Sunday, 22 May 2011

It's time to get Arabic in Abu Dhabi

After seeing some amazing things travelling through Asia, it was now time to make our way around the globe and head toward England. But first we had to make a little stop over at Abu Dhabi.

Coming to Abu Dhabi, Cara and I had no idea what to expect. The culture and customs were probably the most foreign that we have experienced so far. Cara was a little concerned about what she could and couldn’t wear. The women in Abu Dhabi need to be mostly covered up.  Even I couldn’t wear shorts in certain places, pants only, which was not easy in the intense heat. We are only here for 3 full days and there is lots to see and do so we planned out our time and set off excited about what we were about to discover.

Our first stop was the Grand Mosque. This is unbelievable! It is one of the most impressive structures that we have ever seen. The Grand Mosque in total can hold up to 20,000 worshipers at one time.  Cara and I were speechless. What an amazing way to start our time here.  Later that day, we decided to go and check out the Emirates Palace. This is the worlds only 7 star hotel. Unfortunately staying there is a little pricey so we were limited in what we could see. But what we did see was unreal. It truly was a palace. There was lots of carved marble and sand stone. Very ‘over the top’ which seems to be the trend in Abu Dhabi.

Before I get on to talking about our food and drinking experience for this week; I need to make mention of our desert safari that we had the pleasure of going on.  Imagine 4-wheel driving out in the desert and bashing through giant sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Carving up the sand, like a surfer carves a wave. Then dropped off in literally the middle of nowhere to feast on a traditional Arabic BBQ. We both had an amazing time. It’s something that we would recommend to anyone visiting Abu Dhabi.

Eating the Arabic food was… ‘interesting’. Some food we really liked, and then there was other things that I think you need to be a local to appreciate. On our last night, we went to the “Al Fanar” revolving restaurant to reflect on our time here over a nice view, a bottle of wine and some quality food.  I decided to do a bit of a food review this week. My mum would be keen to read this I’m sure.  For our Appetizers, Cara ordered pan-fried scallops, which were served on a bed of green mango and marinated with mirin soy sauce, finished off with sesame seeds as the garnish.  This was a simple very well presented dish. The scallops were nice, but did seem to be a little undercooked. Having said that the flavours balanced well with the green mango. Cara seemed to enjoy the dish, but I don’t think it blew her socks off.

I decided to order the Alaskan crab served with a wasabi lime emulsion. After eating wasabi with sushi in japan, I have formed a liking to it, so when I saw the idea of a wasabi lime emulsion, I had to try it.  As I tried the crab first, just on it’s own, it was already delicious. Soft and juicy and well seasoned.  When I mixed it with the wasabi lime emulsion, I expected that kick of spice that you usually get from wasabi. But this was not spicy at all. It was actually refreshing. It complimented the crab beautifully. 

As we waited for our mains, the waiter came over and gave us a complementary sample and a dish that the chef was experimenting with, sautéed shrimp with mayonnaise. Sometimes with food and cocktails people can over think the ingredients and over complicate what they are serving. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the most effective. The chef’s sautéed shrimp with mayo was a perfect example of how a very simple dish can still be amazing. It was a nice combination of flavours. Something that I hope finds its way on to the menu.

For our mains, Cara ordered the beef rib eye with spinach cannelloni. The beef was cooked to perfection. It was a little on the rare side for Cara’s liking, but that doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the dish. It was juicy, soft and it pulled apart easily on the plate. I was certainly a little jealous. The cannelloni was a good side for the beef.  The combination of spinach and cheese worked well. The only criticism with the cannelloni was there was too much of it. The serving size needed to be less.  Eating the entire beef and cannelloni was just too much for Cara, but she thoroughly enjoyed her meal though.

I went for the sautéed chicken, served with roasted potatoes and onions. Like the beef, the chicken was cooked perfectly. Falling away from the bone with ease. It had a nice crispy skin, which I love. I also love roasted potato’s unfortunately I only got 3 little marble sized mini potato’s. The delicious flavours of the chicken made up for the lack of potatoes.

Overall our experience was great. The views of the city at night were awesome. We both had fun and it was a perfect way to spend our last night in beautiful Abu Dhabi.

After dinner we went to a near by cocktail bar. The cocktail menus I had seen in places so far had been very traditional, very classic. So I was hoping for something a little different when we went to the “Piano cocktail lounge”. Unfortunately, their menu consisted of just the basic classics too, daiquiri’s, margarita’s, martini’s, etc. So I decided to ask the bartender for his signature cocktail. The barman’s English was not that strong, so it took him a while for him to understand my request. After a little confusion, he explained that he did not have a signature creation, however he could serve me a drink that is very popular in Arabia. He explained that when the locals go out, this is what they drink. It’s called a ‘Bull Frog”, which is basically a long island iced tea, but with red bull instead of coke and blue curacao instead of Cointreau. To make a ‘bull frog’, you build in a tall glass over ice, 15ml vodka, 15ml white rum, 15ml tequila, 15ml gin, 15ml blue curacao and top it up with red bull. This drink is perfect for the sweet tooth. For me, it was a little too sweet. But I could understand why some people would like it. It’s like a liquid lolly-pop. The barman was right when he said that ‘bull frogs’ are what everyone drinks in Abu Dhabi. During the short time that we were sitting at the bar, we saw about six or seven of these concoctions get made and sent out to other customers.  It’s not the most creative idea for a drink I’ve seen, but it was a good incite to what is popular in Abu Dhabi.

The Bull Frog:
Build in a tall glass over ice:
15ml Vodka
15ml Gin
15ml Tequila
15ml White Rum
15ml Blue Curacao
Topped up with Red Bull

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Cuervo 'Re-Match Beyatch' Cocktail Comp.

We were fortunate enough to have plenty of places to eat and drink right near our hotel. Just a short walk down the road and we came across a stretch of road filled with lots of Spanish tapas, Italian restaurants and Irish pubs. Something we didn’t expect from Kuala Lumpur. Dotted along this strip was the odd cocktail bar or two. As we had eaten Italian and Spanish the last few nights, we were looking for a change and this little cocktail bar and restaurant called “Twenty-One”  took our eye. We have had a busy day, doing all the typical touristy things that there is to do in KL, so we were looking for just a nice quiet meal over a glass of wine and give the cocktails a rest for one day.  The food at ‘Twenty-one’ was some of the best food we have had on our journey so far. Cara ordered the duck that seem to be so juicy and tender it fell apart on her plate and I went for the pasta (I know I said I was looking for a change after already eating Italian this week, but the creamy pasta dish sounded amazing).  We utterly enjoyed the night, and happened to get chatting to the restaurant manager. The manager invited us to watch a cocktail competition that was happening the following day. It was the first cocktail competition that “Twenty-One” had ever hosted. The contestants were local bartenders from around the area. Of course we could not decline this invitation.

The next day, we went back to “Twenty-one” to check out this local cocktail comp. The manager recognized us straight away and made sure we got a good seat. The competition was sponsored by Jose Cuervo tequila and was called the Kuala Lumpur “Re-match Beyatch”. It consisted of around 12 local bartenders, battling it out one-on-one in a knockout style competition to see who could make 7 drinks the fastest. The bartenders were asked to make 1 classic Daiquiri, 1 classic Margarita, 1 Singapore sling, 1 Pina Colada, 1 El Diablo, 1 long island iced tea and pour a pint of Tiger beer.  This would usually be not a difficult task for a bartender at his/her own pace, but when you competing for a prize of 1000 ringgit, you have the pressure of the crowd yelling at you, the mind can go blank and suddenly your forgetting how to pour a beer.  All of the bartenders did an amazing job.  They all handled the pressure extremely well, but most of all though, everyone had fun and a great night.

Cara and I had the pleasure of meeting some of the contestants and some of the other bartenders from ‘twenty-one’. It was a great chance to talk ‘shop’ with the locals and get a little incite into life living in KL. We both staggered home after having and amazing night, one that we’ll never forget.

The SkyBar & The 'Tom-Yum-tini'

Before we began our travels, we researched a couple of good cocktail bars to check out in the places that we were visiting. In Kuala Lumpur, one bar that we both had to check out was the SkyBar, located on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel.  Aside from the Skybar having a reputation for serving great cocktails, it was also known for having one of the best views of the city.

We reached the Traders hotel and took the elevator to the 33rd floor. As we reached the entrance to the Skybar, you could already see the view. It was absolutely amazing. As we took a seat near the window, my camera was out of my bag and already snapping as many pictures as I could of the city skyline. The Petronas Twin Towers dominated the view. As we sat for a while and took it all in, it was time to get to drinks menu. The SkyBar had an extensive drinks menu. The cocktails ranged from the classics, variations on the classics to their own house signatures.  It took us some time to decide what we should order. The view kept distracting us.  Cara ordered a wine, but I had to see if their cocktails were all that they were cracked up to be. I decided to order a “Tom-yum-tini”. This was basically a tom yum soup made into a cocktail.  This sounded pretty interesting.  The ‘tom-yum-tini’ consisted of 45ml Bacardi, spiced sugar syrup, lime juice, 2 kaffir lime leaves, a tiny bit of tom yum paste (probably only ¼ teaspoon) and Tabasco sauce. Shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass, then garnished with lemongrass. It was spicy, like a tom-yum soup should be, but the spice was instantly cooled down by the freshness of the lime juice.  Even though the ingredients were similar to a classic daiquiri, it didn’t taste any thing like a daiquiri. Flavours were balanced together extremely well. If I had one criticism, I’d have to say that it’s not the type of drink you could re-order. I found as I got to the bottom of the glass that one was enough. It’s not a cocktail that you could continually drink over the course of a night out, but great for a ‘one-off’. This cocktail is not for everyone. If you like bloody mary’s, you’ll probably like this one too.

Our time at the SkyBar was amazing. The cocktails didn’t disappoint and the view definetly didn’t either.  

The SkyBar’s “Tom-Yum-tini”
45ml Bacardi
15ml Spiced sugar syrup
30ml lime juice
Dash of Tabasco sauce
2 Kaffir Lime Leaves
¼ teaspoon of Tom Yum Paste
Shaken & Strained into a martini glass
Garnished with lemongrass.

The picture I posted at the end of my last blog entry was one of the photos I took from the SkyBar. The view is so impressive, I just have to share some more photos with you all. 

Monday, 16 May 2011

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur

After having an amazing time being shown around Osaka by my parents, Cara and I were now on our own as we depart from Japan and head toward Kuala Lumpur.  As we make our way from the KL airport, the city begins to take shape. Soon enough the famous Petronas twin towers come into view and we know we are in Kuala Lumpur. Another exciting week is ahead for us. 

As I’m sure most people do when they arrive in a new place, you go out and explore your surroundings. We decided to do a bit of a circuit around the area where we’re staying and see what we come across. We decided to walk from our hotel, to the Kuala Lumpur tower, across to the Petronas Towers and back to the hotel. As we trekked around the city in 35-degree heat it was easy to work up a thirst. We came across the Hard Rock Café: Kuala Lumpur. Usually I’m not a fan of big bar franchises, but the Hard Rock name is famous all over world so it was hard for us to just walk past and not give it a go. Cara got the ball rolling and ordered the first cocktail of the week. A nice tropical cocktail to quench the thirst is what we needed. So we ordered the Hard Rock’s “Bahama-mama”. This cocktail consisted of 15ml Bacardi, 15ml Malibu, 15ml Banana liqueur, topped up with pineapple juice and Orange juice, add ice and shake. Poured into a tall glass and garnished with a slice of orange, a cherry and in true hard rock style, a little mini guitar.  A very basic drink, but sometimes you got to give the people what they want. Kuala Lumpur is a tropical place and this drink was the perfect tropical cocktail.

The Hard Rock Café’s:
15ml Bacardi
15ml Malibu
15ml Banana Liqueur
Add Ice & Top up with Pineapple Juice and Orange Juice
Shake and pour into a tall glass
Garnish with Orange slice and a Cherry.

Sometimes things aren’t always about the drinks. After the Hard Rock, we made our way to the famous Petronas twin towers. The tallest twin towers in the world.  As we walked around these icons of KL, my camera was going nuts. There were so many great photos to take.  Our week has just begun, who knows what the next few days have in store for us.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Japan's Beer & Sake

You can't spend time in Japan without trying a little bit of sake. In Japan, sake distilleries are like the wineries back in Australia. They are dotted all over japan and they all offer their own unique blend of sake.  During our travels around Osaka, we decided to visit the Hakutsuru Sake Brewery.

For those who don't know what sake is, it's a Japanese rice wine, which is usually around 15% alcohol. Simply, the rice is washed, soaked, steamed, cooled down, mashed and filtered, before storing and left to ferment. The Hakutsuru sake brewery started producing sake in 1743. They have prided themselves on still using the traditional methods of brewing sake, even today. Having said that, Hakutsuru has been willing to adapt to the cultural changes over the years by creating different sake flavours and have modernised their packaging methods but they are still very strict that the production method still remains the same as what it was over 250 years ago.  Much like the Yamazaki distillery, the sake produced here is more than just a drink. It is a Japanese icon, an ancient tradition, which the people of Japan have the upmost respect for. During our time at Hakutsuru we had the pleasure of trying some of their famous sake. It had a very fruity and almost tropical smell. The taste was sweet and cleansed the palette. It was very refreshing and quite easy to drink. Drinking and enjoying sake is definitely a matter of opinion. Just like wine, you may love the various blends of sake or you may not, I’ll let you be the judge.

I was amazed that Osaka seems to be the home of all things food and drink. Aside from Osaka being the birthplace of Yamazaki whisky, and the home to many sake distilleries, Osaka also has Japan’s oldest Asahi brewery. Asahi beer is something that I’ve seen lots of back in Australia and something that I’ve served to many customers too.  So when I found out that Asahi was brewed in Osaka, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go.

Asahi has been around since 1889. They were the first company to introduce an outdoor fermentation process an also the first beer in Japan to be sold in a can.  Today Asahi sells over 400 million beers per year. They have now branched out into the soft drink market, liqueurs, wine and sake.  Asahi also prides itself on being environmentally friendly. Using energy saving machinery and recycled materials was something that the people at Asahi were very proud of.  Despite our entire tour of the brewery being in Japanese, our tour guide made us feel more than welcome. She did her very best to tell us as much about Asahi as she could in English. The Japanese people never want you to leave disappointed, and we certainly weren’t. We had a great time.  After now seeing the Asahi brewery, it was clear why this beer is by far the most popular beer in Japan.  

The Yamazaki Distillery

One thing we had on our wish list of things to see before we came to Japan was the Yamazaki Distillery.  With Cara and I both being bartenders, we had both heard of Yamazaki back in Australia so we were looking forward to going to the distillery where this famous Japanese whisky was founded.

The Yamazaki Distillery is located just out of Osaka on the way to Kyoto. Shinjiro Torii founded it in 1923. Shinjiro saw this area of Japan as a “utopia” for making whisky. The rolling hills and fresh water springs in the area provided the perfect damp climate for distillation.  To this day, Yamazaki whisky still uses the fresh water located in a nearby spring to make its whisky.  Another main factor for Yamazaki being such a unique whisky is it’s aging process. After the spirit has been double distilled in ‘pot-stills’ it is aged in carefully selected pure oak casks. The whisky is then aged for long periods of time giving the spirit a smoky, rich and mellow flavor, which is unique to Yamazaki.

Yamazaki whisky had become a huge success in Japan. In 1973 (the 50th anniversary of Yamazaki), a second distillery was built, where they started to produce Hakushu single malt whisky. The whisky was made using different pot-stills and sourced water from different springs in the area.  Hakushu is also aged in different sized barrels, which affects the amount of oak flavor that is infused into the whisky. Hakushu was made with the aim to bring new life to the Japanese whisky market.

Walking through this distillery you really get a sense of history. It seemed like the whisky represented so much more than just a drink. The whisky is said to represent the soul of Japan. The people at Yamazaki certainly aim for perfection. The master craftsmen at Yamazaki carefully pick every little ingredient that is used to make the whisky. We had the pleasure of tasting the many different types of whisky at the end of the tour. After now understanding the complexities of Yamazaki, we were able to appreciate the drink so much more.

The Yamazaki distillery was definitely worth the visit. We learnt a lot and had a great time tasting the wide variety of whisky that Yamazaki has to offer.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Jazz in Japan

We are fortunte to be in Osaka during a time they call “Golden Week” in Japan. This is a string of public holidays during a week where they celebrate all different demographics. During golden week in japan, Osaka hosts one of the biggest free jazz festivals in the world. The Takatsuki Street Jazz festival is where all the local bars and clubs come together host a diverse selection of live jazz music all within walking distance of each other.  So this was a great opportunity to see some great live jazz music as well as some funky little cocktail bars in Osaka. 

After cruising the streets checking out all the local food being made on the side of the road we decided to check out some live Jazz.  The Japanese love jazz and the people really get behind these types of festivals. We went to check out some funk music at a place called “Tanto-Ya”. As we approached this little bar, we could see a small crowd gathering. However some people looked like they had been there for most of the day judging by the amount of empty Asahi’s and Heinekens on the table in front of them.  I decided to not waste anytime and buy us some beers and get into the spirit of things.  The Japanese people know how to have a great time.  Many of the jazz songs were sung in English, and everyone seems to sing along. I had to wonder if they knew what they were singing about.

Later that night we went to check out some bossa at “Alvamar Bar”. We took a seat and looked at the drinks menu. Usually most places have both Japanese and English writing on their menu. In this case, it was all in Japanese. Fortunately my mum can read a little Japanese, so after a little confusion we finally figured out how to order 3 white wines for Cara and my parents. As for me, I had to be different. Mum, helped me to find the rum section on the menu, so I decided to go to the bar and just point to something and see what I get.   The bartender smiled at me and in his best attempt to speak English he said “delicious”. Now… I’m thinking that that’s the name of the cocktail I ordered, or he is describing the drink. Either way, I’m going to call this drink, “Alvamar’s Delicious”. This cocktail is really easy. Built in a tall glass, over ice, 30ml of White rum, 30ml of Blue Curacao and topped up with orange juice, pineapple juice and grapefruit juice. A very simple built cocktail, and just like the bartender said, it was delicious.

"Alvamar’s Delicious":
In a tall glass:
30ml White Rum
30ml Blue Curacao
Add ice
Top up with equal parts orange juice, pineapple juice and grapefruit juice.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Japan Experience

All I can say at the moment is WOW!!!.... We could not have asked for a better start to our adventure than in Japan. For simple Adelaide folk, like me and Cara, we could not have had a bigger culture shock. Our travels take us to the city of Osaka. The main thing you notice when walking the streets of Osaka, is the people there love to eat. It seems like every place we pass, they were offering some kind of food. Being a foreigner you can't help but try everything. So far I've had things like pork tongue, fish eggs, fried octopus balls, chicken heart, plenty of sushi and there is sure to be much more. But the traditional meal of Osaka is Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is like a big pancake but filled with cabbage, shrimp, pork and almost anything else you can think of. It's smothered in BBQ sauce and topped off with shaved fish. Sounds interesting but we both loved it. We are always keen to get into the spirit of Japan and try all the exciting things they have to offer.

While we explore the city and eat the food, we need to wash it all down with some Japanese beers. Asahi is the local beer of Japan, but i also had the pleasure of trying Yebisu Beer, Kirin, Sapporo and the Suntory range of beers. All of these beers were nice and refreshing and definitely quenched the thirst, but i must admit they all possessed similar qualities. We are lucky in Australia to have such a wide variety of local and boutique beers. Most of the popular beers I've tried before but the Yebisu Beer was a new one for me, it was little different, not so much in flavour, but more in it's texture. It had a soft creamy head, similar to a Kilkenny. One beer that did take my fancy was one from the Sapporo range. It was a chocolate flavoured beer. I've heard of stout and chocolate working well together, but that is more when making a beer cocktail. This was a can of beer infused with Creme de Cacao. It was really nice but certainly the type of beer you couldn't drink for an entire night. Very sweet and a little heavy, like an ale. Definitely worth trying though.

Of course everyplace that we go we have to check out the local cocktail bars. My parents had done some research before our arrival and told us about a great little cocktail bar called "Absinthe Solaar" (I liked the name straight away). One thing I must add about Japan, is the service is exceptional and the people are so welcoming to foreigners. So when we arrived at 'Absinthe Solaar" we were welcomed with a smile and were seated in a prime position at the bar. After looking at the cocktail menu for several minutes, Cara was the most adventurous an ordered a tropical absinthe margarita.  This blended cocktail consisted of 30ml tequila, 30ml cointreau, a dash of absinthe, fresh mango, orange juice, pineapple juice and a dash of sugar syrup. Add ice to the blender and blend until smooth. Another dash of absinthe was washed around the glass before serving. When we took a sip of this, it was just the right combination of tequila and absinthe. The hint of absinthe was not to over powering but just enough to know that it's there.

So it's been a busy first few days in Japan, and we have not even begun to scratch the surface yet. There is still so much more to discover.

Absinthe's Solaar's
"Tropical Absinthe Margarita"
In a Blender add:
30ml Tequila
30ml Cointreau
Dash of Absinthe
Fresh Mango
Dash of Orange Juice
Dash of Pineapple Juice
Dash of Sugar Syrup
Add ice and Blend.
Rinse your glass with another dash of Absinthe
Serve and garnish with a sprig of mint

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Goodbye Australia!!!

Over the past few months I’ve shared some of my creations, some of my favourite classics and some of my opinions and thoughts on ‘Aussie’ bar culture. But the time has come to go global and for this humble bartender from Adelaide to take his gorgeous girl Cara, and discover the big wide world.  We hope to learn, experience and share amazing sights, awesome food, different cultures and of course, great cocktails.

The first stop takes us to Osaka, Japan.  Despite many people telling us that we are crazy for going to Japan during this horrible time for the country, Cara and myself have been reassured by my parents (who have spent quite some time in Osaka), that everything where they are is fine. So we are not letting the recent events in japan deter us from having an amazing experience. 

So stay tuned… and follow our journey with us.

Bye Bye Australia!!!