Thursday, December 31, 2009

The alarms are now set for midnight....

Best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2010 from all of us here in Sydney!

May the new year bring you all lots of horological, gastronomic and other adventures, and may we share some of them together.

Grazing Restaurant & Capital Wines : Gundaroo

Grazing Restaurant & Capital Wines
Cork St
NSW 2620
(02) 6236 8777

Open : Lunch Fri - Sun and most Public Holidays; Dinner Thurs - Sat

The sky was blue, the air fresh with a gentle breeze, and the temperature sitting around 26 degrees as I left Canberra cross the border into Gundaroo. What for? Through aptronym, I got an introduction to meet Jenni at Capital Wines for some wine tasting.

What better way to do it than to have lunch at Grazing in Gundaroo as well?

The drive out to Gundaroo

Gundaroo is some 35km outside of Canberra on the NSW side. A historic town that lies in the Yass Valley at altitude of some 600m, it was established back in the 1820s and settled mainly by graziers, and an important stopover for goods and travellers travelling from railway station at Gunning to Queanbeyan.

Arriving at Gundaroo

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ash St Cellar at The Ivy

Ash St Cellar
1 Ash St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph : (02) 9240 3000
Open : Mon - Fri, 12pm until late

Tucked away behind George St and connecting with Angel Place, Ash St Cellar is part of the Ivy complex behemoth. Standing out somewhat from the rest of its Merivale siblings, it is a cosy establishment with a large wine list and tapas-style dishes from head chef Lauren Murdoch.

Ash St is a mostly outdoors space, the inside welcomingly understated in dark woods and consisting of a small bar counter, communal table and small tables. Overhead are chandeliers and wines, the open kitchen taking up part of this intimate space.

Part of a party of five, we ordered a few items to go with our drinks.

Cured meat selection ($34)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's a Parnis?

I’ve always had a thing for a Jump-hour display type watch ever since I laid my eyes on this beauty:

Image courtesy of the internet

Obviously the price was prohibitively expensive, meaning that it could be a while before I’d be able to get one on my wrist. But I was able to quench my thirst for a Jump-hour watch recently with this one…

I won’t go too deep into the whole Jump-hour display, as there will be other more comprehensive posts on this type of watch later on, but I would like to comment on the watch with this strange sounding name for a brand, Parnis.

This is my third Parnis watch. I also think that this latest acquisition is possibly of an earlier generation of Parnis watches, as the other 2 that I have are of a much better build quality. Parnis, from what I can gather on the interwebs, seem to be one of many Chinese-made watches to emerge that is not a blatant copy of an existing watch design. Yes, the design is still a copy. Inspired, if you will, by a certain much more expensive brand, but at least they’re trying. With their own branding and having a go at some sort of a design, it's a good start.

This watch in particular, is inspired by the Breitling for Bentley Flying B Jump Hour. You can see similarities in its case design and the dial layout (in terms of an upside-down figure of 8 to show the minutes and seconds) But this is where the similarity ends. Obviously the case, the dial work, etc, are a lot more detailed and quality is top notch in the Breitling, but you would expect it for something with 5 digits in its price. 

Breitling for Bentley Flying B Jump Hour - Image courtesy of the internet

The Parnis on the other hand- one will never mistake it for something more expensive. I really wish they would’ve come up with a more posh-sounding name than Parnis. I’m sure almost any term in French would suffice. Le Pierre, for example…The digital hour display window is a tad on the small side, and the jump occurs at 1 minute past the hour, meaning you should probably wait till 3-4 minute past before you can confidently pronounce the hour as well. However I’m sure this is an easy fix and judging from various comments on the watch forums, it apparently sorts itself out after a wearing-in period.

One can opt to change its looks or even improve on the perceived value of the watch by swapping on a nicer alligator strap, or even a steel bracelet. Although how you feel about the strap/ bracelet costing more than the watch itself is another story altogether… yes, you read right. By fitting a half-way decent strap, the strap would’ve cost you more than the watch itself. That gives you an idea of the sort of price point that these Chinese watches can be had, and it’s definitely not good news to certain Swiss brands, and to a certain extent, some Japanese brands.

The entry level Swiss watches mostly trade on their watchmaking history, and the Japanese trade on their quality. But how much longer are people willing to pay a premium for a name? There might be a romantic notion of knowing that someone somewhere up in the Swiss mountains lovingly put together the watch that ticks on your wrist. But what if that person is somewhere in the mountains in China? Or in a little house by the river? Or a whole bunch of them in a factory? It’s really not that different if you put your rational cap on. I think this is a controversial topic that is worthy of more in depth discussion later on down the track. (There are actually a number of other aspects that I haven't touched on - hence the need for a more in depth discussion)

Getting back to the topic, here is a good quality stainless steel watch, with an automatic movement, jump-hour display, for less than the price of a good quality leather strap, (And mind you, the strap it comes on isn’t something to be sneezed at either) and all the ‘prestige’ that comes with a mechanical watch, these are interesting times for the watch industry indeed…

The low low price of these Chinese mechanical watches also bring with it another issue- the issue of the price you’d be willing to pay to service such a watch… Do you pay 2-3 times the price of the watch for a service, or do you simply throw it out like a Swatch and buy a new one?


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Food Adventures in Kogarah - Pino's

Pino's Dolce Vita & Fine Foods
45 President Ave
Kogarah NSW 2217
Ph : (02) 9587 4818

After my light lunch at Sugarloaf Patisserie a few doors down, it was time to head to the other reason for my presence in Kogarah; a visit (finally), to Pino's Dolce Vita.

Seventh-generation smallgoods artisan Pino Tomini Foresti and his family have an altar to meat and salumi fans. Suppliers to many top Sydney chefs as well as the general public, they produce dozens of sausage varieties and some two dozen types of cured meats such as salami, pancetta, coppa, proscuitto and even lardo. You can also find a selection of Italian deli goodies and cheeses, but it is the pig that reigns supreme.

In addition to the cured meats and sausages, they also have an extensive butcher's section.

I am not one of those folks who gets overwhelmed by choice - the more the merrier, say I! However, on this day it just all became too much, as I wanted half the shop, but realised that this was going to be impossible both from the point of view of my fridge, and my pocket.

In the end I decided to just get two things. In narrowing it down to two I had difficulties, but eventually settled on the following.....

Item one of two was the proscuitto.

I decided to go for something that I love, a classic, and something that Pino's is renowned for.

Unfortunately, there are no prices visible on the cured meats, so I had no idea that this cost $89.99/kg! I admit to having a minor heart blip when my tally was given to me (I got two dozen slices of the proscuitto, to share), but when I ate it (crudo), I realised that it was worth it.  The aroma, taste and texture were just sensational, and every bite savoured. If I could afford it, I could see myself wanting to eat this regularly.

My second purchase was a form of proscuitto that I had never eaten before, and which I vaguely recalled as being something not only quite special, but also difficult to find in Sydney - culatello.

The word "culatello" means "little backside", and refers to the fact that it is made from the the rear part of the leg, freed from the bone and skin. Called the "heart of the proscuitto", it not only uses a different part of the beast, but is also handled differently. The large side of the leg is removed away from the bone and skin. Seasoned with pepper, pressed garlic and lightly salted, the meat is then stuffed into a pig's bladder, tied to give it a pear-like shape, and hung 8-12 months to cure.  It may also be cured with wine.

The best known culatello is Culatello di Zibello, which is produced in and around the town of Zibello; Culatello di Zibello has been granted Denominazione di Origine Protetta (DOP) status.

I didn't know some of these finer details under after I had eaten it and wanted to know more.  All that I knew when I purchased it was that it was similar to proscuitto, but made from a different part of the animal.

It was very different to proscuitto tastewise and texture wise. I think that I should have left it out for a bit longer to reach a proper room temperature, as I have a suspicion that this would have altered the experience and taste.

As it was, I enjoyed it a lot, but for reasons which I can't really articulate, and that are nothing to do with taste, of the two meats, I am probably likely to buy the proscuitto again ahead of the culatello. However, in spite of this I would definitely recommend that if you visit Pino's, buy a few slices of the latter to try, and tell me what you think!  I realise that it's not quite jamón ibérico de bellota, but it's pretty darn good.

If for you, Kogarah seems like a distant place to travel as a food destination, then I can assure you that visits to Pino's and Sugarloaf should be reason enough for you to head there, and there's a pretty good fruit and vegetable place across the road as well!


Sugarloaf Patisserie

Sugarloaf Patisserie
37 President Ave
Kogarah NSW 2217
Ph : (02) 9553 4933

Kogarah seems far away to me. I've only ever been through the suburb, as opposed to having it as a destination. However, I had two reasons to head there, and convinced a trusty chauffeur to join me in an expedition to Pino's Delicatessen and Sugarloaf Patisserie, conveniently situated only two shopfronts away from each other.

An unassuming suburban patisserie with an Argentinian bent to its offerings, there are some half a dozen tables in this simple but welcoming space.

Sugarloaf covers a wide range of comestibles, from empanadas to traditional sweets, to pies and even sandwiches, which were sold in in a rather unexpected "layered" form (I forgot to photograph them).

Without further ado, the reason that I was here - to try the empanadas.

First up was the large meat and olive ($4). 

The combination of pastry and filling is one that is close to my heart, whatever its culinary and cultural roots. This one was a happy execution, with the filling chunky, generous, the olives diced into small pieces, and with a slight chilli kick. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased a few more to take with me.

Naturally, it was eaten with generous lashings of hot sauce.

The second empanada was the Small Cheese & Spinach ($2.60).

Unfortunately, this was not as much of a hit with me. It wasn't so much that there was anything wrong with it, but rather that when I ate it, I was left waiting (and wanting) for something. It was a little plain; unexpectional, I suppose you could say.

Sweets were next on the agenda. Unfortunately, the lunch companion was a smaller eater than I, and for some reason I just wasn't in the mood for too much sugar that day, so I only tried two items.

First up was the classic Alfajores Alfajores de Maizena ($2.90). 

These are small Argentinian corn starch sandwich cookies commonly filled with dulce de leche, but  also jams, peanut butter, and even chocolate mousse. 

Dry and crumbly, it wasn't as sweet as it looks. I enjoyed it, but nowhere near as much as I enjoyed the next item, the churros.

Two Churros with Chocolate cost $5.50, and what amazing churros these were. Light, and tasting wonderfully of that addictive sugary fresh doughnut taste, I would go so far as to say that these might be a contender for the best churros in Sydney.

They were so addictive that I had to be forcibly stopped from ordering an extra one so I could use up the generous supply for rich unctuous chocolate.

That left me with no choice but to drink the rest of it from the glass.

I realise that it is now post Xmas, but this is the first time I have seen such a sign, and I wanted to share it. How good was this?  You could get your Xmas meat cooked by them!

As I write this, I realise that I am having a craving to return, both to have another empanada, and to try some more of their sweets......

After visiting Sugarloaf, I headed down to Pino's Dolce Vita.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A.B.P. Paris


For many a hardcore WIS or watchnerd, straps are an important part of watch ownership, with strap purchases and changes according to mood/ weather/ purpose/ colour/ material matching being a regular part of one's horological existence.  If you're a Paneristi, strapmania can reach epic proportions, with special strap cases holding up to two dozen of them, vintage straps that go for four figure amounts, and adoration of particular strapmakers and type of exotic straps.

Recently, a newcomer to the Sydney Paneristi and Sydney Tarts horological fold arrived one night with three straps to share. Not just any old straps, but from the renowned strapmakers ABP (Atelier du Bracelet Parisien).

Our new friend asked us to guess what these straps were made from. Between the half a dozen of us there at the time, we couldn't manage to guess any of them correctly. I suppose that this could be interpreted in a variety of ways :

1. We really don't know our leather
2. None of us are seriously hardcore strap nuts
3. Something else altogether

What do you think this one with the interesting texture is?

 Cow paunch!

This next one may be red, but the colour is misleading.... it is a strap made from frog.

This final one is the strap that I liked the most in terms of its texture and aesthetics. Despite trying hard, I could not identify it, though one person got nearish (right beast, no specifics on the beast's body part)...... turned out to be Ostrich leg.

Seeing how much I admired this final strap, my new Paneristi buddy unexpectedly and generously offered to let me borrow it for a few weeks to use on my PAM48!

Clearly, I am not much of a Paneristi or strapaholic, as I don't own a strap changing tool, and had to call upon P to assist me.....

Almost there!

One final twist before he can attack his apple crumble tart.....


Seeing my PAM48 on this strap induced unexpected strap lust, as it is a beautiful strap indeed.

Here is a photo of it with its usual strap -

This is the OEM strap which it came with -

A new strap is cheaper than buying a new watch but hey - call me boring if you like, but I'm just going to stick with the black strap with white stitching for the immediate future, and save the funds for a new watch rather than a new strap.....


21 Feb 2011 - An interview of A.B.P's Yann Perrin by AP here.