Thursday, 17 April 2014

How and Where to Buy Cheap / Good Value Wine in Singapore

Cheap wine in oxymoron, perhaps?  But why is this the case when taxes and duties on wine in Singapore are eminently reasonable (compared to Australia, Malaysia and even most of Europe)?

The answer is simple: trade mark-ups, which can easily exceed 200% for everyday wines.  The eagerness of wine merchants to pass on the recent 25% alcohol excise hike was, unfortunately, par for the course.  Couple this with a succession of bad harvests in Europe and consequently escalating prices, and what you might once have taken for granted is now looking a little less affordable.

So what do you do?  Like a contrarian and resourceful little rodent, you burrow deeper and harder to find sources of cheaper and better value wine.  I set out a few tips from my experiences below, and would welcome any further ideas from readers.  Contact details for my recommended merchants are at the end of the post.

NB: Please bear in mind that in writing this piece, I am NOT proposing the substitution of Chilean bulk wine if you are used to drinking decent Bordeaux.  Please also note that I have not been paid to give publicity to anyone's business.

Friday, 11 April 2014

RIP Steven Shaw, eGullet Founder and Proto-Food Blogger (1969-2014)

Steven A. Shaw, a.k.a. Fat Guy, the founder of eGullet and one of the world's first name food bloggers, passed away on Tuesday aged 44.

I am not going to recite a list of his achievements here, nor will I recount to you how well I knew him, because I didn't.  Like most eGullet members, I had some interaction with him.  It was perhaps the measure of the man that he always tried to help his fellow members.  I cold-emailed him a few years ago for a quick interview for an article I was writing about a kerfuffle brewing on eGullet (I can't recall for the life of me what it was now), and he graciously engaged with me in a back-and-forth over a couple of weeks.  

After we wrapped up and I thanked him for his time, he said it sounded like I really liked restaurants, and he sent me a few chapters from his book "Turning The Tables".  The book's premise was that it would teach an everyman guest how s/he could get the best treatment from restaurants, and its thesis was simply "do unto restaurants what you would have them do unto you".  From my limited engagement with him and those who knew him, that was how he approached life in general.

For us here in Asia, eGullet's influence was not particularly far-reaching, due mostly to the fact that it was fundamentally a "Western" (i.e. North American and Western Europe) board and its participant base here in the East was not large.  The Asian boards on eGullet are essentially moribund these days, but Shaw's and eGullet's legacy, of making food blogging a part of the cultural mainstream, has had a massive impact on the restaurant and hospitality industry worldwide, especially in Asia.  How many of you bloggers reading this has ever taken a freebie from a restaurant?  How many of you PRs reading this are looking for the right blogger on which to spend your social media marketing budget?  You are only doing this because it was Shaw's (and his partner Jason Perlow's) pioneering efforts at the the turn of the millennium that made the world first realise that a free-posting forum, with random unedited scribblings about food, could reach a large audience and influence opinion.

But more fundamentally (and certainly this is true for me) it made us realise that there were fellow nuts out there who also engaged regularly in the quasi-intellectual analysis of food, and that being part of this community was always educational, sometimes even enjoyable.  This blog, and my stop-start food-writing career, owes its very existence to eGullet, and the few years I happily posted there.  I also met a few dear and very unique friends through its pages.  I shan't mention their names here to save their blushes but in particular, I enjoyed finally meeting a hulking North American gentleman who spends ten months a year in a fenced-off compound in the Gulf States, only to spend the remaining two drinking, eating and causing mayhem to make up for lost time.  Or the linguistic consultant in Melbourne who speaks eight languages fluently and also happens to make some of the best macarons you will find anywhere.

But, of course, what struck me the most about Shaw's passing was that his very worthy life came to an end far too quickly.  How many of us, caught in the ecstasy of a spoonful of a particularly exquisite double-boiled soup, the crunch of a gorgeous artisan pain au levain with Normandy butter, or even your first sip of 1990 Armand Rousseau Chambertin, felt like you could go on living that moment forever?  The tragedy of life is that you can't, and in the rat-race that we all run, it takes the passing of a giant like Steven Shaw, at the tender age of 44, to remind us again of that brutal truth.

Vale, Fat Guy.  Thank you for being a small part of my life, but for transforming it in a way that I could never foresee.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Champagne Lunch with Two Michelin-Starred Philippe Mille from Les Crayeres

Chef Philippe Mille from the two Michelin-starred Les Crayรจres of Reims, Champagne, was in town recently for the World Gourmet Summit.  Together with Champagne grower Alexandre Penet, he was hosting a one-off lunch at Raffles Grill paired with Penet's Champagnes, so I didn't need too much persuading to check it out.  Together with Singapore Foodie Victoria and her husband M, we returned to Raffles Grill with some serious expectations of a great afternoon.