decent burger and you're in the CBD, it's worth a visit.


Trunk Diner on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More dragons : Grieb & Benzinger

In the latest chapter in the relentless pursuit of the Chinese market, especially in the upcoming year of the dragon, Grieb & Benzinger have released their version of watches-with-dragons.

Fortunately, they have restricted themselves to four models, each available in a limited edition of eight, with the number x/8 hand skeletonised into the gear train bridge.

If I am so cynical about dragon themed watches, why am I blogging about them? Well it’s because Benzinger/ Grieb & Benzinger are interesting and slightly under the radar. They do some quite lovely classically Breguet-style watches, they’re known for their hand skeletonised (and hand guillochéd) watches, plus they actually have an authorised dealer in Australia, through whom I have had the pleasure of once seeing them in the flesh.

Basically, if Benzinger are doing a skeletonised dragon, then I’ll take a look.

Grieb & Benzinger’s draconic offerings are split into two skeletonised models, and two mother-of-pearl ones. 

The mother-of-pearl dialled models are the ‘White Dragon’ and ‘Grey Dragon’. The use of mother-of-pearl dials alludes to the pearl that the male dragon carries underneath his chin, symbolising wisdom, purity and order. The white model is available in white gold with 77 diamonds or in white gold with a guilloché bezel. The grey is available in rose gold with 77 diamonds or in rose gold with a guilloché bezel. 

Of their dragon collection, the mother-of-pearl ones are probably the two that appeal the least to me, since they seem more a case of simply putting a dragon on a watch. The two skeletonised models, however, let the brand’s skeletonising skills shine and, to my mind, make more sense within the broader context of the brand's DNA.

The ‘Black Dragon’ features a ‘hovering’ dragon over a skeletonised sterling silver dial, beneath which can be seen a blackened, hand-skeletonised movement. It is available in rose gold with 77 diamonds or in rose gold with a guilloché bezel.

The ‘Blue Dragon’ is the full-on-Benzinger-treatment masterpiece of the collection. The dragon is fully skeletonised out of the movement itself, giving it a far more three-dimensional and organic feel. As well as skeletonisation, the Blue Dragon also features the use of guilloché and engraving. Why blue? G&B say that this is a nod to the time when a lot of blue base plates were supplied by Switzerland through Bovet (which has arguably the richest history of any watch brand with China) and under Emperors Jia Qing (reigned 1795-1820) and Dao Guang (reigned 1821-1850). The Blue Dragon is available in white gold with 124 baguette-cut diamonds or in white gold with a guilloché bezel.

Of the collection, and this is a very personal view, I wonder whether the skeletonised models will be the ones with the greatest staying power. They are more in tune with the brand’s other collections and the dragons are more aesthetically integrated into the watch, which means that they don’t scream ‘token dragon watch’.

How much for these rather limited editions? Prices from 32,500 Euros.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

SIHH 2012 : Piaget's Altiplano Skeleton - setting new records for 'thin'

Although it was announced a couple of months ago, Piaget has now formally launched the stunning Altiplano Skeleton at SIHH 2012. At 38mm, this dress watch holds two ‘firsts’. At 5.34mm it is the world's thinnest automatic skeleton watch and inside, it contains the thinnest automatic movement, the Piaget calibre 1200S, a mere 2.4mm.

Through the open case back you can see that the movement's micro-rotor is platinum and coated in a matte black. The 1200S automatic movement is based on the 1200P automatic movement, which Piaget modified and skeletonised.

The engraving and finishing on the movement is all done by hand, and the contrasts and impact of the mix of surfaces (matte, sunray brushed, sandblasted, polished) with the polished angles, platinum, rhodium and black make this a very modern type of skeletonised dress watch.

Renowned for their ultra-thins, Manufacture Piaget currently has 18 ultra-thin movements and 5 skeleton movements.


Case : 18-carat white gold
Functions: hours, minutes. Black dauphine hands
Movement : Piaget 1200S ultra-thin mechanical self-winding skeleton movement. World's thinnest automatic skeleton movement (2.40mm). Finishing : satin brushed plate and bridges, hand bevelled and hand-drawn bridges and plate,
sunray or circular satin-brushed wheels, black screws, black platinum satin-brushed micro-rotor engraved with Piaget insignia
Jewels : 26
Frequency : 21,600 vph
Power reserve : 44-hour
Strap : black alligator with 18-carat white gold ardillon buckle
Reference : G0A37132 

This new watch screams Piaget, and in a way that I want to see. They really do ‘ultra- thin’ like nobody else, and I have a soft spot for skeletonised watches. The Altiplano Skeleton Ultra-Thin is not for those who want all the bells and whistles on their watch but for those who want a watch pared down to its time-keeping essential, but in a technically and aesthetically remarkable way. It's unlikely that I’ll get to have a look at one in Sydney, but if anyone gets one...


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

SIHH 2012 : Quick look - Baume & Mercier, Greubel Forsey

Here I am in the Salle de Presse at SIHH 2012, which looks like this -

I have been very busy with press presentations, with very little time to upload and post-process my shots, so for this phase of SIHH I am using a newly purchased Panasonic Lumix GX1 with the Lumix G 14-42 X power zoom lens. It's great for quick snaps and I think it can do more than that too, but for really detailed and accurate watch shots I will be reverting to my Nikon D700 and 105mm Micronikkor macro lens later in the week.

The first booth to the right of the Salle de Presse is Baume et Mercier. Their presentation is tomorrow, but from my first quick look at the display cases outside the booth, I would say that they are upping their game.

New chronographs -

A new, more elegant and classic range of time-only watches with really nice sword hands, subtle dial guilloché and other details -

A closer look at one of the chronos -

Here is last year's Capeland chronograph, which has from memory a Dubois-Dépraz movement -

The thing about Baume et Mercier is that they are NOT attempting to go upmarket by developing their own movements, or worse, grabbing someone else's movement and calling it their own. What they do instead is take good reliable ETA and other third-party movements, finish them beautifully, and put them in high-quality cases.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

SIHH 2012 : Philippe Dufour/ Robert Greubel/ Steven Forsey collaboration

Before you all fall off your seats, no, this is not a collaboration on a new watch.

Instead, it's a joint venture by the three individuals in the title to establish a training program for established watchmakers to learn the "old skills" which are rapidly disappearing as a result of increased automation, CNC machines etc.

For now I will just post some quick snaps. A separate room has been set up at the Greubel Forsey booth at SIHH 2012 and in it, I found the maestro himself with his new disciple (whose name I did not record, but he is an established watchmaker and teacher at a watchmaking school).

As I was snapping, Steven Forsey turned up to inspect things.

Will report more about this when I have a little more info.

Much more to come...stay tuned....same Tart-time, same Tart-channel.

[Tony P]