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Food Review: La Tour d’Argent

April 30th, 2012 No comments
Our table overlooking the Seine

Our table overlooking the Seine

Name: La Tour d’Argent
Address: 15 Quai Tournelle, 75005 Paris, France
Website: http://www.becasse.com.au/
Phone: +33 1 43 54 23 31
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: French
Opening hours:  closed Sunday and Monday, and August

The fame of La Tour d’Argent is at once its greatest asset and greatest burden. Reviews and reports on this restaurant by the Seine are laden with superlatives – the restaurant is “legendary”, they say; quite possibly “the most famous in the world”; its wine cellars are “magnificent”, its wine list “biblical” (this one is literally true – but we’ll come to that). It is surrounded by mystique, at least partly consciously cultivated by the late owner, Claude Terrail – it will be 430 years old next year; it was a favourite of Henry IV of France; its guest register lists emperors of Russia and Japan, kings and presidents; Marcel Proust wrote about it; Salvador Dali liked the duck; Pixar’s Ratatouille drew on it for inspiration.

Christmas tree in the ground floor foyer


G and I stepped into this mass of history for a Christmas day dinner (Christmas 2010) and found the restaurant still five star despite its age. We were welcomed into the ground floor reception area with a cup of warm consommé, which we savoured while admiring the centuries of culinary history represented in the displays there. When our table was ready, we were taken to the top floor dining room. We were given a window table with magnificent views over the Seine and out to the Notre Dame. We were especially impressed by the way the staff went out of their way to make everyone feel at home. When we moved to taste each other’s dishes our waiter was quick to switch our plates for us with a happy reassurance. The champagne and wine were, as befitting La Tour’s reputation, excellent, and the legendary pressed duck also lived up to its reputation. The very knowledgeable sommelier (and the bible-sized wine list) were impressive. We loved the little surprises like the amuse-bouche, the cake and little chocolate desserts – not your usual petit-fours! We got a discrete and helpful card at the end of the meal reminding us that the waiters can arrange taxis leaving the restaurant, and loved the caramels “for the road”. All in all, the beautiful food, wine and views made especially memorable by the service. Definitely an experience to share with your special someone!

Scallops

We recommend:

– the Champagne Authentique

Pike dumplings «André Terrail»

– Duckling “Tour d’Argent”, souffleed potatoes – the famous “blood duck”

 

Blood duck course 2: duck breast with souffled potatoes


Food: 10/10

Service: 10/10

Ambience: 10/10

Value for money: 7/10

Overall: 9/10

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Mallesons: forward comrades, to better lawyering with Communist characteristics!

March 8th, 2012 4 comments

Are you a proud member of King & Wood Mallesons[n2] looking to better integrate yourself into the firm’s new combined culture? Do you want to work on the highest profile M&A deals while maintaining your faith in Communism? Then look no further. The King & Wood Communist Party Sub Branch[n1] is your ticket to uplifting training sessions on Communist ideology, stimulating discussion of the Working Report of the Communist Party National Conference, and pilgrimage tours to the birthplaces of the Communist Revolution.

Here is some information I translated from the profile for the King & Wood Communist Party Sub-Branch on a Chinese government website (original link at the end):

“The King & Wood Communist Party Branch was established on 2 April 1997. Currently membership of the Party Branch numbers 169, the Branch secretary and Branch committee are composed of senior lawyers and excellent Communist Party members.

“Since establishment, the King & Wood Communist Party Branch has strictly followed the overall requirement of “One Centre, Five Developments and Three Guarantees”, combined with the special characteristics of grassroots Party development in the legal profession, have steadfastly placed the ideological development of the Party at the forefront, have organised Party members to carefully study the “Report of the 17th Party Congress”, have undertaken education on the vanguard qualities of Communist Party members, and have perfected Party branch organisational development. In September 2007 Branch committee members were sent to the [Communist Party guerrilla base] Jinggang Mountain to attend the Party Cadre School, to participate in the “Core Cadre Study Session On the Spirit of the 17th Party Congress”. In October, they have participated in the training class for branch secretaries organised by the Personnel Department, which has strengthened all Party Member’s upholding of Communist ideals, and solidified the faith in Communism of the King & Wood Party Branch members.”

The rest of the article emphasises how King & Wood’s Communist lawyers participated in their highest profile deals.

From: http://chylawyer.bjchy.gov.cn/sub/viewDetail.jsp?newsid=70082&subjectid=3574 (in Chinese). I have copied the full text below incase the website changes.

n1: Update:  According to this more recent article by current King & Wood Mallesons global chairman Junfeng Wang (also in Chinese, also copied below in full), the party branch is now a Main Branch, with 16 Sub Branches, 7 Party Committees, and more than 400 party members. Among other recent achievements, the Communist party branch magazine “Fly, fly the Red Flag” is now the “spiritual home that guides” King & Wood Mallesons employees. The “Firm-Party Joint Committee” has been formed to ensure that the Communist Party organisation participates in all key decisions of the firm, and to clarify that all major decisions must first be subjected to the comments and suggestions of the Communist Party organisation. The article further mentions that the firm has adopted a policy to recommend Communist Party members in priority to act on major deals of national importance. If anything, this is an even more disturbing article.

n2: For readers less in tune with events in the Australian legal market, Mallesons Stephen Jaques, one of Australia’s largest law firms (if not the largest), has merged with Chinese law firm King & Wood, to create the new “King & Wood Mallesons”. There is no, nor has there ever been any, “Mr King” or “Mr Wood” – they were simply easy to pronounce English names picked by the Chinese firm when it formed in the 80s. I’m sure Mr Malleson would have been very proud to know that he now ranks third after two fictitious names.

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Itinerary: Nanjing in two days

October 23rd, 2011 No comments
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum

This is the first in hopefully a number of posts where I put up travel itineraries which have worked well for me. See notes below on my choice of sights and alternatives.

Where: Nanjing is a historic city located in eastern China, about 300km from Shanghai as the crow flies, or roughly 1.5 hours by bullet train. Today, Nanjing is the capital of Jiangsu province, but for centuries it was the capital of various regimes throughout Chinese history, and the capital of a unified China in the 14th century and again in the early 20th century. Its long history has given it many poetic names, but its modern name means, simply, “the southern capital”, mirroring the name of Beijing, “the northern capital”. Culturally and linguistically, Nanjing is a thorough mixture of northern and southern China, reflecting successive influxes of northern rulers and its location in the heartland of Wu culture. Visitors to Nanjing are usually attracted by its great monuments, including the tomb of Sun  Yat-sen, the “father of modern China”, but it is also famous for its food, boulevardes, lakes and mountains, and the legends that still echo from laneways to ruined palaces.

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Le Carré d’Encre – a little shrine to the art of writing

January 14th, 2011 No comments

My souvenir from Paris

It was a grey morning with a light sprinkle of rain in Paris. G and I had been wandering the laneways near the Madeleine and the Palais Garnier looking for coffee, when we chanced upon a little store. We were intrigued by the window displays, an eclectic mixture of writing instruments, stamps and cards, all stylishly designed. We went in. It being fairly early in the morning and close to Christmas, we seemed to be the only visitors, although there were quite a few staff tending various departments. The store was modern and minimalist in decor, and was organised into several somewhat disparate departments. There was a philatelic department, equipped with mounted magnifying glasses for examining stamps; an area for designing (and printing) your own envelope and parcel wrappers; as well as a large range of pens, cards, writing paper, and equipment and material for creating your own stationery.

I especially liked the philatelic counter – where I bought my favourite piece of Paris souvenir. Le Carré d’Encre literally means “Ink Square”. The store brought to mind what a post office shop could be like if it was given a complete redesign by someone with both a sense of style and a love of writing, in all its forms. In fact, that seems to be how the store came to be – it is a project of Phil@Poste, the stamps and stamp-collecting section of the French postal authority, La Poste. They  took all the fun bits of a post shop (stamps, stationery, cards, even creative envelopes and parcel wrapping) and gave it the glamour treatment – but left out all the boring bits like the queues, teller-style counters, and computer-printed text labels.

Even surrounded by all the grand magasins of Avenue Haussman, this shop definitely stood out as my favourite.

Who: Le Carré d’Encre
Where: 13bis, rue de Mathurins, 75009 Paris (nearest Metro: Havre-Caumartin)
What: Stylishly designed stationery and stamp store
Website: http://www.lecarredencre.fr

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The British TV licence – possibly the dumbest thing on earth

November 22nd, 2010 1 comment

Don’t get me wrong, I love the charming conservatism of the British nation. I like how milk is sold in 1.136L cartons because you can decimalise the pint but you can’t kill it. I like quaint holdovers like the House of Lords and the Royal Family. I love the way central London is peppered with garden squares instead of Westfields. I enjoy traditional pomp like the Lord Mayor’s Show or Trooping the Colours. It makes me smile when I hear peculiar pronunciations unpolluted by American verbal hegemony, like “Pantene” pronounced as “Pan-ten”, “Dae-woo” pronounced as “Day-oo”, or “vit-amins” instead of “vite-amins”.

The TV licence system, however, is retarded. It is not unique to Britain – some other European countries have also retained it. The British, however, have managed to run the system in such a way as to make it, frankly, ridiculous.

First, a brief explanation of the TV licence itself for those of us unfamiliar with such a backward system. Every year, each household which uses a television to receive TV broadcasts (whether directly or recorded) is required to pay a licence fee, currently £145.50 per year for a colour TV. The fee makes up the majority of the BBC’s funding, with the rest coming from commercial arrangements and topped up by government.

The licence fee system is fundamentally unfair. It falls disproportionately on the young, because it is imposed by household, meaning that a single person household is taxed (it is legally a tax) at the same amount as a large family. It falls disproportionately on working people, because it is a set fee, not “pay per view”. This means that a household is required to pay the same fee if they watch even 5 minutes of television when they get home from work, as someone who has the television available to them at all times. It falls disproportionately on the poor, because it discounts the number of television sets in a household. Someone with just one TV between a family of six pays the same licence fee as a household with a TV in every room. Finally, of course, the tax is a set amount, not means tested and not income-progressive, and so it falls disproportionately on those with a lower income. £145.50 is not a small sum – it’s about $250-300 (depending on exchange rates), quite a bit to save up in austerity Britain.

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Food review: Bécasse

August 15th, 2010 No comments

Bécasse LogoName: Bécasse
Address: 204 Clarence Street, Sydney 2000, Australia
Website: http://www.becasse.com.au/
Phone: +61 2 9283 3440
Type: Restaurant
Cuisine: French/modern European
Opening hours: 12:00pm-2:30pm (Mon-Fri), 6:00pm-10:30pm (Mon-Sat)

Bécasse is well known in Sydney for its unique combination of culinary innovation with traditional tastes. After several tries and eventually booking a month in advance, G and I visited it for the first time – and it did not disappoint. The restaurant is located at the Druitt Street end of Clarence Street, a quiet location that is mere minutes from the hustle and bustle of Town Hall. At dinner time, the muted external decor makes the restaurant almost hard to spot amongst the half-lit low-rise office buildings and shuttered cafes – especially when one’s eye is drawn to the spectacular white stair case of the award-winning Alliance Française building across the street.

The understated ambience is continued in-doors – while the gentle light of the street lamp filters through the Romanesque arch windows, frosted glass makes it clear that the interior is a world away from the common street outside. Behind a heavy glass door and dark drapery, the restaurant is divided into three areas: a sunken area close to the kitchen, from which diners can watch dishes being plated at a counter; the entry-level area with a series of relatively small tables, generously spaced from each other; and an upstairs area for larger groups. The colour scheme tends towards the warmer end, with dark drapery accentuated here and there with mirrors and simple abstract art. The candle at the table (not, Cafe Sydney should note, a flickering light bulb) sits in a glass bowl of water and sprig of flower. G and I were seated in the entry-level section.

The menu is pricey, and I got the impression that most diners were there for an occasion of some kind. The menu offers the options of a la carte or degustation. The two of us chose the (carnivorous) degustation (as opposed to the vegetarian option) at $130 per person. Optional matching wines with every course is an additional $60 per person.

After some canapes and amuse bouche, here were the dishes we sampled:

Salad of marinated heirloom vegetables with sugar snap mousseline, black olive and lemon balm: beautifully arranged plate of simple vegetables, with subtle sauces that well-complement the natural flavours
Confit miso blue-eye and smoked scallop with sauteed cuttlefish, cauliflower and buckwheat: lightly sauteed seafood, almost sashimi-like; best part is the sauce. Toasted buckwheat adds a nice surprise
Forgotten vegetables slow cooked in smoking cedar with aged pork jowl, scratchings and jus gras: like a rustic pork dish, but with the pork reduced to a hint and the vegetables enlarged to become the main part. Presented with a slice of lit cedar wood.
Roast Palmers Island mulloway with king prawns, soubise puree and smoked crustacea emulsion: familiar taste of fish and prawn given new meaning by the sauce
Caramelised suckling pig and braised pork tail with roast parsnip and compressed apple: a deconstructed variation on a roast pork dish, with a bite of roast pork and a bite of braised pork
Daube of Blackmore’s full-blood wagyu shin with potato baked in ash, Jerusalem artichoke and jus Bordelaise: the ash-wrapped potato was an interesting taste; the fattiness of the wagyu was well-used
Orange and cardamon pannacotta with blood orange, beetroot and vanilla: a thin panna cotta covered with the intersecting textures and flavours of the toppings. Beautifully presented and a refreshing transition into the dessert courses
Banana creme brulee with salted peanut brittle and milk coffee sorbet: a deconstructivist interpretation of the creme brulee. Banana in creme brulee is a little rich and quite sweet, but combines well with the fairly salty peanut brittle
Zokoko 70% Bolivia chocolate and caramel ‘cadeau’ with organic vanilla and milk sorbet: the cadeau is a perfectly formed dome. The sorbet is surprisingly nice – and tastes very different to vanilla ice cream

We finished with tea and petit fours (included in the meal).

Conclusion: Quality food, at once adventurous yet familiar, perfectly managed production

Food: 9/10
Service: 9/10
Ambience: 8/10
Value for money: 7/10
Overall: 9/10

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Hong Kong Law Careers Guide

April 14th, 2010 No comments

The Chinese Law Students Society at the University of Sydney, in conjunction with UNSW Law Society and the ACYA have published the 2010 Hong Kong Law Careers Guide. Must read for aspiring lawyers who want to work in the region and not just in Australia. I especially recommend the candid accounts of work hours at different levels and handy (human) hints about life as a Hong Kong lawyer — stuff you won’t get from firm brochures.

Tommy’s travel tip #15: Rome (Part 2)

April 2nd, 2010 No comments

Colosseum from Roman Forum
Travel tip #15: To avoid tourist trap restaurants, make sure you are at least two blocks from any tourist attraction.

The next day – our last day in Rome and my last day on the continent – we woke to the newspaper headline: “Shootout at Chinese-Italian Trattoria: dispute over inferior wine and salty spaghetti.” Not wishing to repeat our mistakes, this time we decided to go far, far away from any tourist destinations. After a day of literally running from sight to sight, we ended up at the base of the Spanish Steps (Zegna was on 50% off). We searched in vain for a restaurant with any semblance of normal pricing, and concluded that our rule needed to be modified to “to avoid expensive restaurants, make sure you’re at least 25 blocks from the nearest Zegna store.”

Stained glass window

That was when we spotted the entrance to the Spagna metro station. “By my projections, if we go into the metro station and come out the other side, we should be at the other end of the Spanish steps – i.e. at the top of the hill and far enough away from Zegna and Armani,” I said. We were both too tired at that point to think of an alternative plan, so in we went to the station. At the end of the concourse was a set of escalators. Score! I thought. We rode the escalator up, but instead of an exit at the top of the hill as I expected, we saw another set of escalators. Well, the hill must be taller than we thought. We took that. At the end, another set of escalators. And another. And another. And another. Five sets of escalators, twenty minutes, and a bizarre tunnel full of miniature shop windows later, we finally made our exit, and found ourselves on the Champs Elysee.

Along the long, long corridor

No kidding – the plane trees, the road side seating, the Third Empire buildings – all the restaurant names were in French. We had the strange feeling of having crossed half the continent in 20 minutes. We found a street sign eventually – this was the Via Veneto – indeed the “Champs Elysee of Rome”. The escalators had taken us halfway across Rome, yet we were even deeper into luxury territory.

Mushroom risotto, one of my

Tired, hungry, cursing the lack of consideration of the builders of Spagna station to link one luxury shopping district with another, we admitted defeat and trudged back towards our hotel near the station. Gioanna, the local dragon head who doubled as the kindly proprietress of our hotel, had been right – eat right here around the station. Any problem, she said, call Gioanna and I sort them out.

Palatine Hill of Rome

Well, that’s it folks. Tomorrow I fly home via London. Despite all the fun, I’m kind of looking forward to my own bed.

Until next time from home,
Tommy

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Tommy’s travel tip #10: Geneva

August 9th, 2009 No comments

The longest bench in Europe - Geneva

Travel tip #10: Swiss efficiency extends only as far west as the last German-speaking town.

French-speaking Geneva feels like an entirely different country. Street signs are in the familiar blue metal of Paris. Road directions are the same fat, black-on-white light boxes as those found in France. We’ve seen the last of our hauptbahnhofs – here it’s a gare. At the centre of the city stands – not a rathaus, but l’hotel de ville. On the square is the Notre Dame, and further down, the Opera (“deisgned by the same architect who built the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris!” enthused the young man at the tourist information centre). In a word, this is France.

Cathedral of St Peter, Geneva - one of the birth places of the Reformation

With it comes the laissez-faire attitude of the French. In Zurich, jaywalkers are mown down like broken clocks. In Geneva, motorists and pedestrians go about their own ways, seemingly oblivious to each other, in an elegantly chaotic dance.

Geneva railway station is organised mayhem. Here, I saw my first late train since stepping on the Continent. Stations announcements went like this: “The 4:24 train to Prague is delayed by approximately 20 minutes. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.” “Attention passengers on Platform 15 waiting for the 4:36 train to Milan. This train will now be departing from Platform 18. Please make your way to platform 18”. Sound familiar? It was just like Strathfield station on a bad day. I’ll be honest – they did make me a little homesick.

When the delayed train finally arrived, the train was further delayed by people getting on and off the train – there were still people jumping on and off even as the train began moving away from the platform.

Sunset in Geneva

Old Geneva is a little hill-top town, combining French bon-vivre with Alpine charm. Just across the lake, however, it feels much less like a little mountain town, and much more like the alternative capital of the world it is. Charmless concrete apartment blocks flank an avenue leading to the Palais des Nations – which houses many of the UN’s instrumentalities.

After the initial impact of the giant three-legged chair standing on the square (a monument to victims of land mines – and not, as I thought, a monument to the death of the USSR set up by the other three powers) – I realised that on the other corners of the square were WIPO – the World Intellectual Property Organisation – and the UN High Commission for Refugees. Suddenly, I felt like I’d come face to face with the world that I’d only seen through text books.

the UN in Geneva

The other international organisation that makes Geneva one of the most significant corners of the Earth is most famous for a giant hole that runs beneath it. The hole is the Large Hadron Collider, and the organisation is CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research. It turns out that a visit to the LHC – and a guided tour of CERN – had to be arranged months in advance. Nevertheless, the visitor’s centre was fascinating, and I got an inordinate amount of pleasure from just being near greatness.

Geneva’s Frenchness does carry with it one boon – French food. I had a duck dish and snails at a little restaurant in the old city. It also gave us a chance to enjoy a breackfast of pastries and coffee. From Geneva, we officially switched our evening meal beverage from beer to wine – we will soon be out of the Alps, and tomorrow we will be in Italy.

CERN - home of the Large Hadron Collider

Written at Geneva station, en route to Milan.

P.S. The train tracks are bumpy, just like CityRail.

Until next time,

Tommy

Tommy’s travel tip #7: Zürich

June 14th, 2009 No comments

A swan in the river - central Zurich, Switzerland

Travel tip #7: Exchanging money in Switzerland attracts a SFr 6 admin fee – easily avoided if you are a UBS or Credit Suisse employee or client.

Switzerland is a clockwork country. This was apparent as soon as we crossed the border from Germany. The timetable showed that we had 2 minutes to make a connection between the international train and an intercity express to Zurich – and 2 minutes were exactly what we got. Everything runs exactly on the dot – trains, ferries and buses.

Concourse of the central station

The flip-side of this, though, is that every person is expected to operate like clockwork. The pedestrian crossing light is timed precisely for the amount of time it takes to cross the street. Dally a little, or cross on an amber light, and you are likely – if you are lucky – to be stuck in the middle of the road. Jay walking is as good as any other form of suicide. You see, in a less precise country like ours, drivers and pedestrians allow for the other to not always follow the rules of the road, that some people act like idiots – that people are human. Not so in the clockwork country – here, every person is expected to follow the rules with precision. Anyone who doesn’t won’t do so for long. When I foolishly walked onto a road, the oncoming car did not slow at all – it honked and – I kid you not – actually sped up. I have it on reliable authority that Swiss driver training teaches them to mow down jay walkers, for the good of the nation.

The main street, Bahnhofstrasse, at dawn

If Switzerland is a giant set of clockwork, then the Swiss banks are the grease that keep the machine happily humming away. I wanted to find the main UBS building on Bahnhofstrasse – “Station Street” – the main street of Zurich – and noticed a curious thing: everywhere there was a UBS branch, there would also be a Credit Suisse within sight. Though there are a variety of other banks, such as the cantonal banks, the two banking giants control the system in Switzerland. I’m not sure whether it is a result of their concrete power in Switzerland, or simply another symptom of this being the clockwork country — but the bank counters were not sealed off behind glass like every other country, but instead simply a free standing white table, looking more like a demonstration area in an Apple store than a cashier’s window.

The UBS Building on Bahnhofstrasse

One result of their virtual duopoly is that foreign exchange transactions here attracted a SFr 6 exchange fee. The first time I needed to change money, the man at the counter asked me whether I was one of their clients. “No,” I replied truthfully. The second time around, I figured I’ll try my luck: “no, but I’m an employee back in Australia. Does that help?” The cashier fiddled a little with his computer, and told me, “yes, it does this time” — the fee was waived, though the exchange rate I got was quite a bit worse than the first time.

Riverside walkway

Somewhat paradoxically, the mechanical efficiency of Switzerland also results in the preservation of both history and the environment. Zurich is at once quiet and efficient, and the town centre is an eclectic mixture of modern office buildings, 19th century neo-classical edifices, and winding medieval passages.

The river teams with wildlife. Next to the busy offices where vast sums are moved across the globe, pristine white swans glide under medieval stone bridges free from grafitti. From the shore, one can counter every pebble on the bottom of the river. As might be expected, littering is unknown here. Presumably, in this perfect land litterers are packed off to the forest to be fed to the bears.

One local resident enjoying a morning swim

The only downside, though, is that the mechanical efficiency seems to have robbed the city of its soul, like a perfectly proportioned marble sculpture but devoid of expression. The saving grace in that regard, for me, was the discovery of Sprüngli.

That name is probably best known as the other half of Lindt. Both trace their origins to the chocolate business founded in 1845. When the founder, Rudolf Sprüngli-Ammann, retired in 1892, one son received the chocolate factory, which grew to become the global industrial production line that is Lindt today (with its products found in supermarkets throughout Europe and the world), while the other son received the two stores that have stayed true to their roots – and remain, today, boutiques in central Zurich specialising in chocolates and candied fruits. The Paradeplatz store features a charming cafe, a format which seems to have inspired Lindt’s cafe ventures downunder.

So it was with the satisfaction of having discovered the sweet side of Zurich – and gingerly carrying a stack of its tin-boxed products – that we hopped on the train (running precisely on time, of course) westwards, and upwards.

Zurich at night

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