Articles on this Page
- 01/23/13--22:05: _The whitening star
- 01/24/13--23:38: _Pudding quest
- 01/28/13--07:55: _Salty ships and pea...
- 02/01/13--07:40: _Pre-Lunar New Year ...
- 02/05/13--06:31: _Tim again?
- 02/07/13--07:43: _Being disrespectful
- 02/09/13--06:56: _My lunar new year eve
- 02/10/13--00:02: _Pudding quest part ...
- 02/14/13--06:56: _The girl who (final...
- 02/23/13--04:20: _Eat for two
- 02/25/13--06:22: _Batter up
- 02/26/13--03:27: _An idyllic afternoon
- 02/27/13--07:42: _A midweek feast
- 02/28/13--04:50: _UGC 2010 tasting
- 02/28/13--07:09: _A golden Pawn
- 03/03/13--02:13: _Why a restaurant de...
- 03/03/13--07:43: _Dutchy's got talent
- 03/04/13--07:38: _Trois Cépages
- 03/08/13--07:38: _Death by cheese
- 03/08/13--22:02: _Fine dining (or lac...
- 01/23/13--22:05: The whitening star
- 01/24/13--23:38: Pudding quest
- 01/28/13--07:55: Salty ships and peaty drams
- 02/01/13--07:40: Pre-Lunar New Year feast
- 02/05/13--06:31: Tim again?
- 02/07/13--07:43: Being disrespectful
- 02/09/13--06:56: My lunar new year eve
- 02/10/13--00:02: Pudding quest part 2: an all-star cast
- 02/14/13--06:56: The girl who (finally) ate
- 02/23/13--04:20: Eat for two
- 02/25/13--06:22: Batter up
- 02/26/13--03:27: An idyllic afternoon
- 02/27/13--07:42: A midweek feast
- 02/28/13--04:50: UGC 2010 tasting
- 02/28/13--07:09: A golden Pawn
- 03/03/13--02:13: Why a restaurant deserves losing its Michelin star, part 2
- 03/03/13--07:43: Dutchy's got talent
- 03/04/13--07:38: Trois Cépages
- 03/08/13--07:38: Death by cheese
- 03/08/13--22:02: Fine dining (or lack of) in Asian cities
I was stepping out of my office to grab a quick lunch when I got the call. What am I doing for lunch? Would I like to come to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana for lunch? Would I? Is there another answer to that question?
Not wanting to keep two hungry ladies (or was it tigresses?) waiting, I placed my order over the phone, and picked up the pace as I headed to the restaurant. This was going to be a simple affair. While the ladies chose a multi-course lunch set and enjoyed some white truffles, I was interested in one thing only.
Well, at least the pasta was nicely done, with just the right amount of bite. And the price was very affordable for a 3 Michelin star restaurant. But on this day, I can't help thinking that the gap between this place and Spaghetti House narrowed a little...
Lunar New Year is fast approaching, and once again I'm on a quest for traditional puddings for mom. For the last few years she has increasingly been disinterested in the turnip puddings (蘿蔔糕) in favor of the water chestnut puddings (馬蹄糕), for the simple reason of their rarity in Taiwan. The turnip puddings may not be that yummy in Taipei but at least they are widely available, whereas water chestnut puddings are near impossible to find.
So I started calling restaurants around town to inquire about the availability of puddings, and also asked for recommendations from friends on Facebook. I then decided that I wanted to try out the puddings at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) before placing an order, and once again asked on Facebook whether anyone would like to join me for lunch… Thankfully there were volunteers…
For once I didn't order anything that I normally would… Decided to be a little adventurous and stay away from the usual suspects. Good thing my friend KC was there to help.
Despite being skimpy on the water chestnuts, I ended up ordering a water chestnut pudding after lunch, anyway… along with some turnip pudding.
I was only 2 blocks away from my next stop - Kung Lee (公利真料竹蔗水). I had pre-ordered one of their water chestnut pudding with sugar cane juice (蔗汁馬蹄糕), and went over to pick it up ahead my flight home this evening. Of course I wouldn't miss a chance to grab a cup of sugar cane juice (竹蔗汁)…
Hours later, after I arrived back in my comfy apartment in Taipei, mom decided to pan-fry some slices of the pudding from Kung Lee along with the mass-produced version from Lei Garden (利苑), another so-called Michelin-starred chain of restaurants. Verdict? The one from Lei Garden may look impressive with lots of water chestnuts, but it just didn't have the taste or leave a nice fragrance in your mouth. The one from Kung Lee, on the other hand, tasted much more delicious as the cane sugar caramelized, and the softer texture also won out.
I look forward to coming back to Taipei in 2 weeks' time, when I pick up the puddings from 2 other Michelin-starred restaurants and do another taste test with mom.
I'm entertaining a friend from out of town, and tonight was the only chance for me to see her before she heads off. She had spent the last few days exploring Hong Kong, and managed to hit some pretty interesting places. I was struggling to think of some place to take her when she suggested 22 Ships. My first visit 2 weeks ago made a pretty good impression, so I was happy to go back and try some of the other dishes.
I was running a few minutes late, and my friend was already seated by the time I arrived. Once again we were squeezed into seats at the end of a bar, but this time next to the toilets and the kitchen entrance. I know this is bar food, but the lack of space means one gets to be pretty cozy with one's neighbors...
Yoshihiro Narisawa's creations involving spring onions that had been burnt to ashes.
I had a glass of López de Heredia Viña Gravonia Crianza. Dunno the vintage, but the wine was pretty forgettable...
Honestly, my return visit didn't produce the result I was hoping for. Maybe we just didn't order the right dishes this time...
My friend asked about b.a.r. Executive Bar as she had heard about the place. (She does seem to get around!) We finished dinner quickly, and headed off to get my daily dose of vitamin C...
Towards the end of the evening, Hidome-san would offer some strawberries to us on ice, and they were pretty delicious on their own.
Hidome-san is well-known for his knife skills, and decided to take out a block of ice and cut my friend a "special ice". Basically, he took a sharp chef's knife and transformed the block into a multi-faceted, 500-carat piece of gem. We joked about the different Cs of this "diamond", and wondered whether the color would be D, and whether the limited amount of striations would qualify it as "VVS1" or some other grade...
This was a long evening, but turned out to be really enjoyable in the end. Of all the times I had been to b.a.r. Executive Bar, tonight was by far the most enjoyable visit, as we chatted with not only Hidome-san but also some of the other patrons. I look forward to my next return...
Lunar new year is almost upon us, and ILL decided to organize a big feast in advance of the seasonal festivities. I haven't been to a big gathering like this in a while, and it was interesting to watch the dynamics around the table between different groups among the 14 of us… The venue? Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), one of my favorite places in town.
I arrived a little late, and immediately plonked down my bottles of wine on the table. A big feast is the perfect opportunity to get rid of inventory, and I'm in need of freeing up some space in my cellar. Tonight was also apparently the big opportunity to exchange food gifts after Christmas, and jars of jam, preserves and other goodies made their way around (and across) the table.
The menu was pre-ordered, and I'm glad that I pretty much didn't have a hand in it, as I would very much prefer to see what others would order here. In the end, though, a number of my favorite dishes did show up anyway… which made me happy.
A round of appetizers were presented at the start of dinner:
once before, as it requires pre-ordering and a large group to share. Pretty good.
Let's not forget the wines… Being the snob that I am, I didn't try the rosé that was on the table when I arrived. I did want to have a taste of the oloroso, but somehow didn't get around to it. Instead I just focused on the bottles that I brought…
first tasting it 3 years ago.
A mere four nights after I was last here, I'm back at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源). Both dinners had been booked weeks in advance, and of course I've actually done something like this before at this very same restaurant. And I don't mind coming back so often, as I can choose to order different dishes from the menu. Tonight it was to introduce the place to another member of the extended Tigger family.
Some of the others arrived early and were apparently hungry, so had gone ahead and ordered a couple of starters. I nibbled on the very last little piece of deep-fried frog leg with peppercorn salt (椒鹽田雞腿), but was not a fan. Just not that tasty.
After everyone was assembled, it was time to bring on the rest of the food, including a couple of dishes that I've been missing sorely…
around 4 years ago…
at places like Fook Lam Moon (福臨門). I did think, though, that it was a little over-seasoned tonight. Flavors were intense, for sure, but could have dialed down a little on the salt.
Since I had foolishly under-ordered this dish, we decided to order up another serving. The second plate arrived, and the difference was drastic. The second plate was obviously freshly fried and tasted that way, with stronger flavors. It now seems that the first plate was fried some time ago and left sitting around a little…
We passed on dessert, since I can't remember the last time I enjoyed anything sweet here.
So… the Arrogant Prick is at it again, living up to his moniker. Yours truly showed up in the South China Morning Post again, in the Food and Wine gazette today. As a blogger, providing a counterpoint to an argument. And I'm not exactly shy when it comes to giving people a piece of my mind…
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted to provide the "blogger's perspective" for an article about "dining etiquette", in particular complaints about dining experiences. This is a subject that's close to my heart, and so I readily agreed to answer the questions posed to me. My answers were condensed, edited and appeared in print today. You can read the full article here (requires subscription to SCMP.com). I'm reposting my section here:
Bloggers bite back
I complain if I have a bad meal in a restaurant that I go to regularly or one that I would like to go back to. If the food or service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or it clearly doesn't care about its customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just never return.
If I complain directly, I try to make sure that I do so politely, without getting too emotional. Recently a Spanish restaurant failed so miserably that I was never going back - so there was no point telling them. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to message me and post on my Facebook page.
The opposite occurred in a Michelin-star restaurant in France. When the chef asked me how my meal was, I said everything was perfect except I thought the langoustine could have been fresher. He disagreed, but he took the dish off the bill. That is service. I think the view that it is disrespectful to the chef to complain is nonsense. For me, a restaurant that serves food that is below my expectations or tasteless is disrespectful to me, the customer.
When the questions were posed to me, I got a little worked up and my blood began to boil, and I started banging on the computer keyboard furiously. Here's the full set of questions as well as my original, unedited answers:
Do you complain when dining out (like you do in your posts) and under what circumstances do you think it is appropriate to complain when dining in a restaurant? Please give 1-2 examples (you don't need to mention specific restaurants, can just say a French restaurant for example)?
I complain to the restaurant when I have a relationship with the establishment, or if I care to return at some future date. If the food/service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or they clearly don't care about their customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just don't go back ever again. On rare occasions such as during a certain birthday dinner, my friend who is a VIP complained on my behalf when the dessert tipped over before it was served to me. It doesn't affect the taste but it clearly isn't something that should happen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. So I let them know that it is something they should not have allowed to happen.
You are quite open in your blog with your views, why do you think not all bloggers/foodwriters are as honest?
I am among the group of bloggers who are not invited to "media tastings". The vast majority of my posts are about meals which have been paid for by myself or my friends - they are not about meals which are at the invitation of the restaurants. Since I don't care if no one ever invites me to these media tastings, and usually turn them down even when I am invited, I don't need to worry about pleasing or not upsetting the restaurant or PR agency. One of the main reasons why some people follow me is because of the honesty of my opinions. I can't speak for the other bloggers or food writers, but I suspect very few of them would want to be on bad terms with PR agencies or restaurant groups. There seems to be a certain conflict of interest. I on the other hand couldn't care less.
Some chefs are of the opinion that complaining is disrespectful to the chef, what is your view on this?
That is total bullshit/bullocks/[insert appropriate expletive]. When I pay for a meal as a customer in your restaurant, and you provide me with food that is below my expectations/tasteless or I receive poor service, YOU as a restaurant are being disrespectful to ME, your customer. Not to add to my reputation for being arrogant, but the restaurant exists to serve its customers. Restaurants and their staff are part of the service industry. When customers have criticisms about the food or service, it is the restaurant's job to listen to them. Hopefully the criticism/feedback provided is constructive. Harlan Goldstein is one of my favorite chefs in town not because he cooks better food than anyone else, but because he openly solicits feedback from his customers so that he can improve. That is the mark of a great chef and smart businessman.
In your view, what do you think is an acceptable level of complaint on a blog, that is, can it be taken too far? Please give an example.
On a blog anything is fair game. My blog is a venue for me to voice my opinions, and I can talk about the food, the decor, the service, the smell, the clientelle...etc. because all of them are factors which affect my dining experience. If I write trash and go over the line, the readers will see this and start discounting my opinion, and gradually they will stop following me. If I am "reasonable" in my opinion and criticism, people will find me credible and continue to read what I have to say. There is a mechanism to ensure that bloggers don't go out of line lest they lose their relevance.
Any other comments on the etiquette of complaining?
If I complain directly to the restaurant, I try to make sure that I do it in a polite manner, without getting too emotional and without the use of colorful language. I don't want to be raising my voice and letting things go out of hand. As I said before, if I am not happy with the result, the best way to let them know my opinion is to never go back and give them another dollar. I vote with my pocket book. If everyone does that, then restaurants with poor food and/or service will find that they need to fix things or go out of business.
The shining example of where the food was so bad - in my opinion - was at Boqueria in HK. There wasn't any point in telling them because they failed miserably, and I was never going back. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to send me a message directly and post on my Facebook page. I didn't think he would have listened to my comments, so I didn't bother, and I was right!
I'm back in Taipei, staying in my own apartment which I have been missing so much. Lunar new year is the biggest time for family gatherings, so the parental units grabbed a few days' worth of supplies and moved in with me. It's good to be home.
Of course, the biggest benefit of being home is being able to have mom's home cooking! There are dishes that she only makes once a year, so I really look forward to this season. Last year I managed to get mom to open a "cooking class", and she spent a couple of days showing J and ILoveLubutin how things are done. Maybe one of these days I'll be able to try and see how much of mom's techniques they managed to learn…
10 vegetarian ingredients is a labor of love, as it requires an incredible amount of time and effort to cut up each ingredient, stir-fry them individually, then mix them in together for the final product. I'll never get tired of having this.
After my frantic search for the best lunar new year puddings a couple of weeks ago, I finally got the chance to try them out over the last few days as I managed to bring them home to Taipei. As there were a few different versions, we had to try them out in staggered sessions…
What was interesting this year was that I've gone really high-end this year. In the past I'd always been lazy and pedestrian, and used to buy my puddings from places like Maxim's (美心) and Lei Garden (利苑). I did test out the Lei Garden version earlier, but found it sorely wanting. Fortunately, I had pre-ordered a bunch of gourmet versions, which incidentally were all from restaurants with Michelin stars.
KC who accompanied me to test out the next pudding. Not exactly traditional, but very tasty. While I have no doubt that the flavors of muscovado from Taiwan were yummy, not surprisingly the ginger pretty much overpowered everything. Mom especially liked the fact that it tasted of freshly ground ginger. Very special.
|Photo: Four Seasons Hong Kong|
I think I have a pretty good idea which puddings I'm gonna be buying next year...
I'm back in Hong Kong after stuffing myself with mom's cooking in Taipei, and instead of taking a break from eating as I should have been doing, I was out for another feast. Susan was meeting up with Robyn of The Girl Who Ate Everything, and invited a couple of us to come along. A table was booked at Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤海鮮酒家), and I can't really say "No" to that!
Robyn was invited to come to Hong Kong - along with a couple of others - by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. She literally arrived on Lunar New Year's Eve, which is a really odd time if you ask me… While the people at the Board may have wanted them to see what happens in Hong Kong during Lunar New Year, I think it is actually a terrible time to visit when it comes to food. Many of the traditional and local places would be closed during this period. Their food itinerary left us scratching our heads, and included places like Zuma, Nha Trang and Peak Lookout… OK, so I can see why they were taken to the Peak Lookout, but… WTF was the Hong Kong Tourism Board thinking?! Why fly people half way around the world to Hong Kong, then feed them non-Chinese food?!
Anyway, Manor seems to be the place where Susan entertains foodie literati from out of town, and certainly has a few special dishes we all enjoy. I was glad to return after a 4-month break.
the roast duck at Soong Kitchen (宋廚菜館) in Taipei.
the pig at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).
We wanted to introduce Robyn to some local desserts, so we headed to Yuen Kee Dessert (源記甜品專家). There's always a line here, especially after dinner time, and tonight was no exception. Luckily we didn't have to wait long to be seated.
It was good to be able to meet Robyn, who is much younger but has been writing about food for much longer than I have. I hope we were able to give her a little taste of Hong Kong, and look forward to welcoming her back in the future.
My lunch today came about as a discussion over a month ago, over dinner and wine with some friends. I had enjoyed my two previous visits to the Aberdeen Wholesale Fish Market (香港仔魚類批發市場), and wanted to introduce a few friends to the place. As I was going to be out of town for a few weekends and Lunar New Year was coming up, I planned a few weeks ahead and settled on today.
Naturally, I sought help with my friend KC, who had organized my previous meals and had connections with the fishermen. KC very generously agreed to act as the liaison, and so I left matters in his good hands. After the fishermen returned from their Lunar New Year holidays, the menu began to take shape… I was very much looking forward to this feast.
I arrived at the canteen today to find a table of 12 booked for us. There were only 6 of us, and I realized that there had been a miscommunication somewhere. The seafood had been sourced separately, and was already being prepared for our meal. It was too late to cut back on the quantity. I fretted a little about the amount of food that was going to flood our table, and wondered how we could possibly finish it all…
We weren't able to finish the big plate, as we wanted to save some room for the rest of the dishes… I did have two of these, though.
World Wildlife Fund's seafood guide. Fourfinger threadfin (馬友) was suggested as it's the right season, and I happily agreed. However, the fish on the plate didn't look anything like a threadfin, and when asked what kind of fish it was, the staff simply said "grouper (石斑)".
This was a big fish… more than 3 catties. It was a touch over-steamed, but still tasted fine. The soy sauce-based sauce, though, was a little heavier than usual in terms of oil. In fact the skin tasted a little thick and oily, too… It sure was tasty!
last time. One would expect the crab meat to be sweet since the crabs were fresh, but there was a layer of flavor beyond that which I could only describe in Chinese as 鮮, which doesn't translate literally as "fresh", but it could only have come from the abundance of tomalley (蟹羔). This was definitely awesome, and it's been a while since I've had crabs which were as tasty as this.
The fish was absolutely delicious. Marinating in salt had given the flesh a little more bite and texture compared to a fresh fish, and certainly added a good amount of flavor. The fattiness of the fish also provided an additional layer of complexity to the flavor. After a while the gang clamored for more, and we ended up taking the other fish out of the box it was packed in and ate it on the spot!
We were all winos around the table, and had a nice little collection of bottles to drink out of standard issue tea glasses. I ended up drinking a reasonable amount for lunch, while the Specialist was noticeably reserved. I guess the wines just weren't up to her standards…
We left very stuffed but very happy. Unfortunately the canteen is due to close mid-August, as the rent was going up and it was no longer sustainable to operate there. Sigh… another place in Hong Kong serving delicious food driven out of business by rising rent.
I'm in Macau for a conference and staying overnight. While the free food provided by the organizers at the Westin Resort Macau seemed fairly decent, I chose to be anti-social and went out on my own. I'm not in Macau a lot these days, and there was definitely an itch I'd been wanting to scratch for the last few years… even if I had to do it on my own.
Tenmasa (天政) has been on my list of places to go in Macau ever since it opened. Outside of Japan, there are no shortages of sushi (すし), ramen (ラーメン), teppanyaki (鉄板焼き) or even tonkatsu (とんかつ) specialists, but it is incredibly difficult to find a half-decent tempura (天ぷら) restaurant. When I heard that the specialist from Tokyo had opened a branch it Macau, it immediately piqued my interest. Unfortunately I never found the occasion to come here, but that changed tonight.
I arrived at the near-empty restaurant, and eventually seated myself at the tempura counter. For a supposed tempura specialist, it was curious that the place featured a sushi counter in addition to regular tables. The menu was also strange. Most of the set dinner featured tempura as just a small part of the meal, with sushi and wagyu filling up space. The only set dinner where tempura took center stage was actually the cheapest… and this left me scratching my head. I decided to take this set, but added a number of à la carte items.
The meal started with a trio of appetizers:
The onslaught of tempura begins…
Well… this didn't really "hit the spot"… Maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be at the standard of its Tokyo honten (本店) level, but the gap was pretty big between this and the good tempura places in Tokyo. Oh well, I scratched my itch, and it's still itching…
I got to chatting with the chef towards the end of the meal, and lamented about the lack of decent tempura places outside of Japan. I think he help pretty helpless about the fact that the menu here wasn't entirely tempura, as it's difficult for people to accept Japanese restaurants which are specialists outside the aforementioned sushi, ramen or tonkatsu. Oh well, I'm still searching for a place to get my fix...
I'm not exactly a Macau regular, but I've been here enough times over the years. Not long after I landed in Hong Kong in the mid-90s, I was taken to Macau to have lunch at the famous Fernando's. For years it was the most popular restaurant with many expats from Hong Kong, and remained pretty much the first place that came to mind when asked about Macau. I've always thought the food was pretty good there, and loved dishes like their suckling pig and pan-fried prawns. I've made many trips to that little house at the end of Hac Sa Beach.
Today I tried out the restaurant at the other end of Hac Sa Beach. Miramar comes highly recommended by my friend KC's Macau food guide, and as it happens it is literally a few minutes' walk from the Westin Resort Macau. When it was time for lunch after the conference, I simply dragged my little suitcase over from the hotel.
I debated about whether to order the dishes recommended by KC, and was really tempted to order some suckling pig, but settled on a couple of my own choices in the end.
Coincidentally KC was also in Macau today, and since I was in Coloane he decided to meet me at Lord Stowe's Bakery for coffee. I was a little surprised by his choice of venue since this place is a tourist hotspot, but I would never turn down the chance to have some pasteis!
We sat down inside the cafe just around the corner from the main bakery and caught up for a little while. He was impressed with my friends' abilities to devour seafood last weekend, while I thanked him for making the arrangements.
After my coffee and dessert, it was time to head back to Hong Kong. This hasn't been a great trip in terms of food, but at least I got to tick a couple of places off the list...
Believe it or not, I went to another "media dinner" tonight. After the debacle a few months ago, I was sure that no one was going to invite me for another one of these again, but an invitation did come, through a fellow blogger. He was trying to do his friend a favor, and I tried to do him a favor by asking him to check... to make sure that there would be no repercussions from me giving my honest opinion. When the feedback was that the restaurant and hotel was comfortable with me writing whatever I wanted, I decided "Why not?" Here's a place that seemed pretty confident of the quality of their food, and "fearless" in a way. So I was thinking to myself, in Chinese: "好！不怕死的就來吧！老子看看你有什麽能耐！" (Just kidding...)
I arrived at FEAST in EAST Hotel (un)fashionably late, and apologized for being tardy as a result of work. The rest of the gang were already on their second appetizer, and I kinda dug in soon after I settled down and caught my breath... I didn't know who else was going to be there, but it was good to see a couple of familiar faces. I joked to my neighbor that, other than seeing her on a couple of occasions at Island East Markets, I only seem to catch up with her at events like this... and we live about 5 minutes away from each other (on foot)!
Pretty full by now, and the onslaught of desserts began...
As usual, I avoided the fallen chocolate soufflé, Armagnac prunes and crème fraîche sauce like the plague... Not because I thought there was anything wrong with the execution, but I just don't go for this type of stuff anymore.
Happily, I ended my evening without being completely stuffed but reasonably satiated. For a hotel cafe that is designed to appeal to the general diner, I thought the food was reasonable, and there were even a couple of upside surprises. Many thanks to EAST Hotel for feeding me.
Oh and P.S., I don't drink... =)
The night before Robert Parker released his updated scores on the 2010 vintage tasted from bottle, the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux - in conjunction with Watson's Wines - hosted a tasting of the same vintage. 2010 was the younger of the twin blockbuster vintages of 2009/10, and en primeur prices for the vintage undoubtedly shattered some records. I haven't had the pleasure of tasting many wines from this vintage, so I was really looking forward to this event. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised by how quickly tickets to this event sold out. I actually had to pull some strings (thanks to the Specialist) to get myself a precious ticket…
I actually arrived a few minutes before the official starting time of 6pm, and there was already a big crowd waiting to get in. I guess everyone wanted to come early and make sure they don't miss anything!
I had a wine dinner to go to after the tasting, so I was rushing to taste as many of these wines as I could within a limited time. That means I didn't really have time to delve deep into each wine, but rather just scratching the surface of each. I went through 31 wines in about 1½ hours, which I thought wasn't bad…
2010 Lascombes - cedar, wood, a hint of smoke, prunes.
2010 Giscours - more fragrant and open, nose of saddle, smoke, earth, and almost floral. Nice.
2010 Brane-Cantenac - nose was open, more acidity here, with dried herbs and fragrant on the edges. Henri Lurton was here again.
2010 Angludet - alcoholic, more pungent, fruity with some dried herbs.
2010 La Lagune - more smoke here, with lead pencil and a rounded palate.
2010 Pichon-Lalande - sweet nose with exotic coconut butter, vanilla and cedar.
2010 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - lots of mint, smoke, lovely, fragrant and open. A classic Pauillac. Emeline Borie poured the wine.
2010 d'Armailhac - ripe and sweet fruit, smoke,wood.
2010 Clerc-Milon - wood, smoke and mint. OK.
2010 Talbot - a little funky, leather and herbs.
2010 Léoville-Poyferré - wood, smoke and a little earth.
2010 Langoa Barton - coconut, vanilla and cedar.
2010 Léoville Barton - cedar, perfumed, sweet with vanilla. Not bad.
2010 Branaire-Ducru - smoky with dried herbs. Disappointing. Patrick Maroteaux was here.
2010 Gruaud-Larose - earthy, heavy and pungent, smoky.
2010 Bon Pasteur - sweet, almost orange and tangerine, and perhaps some tea leaves.
2010 Gazin - minty, smoky with some wood.
2010 Clinet - soft, fragrant with spices, sweet.
2010 Troplong Mondot - open and fragrant nose with cedar and smoke.
2010 Latour-Martillac Blanc - pipi de chat front and center, muscat, lemon. Very nice. Medium acidity.
2010 Malartic-Lagravière Blanc - more butter and less pipi here, oaky, lemon, ripe on the palate with good acidity balance.
2010 Pape Clément Blanc - tropical fruit, almost like my favorite Balinese passion fruit, star fruit, a little bit of pipi. Ripe palate. Beautiful wine.
2010 Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc - ripe nose with pipi de chat. Nice.
2010 Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc - lemon and passion fruit. Bruno Lemoine poured the wines.
2010 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc - ripe, pineapple and apricot. Also notes of cheese, like Comté.
2010 Haut-Bailley - open nose with cedar. Véronique Sanders was here.
2010 Guiraud - orange blossoms, honey, acetone, apricot. Some acidity here.
2010 Doisy-Daëne - more acetone, a bit pungent, honey and apricot.
2010 de Fargues - marzipan, orange, honey and a little acetone.
2010 Coutet - orange, sweet, honey, fragrant, almost floral.
2010 Climens - orange, marmalade, really sweet and unctuous.
For reds I liked Pichon-Lalande, Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Léoville Barton, Clinet and Troplong Mondot. Whites I liked Latour-Martillac, Malartic-Lagravière and Pape Clément best. For sweet wines it had to be Guiraud, Coutet and Climens.
Needless to say I was already pretty buzzed when I went off to dinner, to drink more wine!
After getting just a little buzzed from a bunch of 2010 Bordeaux at the UGC tasting, it only made sense to keep on drinking at dinner! etc wine shops had organized a dinner at the Pawn, pairing the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac with specific dishes. That sounded pretty interesting to me, so I signed up to see how things would turn out. Of course, it helped that wines from 3 of my favorite producers were being served…
the bottle from mom's vintage which I tasted a couple of years ago, and according to Fabrice Dubourdieu both vintages were bottled only in 1946 when the château was able to get their hands on enough glass bottles. What a privilege to have tasted this wine!
I really enjoyed the wines with dinner, and surprised that I didn't mind a bit that I was drinking very sweet wines with my food. I guess I've been training my palate with lots of German Rieslings over the last few years...
Many thanks for Fabrice Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, Bérénice Lurton of Climens and Augustin Lacaille of Guiraud for showcasing their fantastic wines.
Some friends are visiting from out of town and wanted to meet up for lunch. They had visited ZEN yesterday and found that the quality of the food has dropped significantly compared to 20 years ago. After I laughed off the suggestions of dim sum at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) - Sunday lunch on 1-day notice?! - and Da Domenico (I thought, mistakenly, surely they wouldn't open on Sundays?!), I was left with the task of coming up with a venue for dim sum on the Kowloon side. I briefly toyed with the idea of taking them to Sun Tung Lok (新同樂) or the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), having never been to the latter, but settled on something different.
Nanhai No.1 (南海一號) was chosen because it's a place I haven't been before. It sits on the 30th floor of iSquare, giving it a pretty decent view of Hong Kong - even though the Peninsula Hotel is kinda smack in the middle between it and the harbor. The place also used to have a macaron in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Rubberman guide, until this was taken away in the current edition. A macaron?! Surely that must count for something, right?
My friends wanted to have some Cantonese-style double-boiled soup, so I asked the manager what the daily soup was. He didn't know, and went away to check. Hello?! If anyone in the front of house should know what the daily specials are, wouldn't it be you, sir?!
Not surprisingly for a Cantonese restaurant, all ninedim sum items we ordered arrived within about 2 minutes of each other. Unlike some other restaurants with excellent service, no one bothered to ask that, since most dim sum items came in baskets of three and there were four of us, would we like to make sure that there were four items in each basket. What's worse, after all the items had already arrived, when I inquired with the other manager whether it would be possible for us to add one more piece for each item, the answer that came was negative. "Oh, we don't do that here... but you can always get an extra order to have more food."
I was ready to slap someone.
Well, I think I succeeded in bringing my visitors to a place where the food was better than ZEN (but that's a pretty low bar to set, innit?) Honestly, I thought the food was decent, but with the kind of service I got today... why bother?!
P.S. for another example of why I thought a restaurant deserved losing its Michelin star, see this post from 3 years ago...
Let me be honest here. I never liked Amber. For years it was the one "French" restaurant in Hong Kong that I just didn't care for. While many people didn't "get" Pierre, I was the one who loved Pierre but didn't "get" Amber. I think a lot of it had to do with my early experiences with the restaurant, especially that first work dinner where I felt things were just too gimmicky. It left such a deep impression on my mind, to the extent that my subsequent meals - many of which, in retrospect, had been delicious - were simply overshadowed and forgotten.
I don't think I have ever been to Amber of my own accord… it was always someone else who wanted to go, or one of my friends who loves hosting dinners there. I didn't mind tagging along, but it just wasn't gonna be my first (or second or third) choice. Then came my last meal at Amber, not long before my relocation to Taipei. While I enjoyed the food a lot, the service that day left me fuming. Since then Amber was pretty much written off my list.
The Wommer and I were getting together to open a couple of bottles, and he suggested that we come to Amber. I was still trying to figure out why everyone is so enamored with the place, so I agreed to the suggestion. Clearly he knows the chef a lot better (well, since I didn't know Chef Richard Ekkebusat all), and so I was expecting VIP treatment and for the kitchen to do a few special things.
What's the point of me saying all this? Well, after I was blown away by tonight's dinner, I finally realized how wrong I've been all these years about Amber and the cuisine of Chef Richard. I GET IT NOW.
A series of canapés and amuse bouches to start us off:
Now the meal finally starts…
Time for some cheese! Amber also get their selection from Bernard Antony, so here's what I picked...
Last but not least... les vins!
I was finally properly introduced to Chef Richard, and found him to be a very passionate (that would be a no-brainer...) and interesting individual. I offered him my compliments, as I found the meal to be truly sensational. Some 6 years after my first meal, I have finally been fully converted into an Ekkebus fan. I look forward to spending more of my hard-earned dollars there...
After a 2-month break, we finally had our first scoring MNSC dinner tonight. We were all roaring to go for the start of the new season, and Dr. Poon picked Cépage - one of his favorites - as the venue. The restaurant is closing soon as the landlord is taking the space back, so this may be one of the last opportunities for me to come here.
I guess that's the reality these days in Hong Kong, across a broad price range where the landlords' decisions have determined what we can or cannot eat in a certain neighborhood...
Dr. Poon as usual served up some really good stuff, and I gave pretty high marks to most of these wines. Unfortunately, my tasting notes for the evening was lost along with notes from a few other evenings. Somehow about a week's worth of notes disappeared from my (once) trusty iPhone. Fortunately I had managed to blog about all the other evenings except this one, so the damage was limited… but it means my tasting notes on tonight's wines are gone...
A gathering had been planned for a small group of friends who haven't seen each other, and we agreed to meet up for some wine (and perhaps some food) tonight. ILoveLubutin suggested that we meet at our favorite Caprice and just grab some wine and cheese, which sounded like an excellent idea.
I arrived to find that the cheese bar was already full, but luckily I was able to be seated at a small table and wait for a bigger to free up. I thought I'd wait for the rest of the gang to arrive before ordering anything, but Sebastien decided that just wouldn't do, and graciously offered me a glass of 2011 Ostertag Sylvaner Vielles Vignes. Ripe, floral, tropical fruits, peach and white flowers. Lovely.
We moved to a larger table, but ILL had to leave early for another engagement. While my friend ordered a selection of cheese (and asked for soft cheese, without goat cheese), I took the opportunity to get a taste of this season's black truffles. Chef Vincent had come around earlier to chat a little, and mentioned that we are getting close to the end of truffle season, so I'd better hurry and get some.
A humongous spread of cheese was laid out in front of us. Everything was "supersized" and the two of us were trying to figure out how we would finish everything. At this point Ninja was finally able to join us, but as she is allergic to cheese, her arrival was no help to us…
Abbaye de Tamié - slightly salty and a little strong.
Colombier fermier - saltier, a little stronger, with some ammonia.
Coulommiers fermier - very creamy, a little salty. The rind was a little bitter.
Saint Félicien - creamy, higher acidity with saltiness.
Brillat-Savarin fermier, made with triple cream - not as melt-in-your-mouth as before, with higher acidity this time. REALLY rich.
Moelleux du Revard - from Savoie. A little musty with a bitter finish.
I was too full to nibble on the St. Nectaire or the Fourme d'Ambert. What I had taken in was too rich, and it hit me all of a sudden like never before… It was the first time that I felt I couldn't take any more of the cream after having enough of the Brillat-Savarin...
When the bill was presented, I noticed that the scrambled eggs had been taking off the bill. Perhaps the staff had overheard my comments to my friend about how salty it was. I tried in vain to argue with the staff to have them add it back on the menu, as the price for this item was much, much more than the cheese we had been charged for. The staff did not budge. After several rounds of pleading, I relented. I guess this is what you'd call "Michelin star service", and yet another example of why I would always choose to come back time and again.
P.S. I packed the unfinished cheese and brought them home to Taipei for mom. She dug right in to the melted Époisses with a spoon...
Two years ago, I had decided and announced that I wouldn’t comment on the Rubberman’s annual award of macarons to eateries in Hong Kong. I have also grown tired of discussing why the annual World's 50/100 Best list by Restaurant Magazine/San Pellegrino is ludicrous and Euro-centric. So when the first Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants from the same people came out a few weeks ago, I barely took an interest and mostly watched the internet traffic flew by. I’ve been busy at work, and already spending more than enough of my spare time filling this space with material.
Then yesterday something caught my attention on Facebook. Fellow blogger Tom posted a screen shot of a comment he had received in response to something he wrote, and the comment was simply appalling, to say the least. No, it was idiotic, ridiculous, and pure, unadulterated RACISM. My blood was boiling within a matter of seconds upon reading this person’s comments. I got so worked up that I asked Tom for the link to the full article, which appeared on the Wall Street Journal’s blog, so I could read his work in its entirety and also all the responses that came along.
While there may be a couple of points I may take issues with, I largely agree with Tom’s point of view. No, I am not Korean, nor am I an expert on Korean food or culture. However, I have travelled enough to Korea on business, count many Koreans (both in and outside Korea) as friends, and have even had cooking lessons on Korean cuisine – enough to have more than a glimpse into that culture. And since I am the Arrogant Prick, yes, I do think I’m qualified to give an opinion.
There are always going to be people who bitch and moan about “how come there are no restaurant from [insert city] on the list?!” Well, as with any other “definitive” list, this one is inherently flawed. The people on the voting panel – and there are many – have historically been Euro-centric. The restaurants from Asia that have shown up on the World’s 50/100 Best list in the past have traditionally been serving non-Asian cuisine, or Asian cuisine which have had influences from the West, with modern techniques and/or use non-traditional ingredients. And let’s not forget that this list is about fine dining– and therefore non-food criteria such as service, ambiance, wine lists can come into play.
In many Asian cities where one can find excellent local food, there is a dearth of restaurants which fall into the “fine dining” category – especially when we’re talking about cuisines that are not indigenous. In a recent text message I sent, I called my hometown of Taipei “a culinary wasteland.” Of course that’s a harsh statement, but it is absolutely true when one looks at anything other than cheap, local fare or Japanese fare. Other than Japanese cuisine and a handful of French restaurants, “fine dining” doesn’t exist in Taipei. I cannot even find a handful of Chinese restaurants - regardless of their regional specialty, be it Cantonese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese… - that I would consider to be fine dining by my standards. I doubt many (if any) of the voting panel has ever been to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Taipei. No surprise that Taipei is missing from the party.
Similarly, cities such as Beijing and Seoul…etc. are noticeably absent. The cities that make the list are Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai – the most cosmopolitan and “worldly” in Asia. They are very much exposed to cultures other than their own, many through their relatively large expat communities. There is a community of diners who are sophisticated, well-travelled, well-versed in non-native cuisines, and perhaps most important of all – willing to pay top dollar for fine dining. Without this last crucial element, what you have would be cities like Taipei and Seoul, for example, where the local street food culture dominates and everything gravitates towards the "cheap and cheerful" lower end. I can't tell you how many people have told me that they "love the food in Taiwan", but how many of those have actually had good experiences with fine dining in Taipei? Probably none.
Some of the comments on Tom's piece bring up the issue of alcohol in the Korean dining culture, which I found interesting and completely agree with. From what I can see, the alcohol part of the Korean dining culture is a lot about drinking cheap alcohol to get drunk, and not about truly appreciating the taste of the alcohol. I have always referred to soju as "industrial rubbing alcohol", and consider it something vastly inferior to sake or wine. Years ago when I asked my Korean colleague why they drink poktanju (폭탄주) or tornados, the reply was that it was about get drunk cheaply and quickly - it was about efficiency. When you have that mentality, then the lack of fine dining options in Korea is no longer a surprise… as fine wine and fine dining do go hand-in-hand.
The most interesting comment - which brought my blood to a boil - was the one from "Hyun-so Han". I'm lifting that part and highlighting it here: