Monday, September 30, 2013

New Zealand's wonderful wines



There were many things happening in Manila tonight, but I decided to stay close to home and pop over to the residence of New Zealand Ambassador Reuben Levermore for an intimate wine tasting.

It was casual, fun and just what I wanted after a rather long day at the office.

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NEW ZEALAND'S TOP WINEMAKER

The guest of honor was Kevin Judd, New Zealand's foremost winemaker, and the event was co–hosted by Lester Harvey of Zen Asia.


Kevin worked for years at Cloudy Bay, New Zealand's most famous wine label, before starting up his own wine label called Greywacke wines in an area of New Zealand called Marlborough.

AN INTERESTING VARIETY


Kevin brought all his premium wines for tasting, and I particularly liked the crisp Pinot Gris and his nice Pinot Noir.

He also had an unusual Chardonnay on offer, which was very smoky compared to the usual.

MANILA'S WINE CROWD


And speaking of the usual, lots of Manila's usual serious wine people were among the 30 guests, and there was lots of talk about the various wine events taking place this month. 

Tomorrow there's a big wine dinner for a high-end Australian label

I knew about this, but I'd already committed to a friend's party in honor of breast cancer tomorrow night – so I'm going to the lunch with the winemaker on the following day instead.


Ambassador Levermore's chef created an array of Western and Asian nibbles to go with the wines.

Together these made for another nice evening in my never–ending, and never–endingly eventful Travelife.



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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dinner at Lemuria in Horseshoe Village in Manila




Last night I had dinner with an ambassador of an important country and his wife.

We often meet up on the weekends, or whenever we are free, just for the fun of it.

Nothing we talk about goes outside the table, so it's very enjoyable and relaxing to just sit back and talk about everything and anything in the world.

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HOMEWORK FOR A SUNDAY NIGHT

I was tasked with finding an interesting restaurant for tonight's dinner.

In a way, I am the wrong person to ask about new or interesting restaurants

I am a creature of habit, and I usually just go back to the same four or five restaurants I like a lot in Manila.

NEVER ANY TIME FOR RESTAURANTS

The next issue is that I am hardly in town anyway, so I don't have the luxury of discovering the latest hot restaurants.

When I'm in town, my calendar is booked with events that I am invited to, or that other people have planned.


For private dinners, I often get asked over to people's homes rather than to restaurants. 

The people I know eat out in restaurants or hotels practically every night. So when it's a relaxed dinner, we often just ask each other over to our homes.

This gives me very little time to try out restaurants on my own, in Manila, living a Travelife.

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But as the ambassador and his wife are foreigners in this country, and we meet up for dinner as often as possible, I pretty regularly have to think up of interesting places to go. 

So far, I think I have not disappointed them yet -- and we have been to all my favorite restaurants, as well as a couple of out of the box ones.

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OUT OF THE USUAL

As it was a Sunday night, I decided to venture further afield. 

We went to Lemuria, a restaurant operating out of a home in Horseshoe Village, just past Greenhills. I'd been there once for a wine dinner many years ago, so even I wanted to try it out again.

It's not that easy to find if you don't know your way around this part of town. 

But eventually we made it, and the first impression was very nice. The gardens were lighted up, and the restaurant offered a kind of nostalgic atmosphere that made me feel I was not in Manila.

A LITTLE BIT OF EUROPE IN MANILA



Inside, the decor is European country -- or at least, that is what it looks like to me.

We ordered a foie gras platter to share, and then I had a gazpacho soup to start.

This was followed by the Norwegian salmon which was highly recommended by the waiter.

ALL ABOUT THE FOOD



The foie gras was good, but I thought the gazpacho could have used more depth. 

Perhaps I was asking too much, or expecting too much, since I just came back from Spain where I sampled quite a lot of gazpacho cooked by Michelin-starred chefs

One of the best gazpacho I had was in Madrid. It came with tiny Iberico pork bacon bits, and it was created by Michelin two–star chef Paco Roncero.



MY OWN VERSION OF GAZPACHO

I even took a cooking course in Barcelona last week, to learn how to make gazpacho, paella and a couple of other goodies the Catalan way. 



Then, back in Manila over the weekend, I made gazpacho for lunch with some very fresh vegetables I had bought myself at an organic store. 

I had imbibed the basic gazpacho-making process in Barcelona, but my gazpacho was made more with inspiration, and it was very good.

TWO OUT OF THREE



For the main courses, the ambassador ordered a roast kurobuta dish, while his wife had the roast lamb shank

Both of them were very happy with their dishes, and the ambassador's wife said that the lamb shank was the best she'd had in a long time.

My Norwegian salmon, on the other hand, was just okay.

SALTED CARAMEL ICE CREAM WINS VOTES



I was happiest with the dessert, which was a big plate of salted caramel ice cream. It had real bits of caramel, and a wonderful combination of salty and sweet.

Yes, I have been back in Manila for all of three nights, and each one has been a truly interesting and enjoyable evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.



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Saturday, September 28, 2013

A fabulous lunch at La Fabula in Madrid




In Madrid, living a Travelife, one of our most enjoyable meals was a surprise one.

Someone local had recommended a restaurant called La Fabula, that was quite a bit of a distance from the city center.

As I have already written in this blog, this Travelife to Spain was a foodie and culture trip, with just a bit of shopping thrown in.

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A GREAT COMBINATION



So, in terms of restaurants, we created a combination of famous Michelin-starred restaurants and very good local ones that are largely unknown to the international foodie community.

THE BEST RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD



We did book ourselves a meal at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, which is currently the best restaurant in the world, as well as the hardest to book. Their waiting list is now something like 15 months, ever since they became #1. 

By some stroke of luck, I snagged a table for four, and it was the best table in the house.

The Roca brothers, who run El Celler de Can Roca, even personally gave me a private tour of their kitchens. After the five–hour 24–course meal, we even spent some time in their wine cellar, which has 50,000 bottles. 

We also booked some other famous restaurants in San Sebastián and Valencia.




We even booked Tickets in Barcelona, which is the restaurant run by the brother of Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. 

It is currently the hottest restaurant reservation in Barcelona.

But on this particular trip, we also wanted to try out less famous and trendy restaurants that are not as hot but equally good. And more popular with the locals.

MORE FOREIGNERS THAN LOCALS
AT THE FAMOUS PLACES


Whenever I go to the famous Michelin starred restaurants, or to a restaurant that makes it to one of the respected lists of the best restaurants in the world, I notice that there are always more foreigners than locals. 

You can easily tell this by the languages everyone is speaking, as you walk past their tables.

So this time, I also wanted to try very good but not very internationally famous local restaurants.

THE FABULOUS LA FABULA


La Fabula is one of these under–the–radar local restaurants.

It is located in a very residential district of Madrid. 



Also, it is inside a recreation park, adjacent to a driving range and a mini golf course, of all things.

You cannot get any more local than this. 


You can imagine how casual it is, if it is adjacent to a driving range. 

In fact, you have to walk through the driving range office to get to the restaurant proper. 

I can tell you now that the fact that we had to walk through this office just to get to the restaurant proper initially gave us serious doubts as to the quality of the food.


Looking around us, we knew immediately that the champagne would be good. They had the whole top–quality champagne line–up within view, after all. 

But we were seriously wondering how the food would measure up.

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A HAPPY SURPRISE

Anyhow, since we had come this far out of the center of town, we decided to all order the tasting menu and settle in for a long and lazy lunch. 

Happily, all our doubts all proved unfounded. The food was excellent, and everything was so beautifully plated.

What a meal we had here, accompanied by lots of wonderful champagne, in beautiful Madrid, living a Travelife.



More on this meal in a later blog entry....



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Pablo Picasso's Guernica, and other masterpieces at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid



One Sunday morning in Madrid, living a Travelife, we decided to visit the Reina Sofia Museum, which was just a short stroll from our hotel.

We all wanted a bit of culture and exercise anyway, before a long and liquid lunch.



GREAT MODERN ART

I had been to the Reina Sofia many times before, on previous visits to Madrid

But I never miss an opportunity to see great modern art when I can.  

The Prado, which is the most famous art museum in Madrid, and certainly one of the most famous in the world, houses older artworks. If you want to see 20th century masterpieces, then you must visit the Reina Sofia Museum.



THE HORRORS OF WAR
AS DEPICTED BY PICASSO

I also wanted to revisit the Guernica, the masterpiece of Pablo Picasso, which is about the senseless bombing by the German military of a Spanish village full mostly of women and children.



The Guernica is the most famous work in the Reina Sofia, a former hospital that has been turned into a very cool museum with a scenic elevator.

OTHER MASTERS AT THE REINA SOFIA

But it has other beautiful works as well, by masters of the 20th century

For example, it has an excellent collection of the works of Spanish master surrealist Salvador Dali, an artist almost as famous as Picasso, but not among my favorites. I like Picasso's works infinitely more.


The Reina Sofia also has wonderful paintings by Joan Miro, Antoni Tapies, and Juan Gris.

However, my favorite works at the Reina Sofia are still the works of Picasso unconnected to war. 

Pablo Picasso had a penchant for painting all the women he was involved or in love with, so I have seen paintings of all his women in museums all over the world. At the Reina Sofia, there is a series of very interesting paintings of his last wife, Jacqueline. The photo below belongs to this series.

A BIT OF EUROPEAN HISTORY AS WELL

As we only had one morning to see the highlights of the Reina Sofia, we hired a guide for the visit, to explain the nuances of the best works. 

When she began explaining some works in relation to Spanish history, she was very surprised that I knew my European history well enough to ask follow–up questions. 



I love history, and I especially find European history terribly fascinating, so this was a treat to be able to link works with historical events and figures.

It was the perfect way to spend a nice morning in Madrid, living a never–ending, and neverendingly eventful Travelife.


Friday, September 27, 2013

China's National Day party and a happy ending for the Smiles for the World contest



Back in Manila for all of 18 hours, living a Travelife, the first thing on my calendar was a cocktail party hosted by H.E. Ma Keqing, Ambassador of China, on the occasion of the 64th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China.

It was a very nice affair, and in one go, I was basically able to say hello to a lot of friends and say "I am back for two weeks!"



DEATH OF A MACBOOK PRO

At the airport lounge in Istanbul two weeks ago, I happened to spill tea on my beloved MacBook Pro and it died on me as I was flying from Istanbul to Madrid, to begin a trip to Spain.

What a disaster that was, as my whole life was on that computer.


THE REVENGE OF THE iPAD MINI

In Madrid, I quickly got an iPad mini to tide me over until I could get my computer some first aid back home. 

Having refused to use an iPad before, trying to blog or send emails on an iPad mini constantly left me close to tears as I was completely unused to this operating system.



I managed to pen a few blog entries over two weeks, and now I am actually getting the hang of using an iPad. 

But the main result of having my MacBook Pro die on me was that all my data disappeared and I was incommunicado from most of my friends and business associates while I was in Spain.

MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME

So today, seeing a number of them at the cocktail party of the Ambassador of China quickly resulted in plans to meet up for lunches and dinners, and invitations to cocktail parties and events. 

I only have two weeks to fill up, after all, and then I am off again to Tanzania, so I have a lot of maximizing to do. 


THE JOYS OF SPAIN

At this party, I bumped into the Ambassador of Spain, H.E. Jorges Domecq, and I recalled my wonderful two weeks in Spain, including where we had gone and what we had done.

It had truly been a never–endingly eventful Travelife to Spain.

SMILES FOR THE WORLD

I also caught up with Ambassador Roberto Mayorga of Chile, who spearheaded the Smiles for the World photo contest that ended with an awarding ceremony recently. 

Travelife Magazine is a proud partner of this wonderful project.



RESULTS OF THE PHOTO CONTEST

While I was away in Spain, the winner of the photo contest was announced and all was initially well. 

Unfortunately, it turned out that the grand prize winner had sent in a photograph that belonged to someone else –– and this incident had quickly become the talk of the town at all levels of society.

I will not go into more details on this, as enough has been written about what happened.



What I will write, however, is that all is now well and the issue has been resolved in a very nice way. The original grand prize winner has acknowledged that the photo he submitted was unoriginal, and he has returned the prize money.

SECOND PLACER GETS THE GRAND PRIZE

The second prize winner will be awarded the grand prize instead in a more private ceremony with the organizers, Travelife Magazine included, at the home of Ambassador Mayorga next week.

Ambassador Mayorga always looks on the bright side of things. 

He was radiant tonight, that the issue had been resolved. 

ON THE UPSIDE

He also: "One positive aspect is that so many people are now talking about Smiles for the World. If we previously had only thousands aware of this project, now we have millions. I am not an especially religious person, but God works in mysterious ways."

And on that uplifting note, we ended another very interesting evening in our never-ending, and never–endingly eventful Travelife.   

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Our first meal in Madrid consisted of morcillo, calamari, jamon and roast lamb



In Madrid, living a Travelife, our first lunch upon landing in Spain was at the Posada de la Villa.

This is a very old fashioned restaurant with over two hundred years of history.



The moment we walked in, we were enchanted by its Old World interiors and the tantalizing smells coming from the kitchen. 

This restaurant, after all, has been roasting lamb since the 19th century.

HISTORY OF DELICIOUS FOOD


Talk about centuries of good eating here.

My friend S said: "This is exactly the kind of place I wanted to eat in."

I knew what she meant. We wanted a very real restaurant that would confirm in no uncertain terms that we were really in Spain, living a Travelife.



The restaurant was full of large families that looked like they had been coming here to eat for generations. 

Everyone was happily tucking in: from the grandparents to the grandchildren.

AN AUTHENTIC SPANISH MEAL


Of course, we asked for all the house specialties

We did not really care what we ate, as long as it was delicious.



The appetizers started coming, and these included crispy calamari, the requisite Jamon Iberico and a very deep tasting morcillo

The morcillo was especially good.



We also ordered a very special kind of jamon: a jamon made of cured lamb meat instead of pork. 

It was absolutely delicious.

THE REASON FOR BEING



But the piece de resistance of the Posada de la Villa is its roast lamb, which is cooked in an antique oven on the first floor.



Almost everyone who eats at the Posada de la Villa orders the roast lamb, as this is what the restaurant is famous for.

WORTH THE TRIP



We were not disappointed. 

The roast lamb announced itself way before it even arrived at our table by way of a most amazing aroma that made all of us fabulously hungry, even after several servings of Spanish appetizers.


CHEAPER THAN WATER



We washed everything down with a bottle of cava, which is the Spanish sparkling wine, followed by carafes of red wine. 



In Spain, the local wines are often cheaper than water.

So it made sense to drink ourselves merry, on our first day in enchanting Madrid, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.