Saturday, 21 October 2017

The tastiest university of all - Sushi University

Have you ever wanted to know more about the many different types of sushi? 

Ever visited Japan and felt intimidated by the myriad choices? 

Help is at hand through Tetsuya Hanada and his English-speaking colleagues at the Sushi University in Tokyo, who can who can school guests on the dos and don'ts of omakase dining. 

The team offers the chance taste authentic edomae sushi (fresh raw fish, and cooked rice which is seasoned with vinegar) while having an informative conversation with the sushi chef over the counter. 

The Sushi University provides an escorting-interpreter service so that guests can get acquainted with the culture and history of sushi, learn stories about fresh ingredients and also a chef’s technique and style. 

There are several different courses/feasts available, all conducted in real restaurants, starting from Y10,000 per person (around $Aus112). 

The interpreter accompanying you means you are able to ask serious questions to the chef. 

There are three courses: basic, intermediate and advanced. In a basic course, the lectures will be conducted at a sushi bar where office workers might want to drop by to grab a sushi dinner after work. 

In the intermediate course, the lectures will be at a mid-range sushi restaurant, while the advanced course features a high-quality sushi establishment. 

Lectures and tastings are all held at counter seats, not tables. In sushi restaurants, counter seats are the best place to sit since visitors are able to see close-up a chef’s knife skills and hand-rolling technique. 

Since there is a limited number of seats at a counter, the participants are limited to a party of seven (minimum students/gournets two). 

Sushi University experts can meet visitors at their hotel, and choose a selected sushi restaurant within 30 minutes. 

Perhaps start with a chef-recommended Japanese sake before sampling the various dishes. 

For full details visit 

# Tetsuya Hanada contacted me with this info. I hope to graduate next time I am in Tokyo.   

Friday, 20 October 2017

Special deals on luxury new Koh Samui pool villas

A grand a night isn't cheap, let's face it. But when that grand a night is being spent on one of the most dramatic resorts in Thailand it may be worth dusting off the Platinum Amex. 

In celebration of the start of the unveiling in November of the new Secret Pool Villas at The Library in Koh Samui, an introductory rate of THB27,064 per night for two people, including breakfast, is available for bookings made from now until November 30 for stays in a one-bedroom Secret Villa from November 1 to December 20, and from 6 January to 30 April 2018.

I've poked my head in at The Library and its a pretty special spot. I was supposed to stay there last month but the trip fell through (don't all cry for me at once).

Collectively known as Secret Chapters, new exclusive one- and two-bedroom Secret Pool Villas will "exude a sense of unmitigated luxury and freedom". I'm told they are perfect for discerning couples and honeymooners. They come with huge open spaces, private Jacuzzis and swimming pools (like below). 

Guests staying a minimum three nights in a Secret Pool Villa over the same period at this popular resort, set against the backdrop of Chaweng Beach, will also receive a complimentary 3-course dinner for two people and round-trip Samui airport transfers.

The Library will introduce the one-bedroom and two-bedroom Secret Pool Villas in November with special villas, The Editor and The Writer, due to be open by early 2018.

The floor area of the one-bedroom Secret Villas will be 220 square metres with a custom-made 3-metre-wide bed. Key features include a dedicated entertainment space, full dining area with pantry, spacious Jacuzzi bathtub, 8-metre long saltwater swimming pool, oversized tandem rain shower and his and hers walk-in closets.

A member of Design Hotels, The Library is a relaxed design-centric hotel with just 26 studios and suites. It has been described as Koh Samui’s top boutique accommodation.

I'll report back when I get there next year. For details in the meantime:

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

If you are promised "Champagne service" can you expect Champagne?

A Canadian man has launched a lawsuit against an airline that promised "Champagne service", but instead poured him sparkling wine in a plastic cup. 
Daniel Macduff from Quebec opted for return flights to Cuba as part of a holiday package last year that included “Champagne service”. In return, he expected to be served a glass of the French fizz.

While he did receive a glass of wine on the outbound Sunwing trip in February this year, it was “only sparkling wine” and it was not offered on the return flight. Macduff said that he had received a “couple of ounces” of the sparkling wine in a plastic cup.
He has now filed against Sunwing for misleading business practices and false representation and is seeking both compensation for the difference in the cost of the sparkling wines, as well as punitive damages.
Sebastien Paquette, a lawyer from Montreal representing Macduff, said the issue is more about untruthful advertising rather than the difference between the two wines.

“You have to go beyond the pettiness of the [wine cost] per head,” he said in a statement. “What’s important is you’re trying to lure consumers by marketing something, and you’re not giving them that something. It’s a dishonest practice”.
Sunwing, however, has dismissed the lawsuit as “petty” and “frivolous” despite some of their ads (like the one to Paris below) clearly offering "a glass of Champagne". 
I'm with Macduff. Why should airlines be allowed to get away with false advertising? They even spelt Champagne with a capital C. That is either stupid or deceptive. Either way, they should pay up. 
In a statement, the airline said: “Sunwing has always been proud to invest in experience-enhancing features for our customers”.
“We consider any legal action relating to the marketing of this service to be frivolous and without merit.”
The airline has also added that it has used the terms “Champagne service” and “Champagne vacations” to denote the level of service, rather than the type of drink that will be served.
After the lawsuit was filed, Sunwing’s website has been updated and now states that passengers will receive a “welcome glass of sparkling wine”.
In effect, they've held up their hands and declared themselves guilty. 
Sunwing Airlines offers scheduled and charter services from Canada and the US to several different destinations. 

$3000 a bottle for a new-release non-vintage red blend

Penfolds has released a unique wine blended from three Grange vintages spanning seven years, named Penfolds g3.

A Penfolds first, these vintages of 2008, 2012 and 2014 (a vintage to be globally released in 2018) have been blended together to create “a completely unique Grange expression”.

Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago said: “Put simply it’s Penfolds ‘house style’ distilled”.

Gago adds: “Penfolds g3 is a natural end result of the venerated art of blending. It is a blend where each individual vintage selected delivers a depth of character and flavour honouring our flagship Grange”.

Blending across vintages is part of Penfolds winemaking philosophy and has been since 1844.

Penfolds Tawny styles, famous in the mid 1800s, continue a long tradition of fortified wines that celebrate this particular blending style.

Two of the Grange vintages selected for this wine are recognised as being among the finest Granges released, so why blend them?

Gago said: “It wasn't about selecting the biggest or the best Grange vintages, in fact, it was
about making something different – but not just to be different.

“Each Grange vintage component selected to make this wine brings something different to the final blend. Broadly: Grange 2008 is a big bold wine, Grange 2012 is about elegance and sophistication, while 2014 is a young wine that serves to ‘freshen up the blend’." 

Launched in Hong Kong last night, g3 is impressively complex and will be much-sought-after by collectors. I was able to taste the wine a few weeks ago (and then sworn to secrecy) but to be totally honest it did not float my boat. I'll take 30+ bottles of St Henri any day. 

The original experimental 1951 Grange created by Max Schubert is now a wine regarded as one of the world’s most celebrated collectables.

Only 1,200 bottles of g3 are available around the world and the price will be $3000 for a 750ml bottle. You can't buy it just any old where. Expressions of interest can be lodged via

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Qantas unveils its "game-changing" new aircraft

Australia's national airline, Qantas, has unveiled its first Boeing Dreamliner, the "game-changing" aircraft that it says will open up new routes and new levels of comfort for travellers.

The latest addition to the Qantas fleet, the 787-9 Dreamliner features next generation seating in economy, premium economy and business class, with more space and a lower passenger count than most of its competitors.
Other Dreamliner features include larger windows to create a greater sense of space, better air quality to help reduce jetlag and ride dampening technology to minimise the effects of turbulence. It is also quieter, more fuel efficient and generates fewer greenhouse emissions than similarly-sized aircraft
At a ceremony at the Boeing factory in Seattle, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the first Dreamliner signalled the start of an exciting new era for the national carrier and for the travelling public.
“Taking delivery of a new type of aircraft is always an important milestone for an airline and the 787 is a game-changer," Joyce said. "From the distance it's able to fly, to the attention to detail we've put into the cabin design, it will reshape what people come to expect from international travel.

“The Dreamliner makes routes like Perth to London possible - which will be the first direct air link Australia has ever had with Europe. And it means other potential routes are now on the drawing board as well.
“There are lots of elements that combine to make the Qantas Dreamliner special. The seats, the lighting, the entertainment, personal storage, right through to the special crockery, cutlery and glassware that weighs on average 11% less.
“We're working with sleep specialists, dieticians and other scientists at the University of Sydney to see how adjustments to our in-flight service can improve wellbeing and help people adjust to new time zones.”
A total of eight Dreamliners will be delivered to Qantas by the end of 2018, enabling the retirement of five of the airline's 747s.
Two Dreamliner routes have been announced so far – Melbourne to Los Angles starting in December this year and Perth to London starting in March next year. While I'm not sure I want to fly non-stop over such longer distance, many travellers will welcome the new aircraft.
The name Great Southern Land was chosen for the first aircraft out of 45,000 suggestions from the travelling public. Each Dreamliner will be named after something that is uniquely Australian, including animals, places and literature.
As part of the aircraft unveiling in Seattle, Australian band, Icehouse, performed its anthemic 1982 song Great Southern Land, the inspiration for which came to singer and songwriter, Iva Davies, as a Qantas flight crossed the country's red centre.
The Dreamliner is painted in Qantas' updated livery, first revealed in late 2016 in preparation for new aircraft entering the fleet and the airline's centenary in 2020. This marks only the fifth time the iconic Flying Kangaroo has been updated, with those updates traditionally coinciding with the introduction of a significant new aircraft type.
The Dreamliner, registered as VH-ZNA, is scheduled to land in Sydney on Friday morning (October 20) after it performs a flyover of Sydney Harbour, weather and air traffic control permitting.

Cool-climate Yarra Valley rock stars to hit downtown Sydney

There is something special about the wines of the Yarra Valley.

While chardonnay and pinot noir are the regional rock stars, the terroir is varied enough for shiraz and cabernet sauvignon also to shine, along with a range of alternative varieties. 
Several of the best Yarra Valley producers will be celebrating cool-climate diversity at the Establishment Ballroom in Sydney on October 25. 
Wine lovers are invited to taste their way through wines (and gins) produced in the Yarra Valley at one central Sydney location. 
The tasting kicks off at 6:30pm, or 5:00pm for an exclusive VIP session limited to just 30 people.
Wineries on show will include Bird On A Wire, De Bortoli Wines, Four Pillars Gin (distillery), Giant Steps, Goodman Wines, Handpicked Wines, Helen & Joey Estate, Innocent Bystander, Oakridge Wines, Rob Dolan Wines, Rochford Wines, Santolin Wines, Six Acres, Soumah of Yarra Valley, TarraWarra Estate, Tokar Estate and Warramunda Estate.
General admission is $60 or $70 for the VIP session through Eventbrite. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

The no-nonsense lowdown on what to buy from the new Penfolds Collection

The new Penfolds Collection wines will be in store from Thursday - and there is good news for those who do not have $850 to splash out on the albeit excellent 2013 Penfolds Grange.

Of the 18 wines in the collection, headed, of course, by the 99-point Grange, there are 10 with recommended retail prices under $100. 

And while Penfolds has built its reputation on red wines, there are four whites in the collection ranging from the 2015 Yattarna Chardonnay ($150) to the 2017 Bin 51 Eden Valley Riesling ($30). 

There are several price increases, with St Henri and Bin A both now $125 (up from $100). The Bin 138 and St Henri are my picks for those who want to buy and drink, rather than collect.The Eden Valley Riesling is a steal. 

With a lineage dating back to 1844 and iconic status, the new release of a Penfolds Collection is very much an occasion. Here is my lowdown on the highlights (I've left out those that did not appeal, including a very un-pinot-like 2016 Bin 23 2016 Pinot Noir): 

Penfolds Bin 51 2017 Eden Valley Riesling: lemon blossom aromas, tangy tangerine notes, vibrancy with lime/tangelo flavours and terrific acid backbone. Briskly intense. 92 points. $30.

Penfolds Bin 311 2016 Tumbarumba Chardonnay: High-class cool-climate chardonnay with grapefruit and smoky oak. Has still to fully blossom. 93 points. $45.

Penfolds Reserve Bin A 2016 Adelaide Hills Chardonnay: An expressive nose and a seamless palate. 94 points. $125

Penfolds 2015 Yattarna Chardonnay: Profound, intense with 65% new oak sucked up by the quality fruit. More citrus than stone fruit with a great acid backbone. One for savouring. 95 points. $150.

Penfolds 2015 Bin 138: A blend of grenache, mataro and shiraz that has florals, richness and balance. Christmas cake on the palate with oak in support. 94 points. $45.

Penfolds 2015 Bin 128 Coonawarra Shiraz: Everything looks great here with shiny fruit, silky palate, spices and hints of eucalypt. 94 points. $45.

Penfolds Bin 28 2015 Kalimna Shiraz: Big, bold and brooding. Needs time to open up with its assertive American oak. 92 points. $45.

Penfolds Bin 150 2015 Marananga Shiraz: Simply delicious. Brightness, intensity, dark berries and oak. 95 points. $100.

Penfolds Bin 389 2015 Cabernet Shiraz: A blend of fruit from six different regions comes together impressively but sings rather than shouts. Excellent. 95 points. $95.

Penfolds 2014 St Henri: One of the stars of the show with pure fruit allowed to take centre stage. Brambly with plenty of length and enjoyable young. 97 points. $125.    

Penfolds 2015 Magill Estate: Intensity and personality in a wine that is beautifully knitted together like an Aran wool  jumper. Great structure and one for the cellar. 96 points. $130. 

Penfolds 2015 RWT Bin 798: Very sweet fruit with oak in the background. Wild berry flavours and overall deliciousness.97 points. $200.

Penfolds 2015 Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon: Cool-climate elegance and hints of eucalypt. Great architecture and will blossom in the cellar. 96 points. $500. 

And here is the 2013 Grange review: