Archives For Wine

Mall mania

December 8, 2010 — Leave a comment

Kenneth Lee

Thursday, November 04, 2010


The grand opening of The One last Friday brings the total number of new shopping centers opened in Tsim Sha Tsui in the past two years to four. This is disproportionate given the economic context, and compared with the lack of mall launches over the same period in other districts.

But then, Tsim Sha Tsui has always been a special area for retail.

“The new malls have everything to do with the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2003,” says Ricacorp research head Patrick Chow Moon-kit.

“This brought in a massive influx of mainland tourists eager to spend large sums on luxury items.

“Luxury outlets have traditionally been concentrated in Tsim Sha Tsui. With the rising sales and with no end to the shopping frenzy in sight, developers committed to projects in the area five years ago, with their projects bearing fruit now.”

Housed in a 29-story building at 100 Nathan Road, The One – developed by Chinese Estates Holdings – offers more than 400,000 square feet of retail space.

The other three shopping centers opened earlier in Tsim Sha Tsui include 1881 Heritage, by Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong (Holdings); iSquare, by Associated International Hotels; and K11, the brainchild of New World Development’s executive director Adrian Cheng Chi-gang.

Before the CEPA deal, Chow says shoppers had to wade through a disorganized maze of watch and jewelry shops, mainly along Canton Road.

“The major industry then was hotels. After this sector became saturated, competition made it less profitable to operate, and led to the shift in developers building retail space, which was much more lucrative,” says Chow.

With the signing of CEPA, which included clauses like the Individual Visit Scheme that made it easier for mainlanders to obtain visas to enter Hong Kong, shopper traffic in Tsim Sha Tsui mushroomed. And those visitors aren’t your regular garden variety sightseers. They’re on a mission to snap up luxury items that are cheaper here, or not available back home.

With shopping accounting for more than 80 percent of total trip expenditures for mainland tourists, they became a primary target.

“There was no way that the big developers were going to miss this opportunity,” Chow says.

The number of mainland tourists soared from a total of 12 million in 2004 to nearly 18 million last year, and now represents 62 percent of all visitors to Hong Kong. They are drawn to Tsim Sha Tsui with its unparalleled selection of luxury goods – turning the area into a bastion for well-heeled shoppers and a bonanza for retail rents.

Today, Chow says, most tours focus on Tsim Sha Tsui as one of their primary stops.

This fact alone provides the necessary business metrics for opening more retail space.

Factor in the scarce land available in the area for redevelopment, and that the shopping traffic is comprised mainly of tourists looking to purchase specific items, and you get a winning business proposition.

With the the exception of 1881 Heritage, which as a heritage site, has a government-specified layout, the other three shopping centers are constructed “Ginza-style,” according to Chow – which attests to the profitability of the facilities. Ginza is a dense, upscale shopping destination in Tokyo, with malls that are taller than they are wide to maximize retail space.

“There is still room to grow in the retail market in Tsim Sha Tsui, when you observe the throngs of shoppers pouring into the district,” Chow says.

“With these metrics, retail space in Tsim Sha Tsui will be profitable in any format.”


A night to remember

December 6, 2010 — Leave a comment

Stephen Ip

Friday, December 03, 2010

The once-in-a-year event for connoisseurs of the white truffle finally arrived recently. This was the 12th year of the World White Truffle of Alba Auction and the host was local Italian restaurant Otto e Mezzo Bombana in Central.

Et Voila, the biggest specimen weighing in at 900 grams, was auctioned for HK$1.1 million – or HK$1,230 a gram. Astonishing, when you consider what one can usually buy from Italy’s Alba region at HK$35 per gram.

On the eve of the auction, a white truffle dinner party was held for about 60 guests. The menu was prepared by top chef Umberto Bombana and just glancing through it had my mouth watering in anticipation. The world-class Dom Perignon 1975 champagne kick- started the evening in fine style. The aroma of honey and nuts emanating from the exquisite golden sparkling liquid would entice even a non-drinker to take a sip.

Served with the champagne was the delightful 36-month Jamon Iberico – slightly bittersweet to the taste – and in a class touted as second to none. Indeed, no one could fault the Italian restaurant for using a Spanish specialty here.

In the dining room, guests mingled with a glass of champagne in their hands. And with the place starting to warm up, Bombana appeared with three full plates of white truffles for guests to view. The truffles of various sizes came straight by air from Alba and weighed 3.5 kilograms in total. For 60 people, 3.5kg is almost gluttony and to be part of this could be nothing but sheer luck.


mbana was previously awarded the title Worldwide Ambassador of the White Truffle and the man is a walking encyclopedia on the fungus, which only grows in the wild.

November is the best month to savor the delicacy, which is so “shy” that it buries itself under the soil. It is not easy to find as it grows at the root of trees. If one is lucky enough to hunt it down, be prepared to spend time cleaning it.

Bombana confessed that he has spent a great deal of time cleaning the precious fungi and took me into the kitchen for a demonstration. He first washes the truffles with water, then follows it up with meticulous brushing. His methods sure put my tooth- brushing skills to shame.

I find Italian pasta is the best pairing with white truffle and the homemade egg pasta by Otto e Messa Bombana is by far the most tempting.

But back to the dinner, and after white truffle ice-cream it was finally time to quench my thirst with a dram of the 1950 Macallan single malt. “The king of whisky” is a name well-earned.

The hosts urged me to add a few drops of water to the alcohol to unlock the flavors. Under no circumstances, however, should one add ice.

Sample some whisky, then nibble a small chunk of 100 percent pure chocolate. I was told the taste gives an intense sensation that is beyond compare. They were right. The taste is truly heavenly. I am in debt to the kindness of hosts Chambers and Helen for treating us to a truly wonderful night to remember of white truffles.

Stephen Ip, the retired secretary for economic development and labour, is enjoying a second career as food critic.


The top side of Italy

December 2, 2010 — Leave a comment

The instituto del Vino Italiano di Qualita Grandi Marchi was in Hong Kong this week to present its wines at an elaborate tasting at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Happy Valley.The Grandi Marchi is made up of family-owned brands that characterize the Italian wine-making tradition and combine innovation with producing wines which are truly representative of the region. The aims of the institute include giving direction to the development of quality Italian wine as well as developing activities training, education and so on that will contribute to the promotion of Italian wine culture.

All very worthy and laudable stuff, I am sure you will agree. In practice, due to the diversity of the Italian wine industry it must be a bit like trying to herd cats. Remember that in 2008 Italy produced 4.7 billion liters of wine, putting it back in the top slot of world wine producers. Fortunately, most of the Italian wine which makes its way as far as Hong Kong comes into the topmost quality tier.

A huge amount is consumed locally, sold as bulk wine, or makes its way into vermouth, grappa or other distilled spirits and liqueurs. Regional initiatives are fraught with peril as they are obliged to satisfy all producers, including cooperatives that may churn out large quantities of low-grade swill.

The strength of the Grandi Marchi, as well as the fact that it has only premium-quality producers in its membership, is that its wineries are spread the length and breadth of Italy.


Most provinces have only one winery representing it, Tuscany with three members being a notable exception but a reflection of the size and importance of the Tuscan wine industry.

The diverse membership is a good reflection of the diversity of Italian wine, with producers as far apart as Sicily and Friuli, from the Alpine vineyards of the north to the sun-baked slopes of the south.

The endless combinations of soil, altitude, proximity to the sea (the Mediterranean offers a crucial cooling influence in the coastal locations) and grape variety are a recipe for innumerable variations.

A tutored tasting combining Italian wines with classic Cantonese cuisine reminded all participants at the Grand Marchi that Italian wines are, above all, beverages to be enjoyed with food.

Jermann Vintage Tunina Venezia Giulia IGT 2007

HK$450 from Altaya Wines

One of a flight of wines paired with shrimp dumplings in supreme broth, this wine attracted a good deal of interest due to its rich, complex character and unusual blend of grape varieties – chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, ribolla gialla, piccolit and malvasia are all present here.