Articles on this Page
- 09/24/14--08:17: _Why I'm not worthy ...
- 09/25/14--08:22: _The 'plus one'
- 09/28/14--05:51: _Watching Hong Kong ...
- 09/29/14--07:24: _What, no holes in m...
- 09/30/14--08:45: _Goodbye, September
- 10/04/14--08:06: _Standing up against...
- 10/05/14--08:15: _Leaf day wine tasting
- 10/07/14--08:50: _More private dining...
- 10/11/14--01:06: _(not so) Happy sushi
- 10/08/14--07:09: _Classic Continental...
- 10/15/14--08:10: _Sweeping the Neighb...
- 10/18/14--02:01: _Food blogger scum
- 10/18/14--07:34: _Holy mother of fish...
- 10/19/14--08:23: _A quiet Sunday dinner
- 10/20/14--00:05: _Truffled boar
- 10/25/14--03:16: _Starry day in Kwun ...
- 10/25/14--08:15: _Reptile night
- 10/28/14--08:46: _Three little birds
- 10/30/14--00:26: _Another mediocre 'c...
- 10/31/14--05:54: _Money CAN buy happi...
- 09/24/14--08:17: Why I'm not worthy to dine at Chiu Tang
- 09/25/14--08:22: The 'plus one'
- 09/28/14--05:51: Watching Hong Kong going down the toilet
- 09/29/14--07:24: What, no holes in my tablecloth?!
- 09/30/14--08:45: Goodbye, September
- 10/04/14--08:06: Standing up against violence and thugs
- 10/05/14--08:15: Leaf day wine tasting
- 10/07/14--08:50: More private dining next door
- 10/11/14--01:06: (not so) Happy sushi
- 10/08/14--07:09: Classic Continental offerings
- 10/15/14--08:10: Sweeping the Neighborhood
- 10/18/14--02:01: Food blogger scum
- 10/18/14--07:34: Holy mother of fish head
- 10/19/14--08:23: A quiet Sunday dinner
- 10/20/14--00:05: Truffled boar
- 10/25/14--03:16: Starry day in Kwun Tong
- 10/25/14--08:15: Reptile night
- 10/28/14--08:46: Three little birds
- 10/30/14--00:26: Another mediocre 'celebrity chef' restaurant
- 10/31/14--05:54: Money CAN buy happiness
It's not often that I get to eat with
Big Mac. We are usually not in the same city, so we only get to see each other when I visit Taipei. I was therefore very excited about him moving here, because that meant (hopefully) we would get to eat out together more often.
Tonight's organizer suggested that we meet at Chiu Tang (潮廳), which is an exclusive restaurant/lounge whose cuisine I have enjoyed a few times. They also know how to handle wines, which is definitely a plus.
I was the first to arrive and had ample time to browse through the menu. Not surprisingly, the rest of the table left me with the enviable task of ordering the food. The head waiter came and started to suggest dishes. Naturally he suggested we start with the classic Chiuchow specialties of marinated goose (鹵水鵝), tofu...etc. but then the usual upselling happened. He suggested everything from shark's fin soup (which I would never order for environmental reasons) to poached slice conch (which, at upwards of HKD 1,000 per serving, I find ridiculously expensive for something I can't appreciate) to something else I can't quite recall - all of which I flatly refused. He also suggested the cold flower crab, which I knew would not be cheap but accepted. Items such as flower crab and conch are listed on the menu as "market price", which is what gave rise to the Cantonese expression of "seafood price (海鮮價)"...
He then asked if we wanted some soup, and suggested that we have the whelk head soup (螺頭湯). I said OK to this, and he left our private room after noting down other items. A mere two minutes later, a light bulb went on in my head and I came to my senses. I grabbed a menu, rushed out to him, and asked him to confirm the soup that he suggested and that I had just agreed to. It was the double-boiled fresh sea whelk head soup with black chicken and fish maw (花膠鮮螺頭燉竹絲雞), and at HKD 398 per bowl, the total cost for the 7 of us would have come to more than HKD 3,000 after service charge. I quickly nixed this, and picked a more traditional (and budget-friendly) alternative at a mere HKD 98 per bowl.
It's not the first time that staff at a restaurant has tried to upsell because they felt we looked like a bunch of fat sheep they can slaughter. Incidentally, the last time it happened to me was at another restaurant owned by the same boss. I guess it's the clientele that the staff have gotten used to at this restaurant group... If you dare to step foot in this exclusive, all-private-room restaurant, you should be able to just open your wallet and shell out whatever it takes. And I'm obviously not their target clientele...
We brought along a few bottles of wine tonight, but nobody bothered to bring a white...
At the end of the evening we took a look at our bill. The flower crab - our sole "expensive" item tonight - cost HKD 2,800 and was more than 50% of the food bill. Ya know, it was a pretty good crab, but was it THAT good?! For my HKD 400 share of the crab, what I had was a small section of the body and a little bit of leg. I think I could do a lot better with that money in another restaurant. Meanwhile, my friends were completely shocked by the price of the crab, and I think more than a few of them actually preferred the satay beef - at less than 1/10 of the price - to the crab...
And just imagine if I had said "yes" to the other suggestions from our waiter. Our bill would have come out to be HKD 2,500 a head instead of HKD 1,000... Could we "afford" it? Yes, we all could. Would we be happy campers after that meal? Most certainly not. I, for one, would have felt that I did not get my money's worth. At HKD 1,000 a head, it wasn't "cheap" by any means, but the quality of the food was such that we could justify paying that price for the level of happiness delivered in return. I guess that's similar to my experience with another meal last much, where less was actually more!
No, I'm not worthy enough to dine in this restaurant... is the inevitable conclusion after tonight's dinner.
A good friend of mine who is certainly an A-lister in town was invited by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to dine at Pierre tonight, and was kind enough to invite me along as the "plus one" instead of my friend's spouse. As I had been a longtime fan of the restaurant and of Pierre Gagnaire, I was only too happy to accept the invitation.
We were treated to a 6-course menu dégustation, which featured a few dishes from the upcoming "Magic 8" dinner celebrating the restaurant's 8th anniversary, amd Pierre himself will be in town for the festivities.
But first came the series of amuses bouches, some of which I had already tasted at my lunch last month.
The caillette ardéchoise was something I absolutely loved last time, but tonight it was a little too tiny as it played sidekick to the sea bass, and there just wasn't enough fat in it. Oh well... Part of the "Magic 8" menu.
Pierre Gagnaire's Grand Dessert (which, naturally, counts as just ONE course...)
...aaaand here's where I started to act like an ass and a fucking know-it-all. There were some cubes I didn't recognize. Texture-wise they were crunchy, almost a little starchy and grainy, with some acidity. I didn't recognize it and asked our friendly waiter. He said it was "frosted pineapple", but I didn't believe him. Really?! It couldn't have been! Where were the fibers?! Even pineapple cores didn't taste like this, and I just had some pineapple core a few nights ago. It was more like a jicama or yamaimo (山芋). I even ended up making a typically Arrogant Prick-like statement like "I'm from a pineapple-producing country, and THIS IS NOT PINEAPPLE!"
...which brings us to the point about Pierre Gagnaire and his creativity. Who the hell would have thought to freeze pineapple core and turn it into something else?! Only a master.
Our hosts were very generous tonight, and served us a series of delicious wines to go along with our food:
On a night when I wasn't in my best condition and was already leaving wines in my glasses, our generous hosts offered up one final bottle. I didn't need any more alcohol in my system, but it turned out to be an offer I just couldn't refuse...
Well, what can I say, other than I enjoyed a fantastic evening? Food was superb, but that isn't surprising given I've always been a fan of Pierre Gagnaire, and I'm among the minority of my friends who "get" the cuisine here. Service tonight was impeccable, but then that is to be expected when we have an army fawning over my A-lister friend as I sit next to the GM of the hotel. But I must apologize for acting like an ass... (and I wish I could channel Michael Keaton in Much Ado About Nothing when calling myself an arse)
Many thanks to our hosts for their generosity and extremely fun company. One must remember one's place, not get too accustomed to this, and take nothing for granted. I was, after all, just the "plus one" - collateral damage.
Let me start with a little background on myself: I'm Taiwanese by origin (I tell people I'm MIT... "made in Taiwan") and spent some years in my youth growing up and being educated there. Which is to say that at one point I was brain-washed by the KMT about parts of China's history. My grandpa served under Chiang Kai-shek and always hung a portrait of the Generalissimo that he received from the man himself.
As I grew up and spent my years from puberty to adulthood abroad, I became exposed to different points of view, and (I hope) matured into someone who embraces democracy, freedom of expression, equality for all...etc... you know, all the "Western" values. In a recent interview with a journalist from a US paper, I stated that I am "as liberal as they come" when it comes to the issues and ideas related to freedom and equality, although I respect the right for people to have opinions different from mine.
I'm certainly not the world's foremost expert when it comes to anything, but I have spent a number of years watching China and its leadership from different points of view. I lived through the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 as a college student, and that had a significant impact on me. So you can understand that I'm not the biggest fan of the leadership in Beijing.
Nearly twenty years ago, I made the decision to relocate with my firm from New York to Hong Kong. It was a good career move, and I landed here in June 1995. The plan was to stay for two years, and move somewhere else before the Handover in 1997. Well... it's glaringly obvious how that plan worked out...
In the months leading up to the July 1, 1997 Handover, many people asked me what I thought would happen after the Chinese took over Hong Kong. My responses at the time ran along the lines of "not a lot would change for the first five years, but then things will just go down the toilet." I was sure that instead of Mainland China rising up to Hong Kong's level - as Deng Xiaoping supposedly envisioned - the two sides would actually converge... meaning Hong Kong would actually be worse.
Well, there's no doubt in my mind that many things in Hong Kong are worse than they were before the Handover. While we still enjoy a higher degree of freedom of expression and more liberties than people in Mainland China, things are certainly "less free" today than before. But hey, things could be worse, right?
Well, today things got worse. A lot worse. I was never a fan of the current Chief Executive CY Leung. The guy has ZERO integrity. Just look at the case involving him putting up illegal structures at his residence. This was a guy who built a career out of property surveying, who clearly knew what was and was not legal. When you knowingly break the law, you don't deserve to be leading Hong Kong. Anyway, enough about this guy.
Today I saw tensions escalate quickly between protesters wanting more democratic freedom and the Hong Kong Police. While some of the action of the protesters were clearly out of line, it is indisputable that Hong Kong Police were being very aggressive. Pure speculation, but I'm guessing that some of them enjoy emptying their cans of pepper spray right in the protesters' faces. And there was no need to deprive the protesters of their umbrellas, while the police kept their own protective shields and helmets.
As evening began, we heard that the police had fired teargas into the crowd. That was totally uncalled for. Was the crowd being aggressive? Were the police physically threatened?! It's true that I wasn't there myself, but I have serious doubts about that. So what justified the use of teargas? It's upping the ante unnecessarily, and only serves to piss people off.
Then there are the signs that Hong Kong Police hold up to warn the crowd. While some display milder language, and we see ones that warn "Disperse or we will use force", I was more than a little shocked to see others that said "Disperse or we will fire (guns)".
WTF?! Fire what?! Are you gonna shoot into the crowd? With what?! Rubber bullets, or real ones?? Is this really happening in Hong Kong?! Or have I been transported to Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, or back in time to the Beijing of 1989? I sincerely hope not.
To be fair, I'm not aligned with the causes of the protesters. While I would like to see a full "Western-style" democracy implemented in Hong Kong, I wasn't the least bit surprised that the powers that be in Beijing didn't see fit to grant the people of Hong Kong what some of them had wished for. That was to be expected.
And Benny Tai and his gang of people - who did their share of "saber-rattling" (as if what they were holding were really sabers) in front of Beijing - didn't help things. Anyone who has spent any time studying the actions of Beijing over the years would know that they don't respond well to threats, never mind that Benny and his friends were never in a position to threaten Beijing with anything. Finally, anyone who teaches law as a profession and encourages others to break the law just gets reduced to a big fat zero in my book.
I also think the students are a little too naive here. I applaud them for standing up for what they believe in, and making sure that their voices are heard. But what makes them think that CY Leung will come out and talk to them just because it's what the students wanted? What makes them think that Beijing will just toss out what they had just decided on, and lose face in front of the entire world?! I'm not gonna opine on whether they were manipulated by other interests or who these people were, but needless to say they still have some learning to do... not necessarily in the classrooms but in life.
Anyway... I've lived here for the better part of 20 years, and although I've never used the term "my beloved" in relation to Hong Kong, it is for better or worse home as far as I'm concerned. I hate to see things go down this path, and I am fearful of what may be yet to come. But I pray that what I am most fearful of will never come to pass.
Meanwhile, the eyes of the world are on Hong Kong. Maybe it's time the world sees CY Leung for the man he really is. Your move,
CY Beijing. The world is watching.
An old friend is back in town for a visit after a prolonged absence, and we made plans to catch up. In spite of the inconvenience of Occupy Central, we decided to stick to our original plan and meet up for drinks at Butler.
We nibbled on some sausage platter, but still needed a real dinner! So we adjourned right next door to Spring Deer (鹿鳴春), one of the classics in this town. I haven't been back here for more than a decade... and I was pretty excited about going back.
We showed up at 9pm on a Monday night with no reservation, and thankfully a couple of tables had just left. The restaurant was about 80% full, which I thought was pretty damn good. But wait! The restaurant looks like it's been refurbished! The chairs had all been re-upholstered (or replaced), not a single hole was to be found in our tablecloth (nor were any visible from neighboring tables), and the only chip I could find in the china was on the spout of one of the tea pots. In this respect, things are so different tonight compared to my last visit, and I kinda miss the "authenticity" of it...
Fu Lu Shou, and the execution here is much, much better. In addition to the sweet batter, we could at least taste the beef, and there was shredded bamboo shoots, chili peppers and garlic - all of which contributed a whole lotta flavors. And these were stuffed into sesame seed pockets.
We were completely stuffed, but I for one was very happy and satiated. I think it's important to make time and visit old school establishments like this - where they still cook the food the same way as it has been for decades. It may not be fine dining, but delicious nevertheless.
It's the last day of September, and I sorely needed something to take my mind off of the mense horrendum I just went through... While the rest of Hong Kong either participated or talked about Occupy
Central/Hong Kong, I chose to dodge the action and holed up at my favorite On Lot 10 instead. I wanted to divert my attention away from the topic, if only for a couple of hours.
As usual I had requested specific items ahead of time, and we discussed the rest of the menu with David upon arrival. Once again I was playing my usual duty of ambassador-at-large for the restaurant, introducing a few friends who had yet to discover the place... I can't remember whether it was David or one of the staff who joked that 60% of their customers show up requesting dishes they have read about on this here blog. While this is undoubtedly a flattering exaggeration, I do know of real instances where friends of mine have shown up at the restaurant and told the staff that they know me... in the hope of getting "special treatment". I've thought about this before and I'll bring it up again... when is David gonna start paying me some commission?! Methinks it's about time we come to some sort of arrangement... SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!
All joking aside, food has always been fantastic here, and tonight was no exception.
La Tour d'Argent. Very, very nice and tender... with chestnuts, griottines, pearl onions, peas, carrots, potatoes, grapefruit and lardon. I wish I had more stomach space.
This was a wine crowd, and we were certainly not short on bottles...
For those of us in Hong Kong, the combined protests by students and other citizens under the banner known as Occupy Central (with Love and Peace) / Occupy Hong Kong / Umbrella Movement has been going on for about a week now. Things escalated last weekend when the Hong Kong Police decided to fire teargas on the crowd, which only served to galvanize public support for the protests.
Since then the protests have spread outside of the original area known as Admiralty (which is adjacent to Central), first to Mongkok and also to Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui. There has always been debate about whether the protests should focus on the central business district of Hong Kong as originally intended, but there was no stopping the spontaneous actions without a central command for this movement.
On Friday this took a turn for the worse as what some of us feared turned into reality. Mongkok has always been an area tainted by triad activity, and scuffles broke out throughout the day. Different factions who opposed the blockade began arguing with the protesters, and some of that led to violent confrontations. Tents were torn down, people were physically beaten, a few people even ended up bleeding. Emotions ran high throughout the evening and into the next day.
I wasn't anywhere near Mongkok, and I couldn't tell you what really happened. I looked to a variety of sources - both from traditional and social media - for news about what transpired. There seemed to be a mix of agitators. While some were probably neighborhood citizens who were angered by the disruption caused to their lives - not to mention the negative economic impact - there seemed to be more than a fair share of unsavory-looking characters who, shall we say, may have more colorful backgrounds and "associations".
While the Umbrella Movement protesters have mostly remained peaceful and non-violent, these new people who arrived in the area were clearly looking for trouble. Fights broke out, and from the very narrow viewpoint afforded to me in the comfort of my chair, there seemed to be a conspicuous absence of police on scene. According to some reports - which admittedly may be biased - police made little effort to intervene and halt the spread of violence. There certainly wasn't the same level of crackdown and use of force as was witnessed on September 28th. Hell, looking at the number of arrests made on the two days, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the police was letting the thugs off the hook. Numerous reports surfaced regarding instances where police arrested violent thugs, walked a couple of blocks away from the crowd, and subsequently released them. Charges of collusion between police and triads quickly spread.
Well, I don't have any evidence proving any linkage between the police and triads, and I certainly won't make that accusation here. But even the police admitted that the agitators moved into the area hard and fast, and that they couldn't respond quickly enough. So it would seem reasonable to suspect that this wasn't simply the spontaneous acts of random individuals, but rather more "organized". Of course the explanation from police only led to more accusations of biased handling of the situation, as a distrusting public wondered why it took as long as an hour for police to bring in reinforcements.
Regardless of who was behind Friday's violence, it was simply unjust. I had seen enough, and was determined to stand up against it. I had hitherto not lent my support to the protesting public because I did not agree with their methods, but this was something else. There was a call to rally against violence tonight, and I gladly answered that call.
I had spent the better part of the afternoon - OK, ALL of the afternoon - holed up in the comforts of an air-conditioned building attending a wine auction. After the auction ended, I made the short walk between the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. I wanted to see the scene of protest with my own eyes and take in the atmosphere. I didn't have any of the so-called "five treasures of protest" with me, but I did have one of my SLRs, a very foldable umbrella, and water in my own thermos so I wouldn't generate more waste.
I guess I spent most of my time in the middle of the protest areas, so I really didn't see heavy police presence. In fact, I can count the number of occifers I saw on one hand. All of the protesters I came across were peaceful. No one was shouting at anyone else. They just wanted to come out and show the rest of Hong Kong (and the world) what they stood for.
The rally officially started around 8pm, and various speakers started to get up on the makeshift platform to talk about their own experiences of facing violence yesterday. It was then that I noticed something... while the city has faced the turmoil brought about by the Umbrella Movement, the brain-dead owners of buildings in Central - including Cheung Kong Center, the Bank of China Building, AIA Central and naturally the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Building - all continued to participate in the Symphony of Lights. Multi-colored lights still flashed around these buildings as if it were just another ordinary evening. Admittedly, the angle of the video didn't really show how ludicrous this was, but you get the drift.
the best version in town used to be found at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana), but I love it anyway.
On the way out, I thanked one of the staff for keeping the restaurant open during the week-long protests. I knew it would have been management's decision, but the staff still had to work hard and put themselves in potential harm's way. He mentioned that it hasn't been easy, and much of the supply had to be manually pushed over from Wanchai since the main roads leading to the restaurant remain closed. But "people gotta eat, and they can't survive on dry rations [like biscuits and crackers] alone". Notwithstanding that restaurants in Admiralty Centre are probably doing brisk business, I still applaud the staff for their dedication and doing their bit to help Hong Kong.
By the time I left around 9:30pm, people were still streaming out of the MTR station. I dunno what the attendance numbers were tonight, but I'm proud of those who took a stand against violence tonight. I truly hope that there is a resolution soon, and that there will be no more violence and bloodshed. I hope my prayers are answered.
My collection of pictures from tonight can be seen here.
Gayliao was in town for a few days, and took the opportunity to host his MNSC tasting tonight. We kinda debated about where we would have dinner given all this Occupy business going on around town, and eventually settled on Seventh Son (家全七福).
Tiger grouper two ways (老虎斑二味):
As good as the food was tonight, our attention was squarely focused on the wines because, after all, it's an MNSC dinner! Gayliao had served the wines to us slightly chilled - which was the right thing to do on hot summer days - but this meant that the nose for the wines was initially a little muted.
We were all wondering why there was a pattern of the wines seemingly not performing at their best, when our resident
Anyway, just about all the wines drank well tonight, although looking back I suppose some of them could have performed even better than they had.
First pair: opened and poured 30 minutes before serving.
Second pair: opened and poured 30 minutes before serving.
Third pair: decanted almost two hours prior to serving.
Fourth pair: Decanted about 1½ hours prior to serving.
Last month I had the good fortune of visiting a very exclusive private kitchen, and during that dinner the same gang pinned down a date when we could gather again for a different menu. So once again I found myself casually strolling out of the office and simply walk cross the street to get to dinner.
Before dinner started we were informed that, sadly, a few of the dishes we had been looking forward to were not available - including the famous snake soup. That's a shame, because I would have liked to hear what Dashijie thought of this particular version...
Like last time, our organizer had recommended pairing up certain wines with each dish, but I was surprised we started with a bottle of Pomerol as the apéritif...
For the last few years, I found myself eating less and less sushi in Hong Kong. Unlike many of my friends, I rarely develop a craving for it. Since I can find good sushi in Taipei that is just as good or better - and at a significant discount to the prices in Hong Kong - I've kinda been getting my sushi fix there instead.
As a result, I no longer know where to get good sushi in Hong Kong. Realizing that there's a gaping hole in the dining experiences documented here, I decided it was time for me to check out a few places in town. A friend suggested that we do lunch at Kishoku (楽) - one of the places often mentioned when it comes to sushi, and a winner of the Top 10 Restaurant Award from WOM guide in the category of Japanese (Sushi).
I didn't want to have a real heavy lunch, so I opted for the deluxe sushi platter (寿司盛り合わせ). I also specified - as usual - that I didn't want any cut of tuna.
Then came the first part of the platter:
Striped jack (縞鰺) - this was OK.
The second batch arrived, and there was an immediate problem. I had specifically asked not to have any tuna, but there it was - a piece of fatty tuna nigiri (トロ握り) and 6 pieces of scallion and fatty tuna roll (ネギトロ巻き). I informed the staff once again of my preference, and they promised to replace the offending items with substitutes.
Not exactly a happy meal. The sand in the sea urchin killed it for me, and the sand in the clam didn't help either. The nail in the coffin was the roll switch, which left me feeling more than a little cheated.
Not feeling quite satiated, we adjourned to the Coffee Academïcs next door for a cuppa. I've kinda been getting into ice drip lately, so I ordered one up.
Almost a month had passed since my first review meal for the South China Morning Post's First Served column, so it was time for me to pick out a new
victim to skewer venue to try. The hot new opening of the moment seemed to be The Continental, which took over the space previously occupied by Domani. Swire not only brought in famed Rowley Leigh of Le Café Anglais as chef consultant, they also brought in the design team behind the Wolseley. And Da Jam from WOM even punched out an interview with Chef Leigh last week... So definitely worthy of attention, then...
...except... the restaurant was due to be officially open on the 13th, and my column was due in the morning on the 13th. I called the restaurant to make a reservation, only to be told that they are in their "soft opening" period and everything was "by invitation only". Having turned down an invitation to join a group of fellow winos for a preview last week, an invitation was something I was clearly lacking.
What was one to do? It was suggested that I simply try to walk in. Well, I suppose that could work, but I'd need a backup just in case I was refused entry. So I made a booking somewhere else, trekked over to Pacific Place and hoped for the best.
We were politely shown into the reception area, only to be told that they were still in their soft opening... and we were welcome to call them for reservations starting next week. I paused for a split-second, and my friend took it as her cue. She promptly launched into a little act about how we had traveled all the way there, enduring an extremely cramped and uncomfortable subway ride in the process... and it would have been totally disappointing to have to go somewhere else... It was always gonna be easier for a girl to get away with pleading, and it worked! We got ourselves a table. I didn't even have to try to pull out my non-existent Food Writer's Card...
We were told as we were handed the menu that it was still a work in progress and not yet final. We were also informed that since this was their soft opening period, we would only be charged half price for tonight's dinner. BRAVO! This is EXACTLY what most restaurants should be doing, and has been the subject of numerous debates and discussions among the journo/blogger community - my most recent discussion on this topic was with the big boss Harlan G.
Restaurants are almost never fully ready when they first open, therefore it's neither fair for them to charge their customers full price, nor is it fair for people to review or judge the restaurants based on their performance during the initial period. Charging half price during the soft opening period is therefore the fairest arrangement. But I digress...
I think we mostly picked pretty classic dishes tonight, and in reality I would have liked to have the opportunity to taste the more interesting and creative options. Having said that, all the dishes came out as pretty solid and were certainly enjoyable. And the slight mishap of the overcooked beef is easily forgiven considering the 50% discount on food (full service charge was still levied). Next time I'll be going for more of the French and Italian offerings on the menu.
The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here. (requires subscription)
Tonight was a real exciting evening for us, as we were paying our first visit to a brand-new restaurant during its very short soft-opening period. It's no secret that David Lai from On Lot 10 is my favorite chef in town, and we've become friends over the last few years. So when his long-awaited new project was finally ready to receive customers, we waited no time in getting ourselves a table.
Much like the other restaurant I visited last week during their soft-opening period, Neighborhood also charges only 50% of normal food prices during its very short soft-opening. It's a practice we whole-heartedly agree with, and we can only hope that it's adopted by more restos in town in the future.
The Worm Supplier had scoped out the menu, and it was already decided that we would "sweep the menu (掃餐牌)" - the local expression of ordering every single item on a menu (or a page of the menu). Given that there were at least 6 of us and only about 20 dishes on the entire menu, this wasn't really a challenge. And we called ahead to let the restaurant know that we would be ordering every single dish, so that we wouldn't be faced with the unpleasant surprise of having them run out of something. Unfortunately, there was still one item on the menu which wasn't available...
So here goes...
This wasn't a drinking crowd, so I only brought along two bottles of easy-drinking wine...
A pretty happy evening. One never expects to like every single dish on a restaurant's menu, but there were clearly no "FAIL"s tonight and the hit rate was pretty high. As the menu is meant to change monthly, I look forward to coming back for casual meals. Maybe I'll even drop by for a quick lunch...
So... almost exactly a year after my last rant about food blogger(s), here I am writing another rant piece. And this time I'm naming names. Last year I made vague references to a certain person I called scumbag 人渣 because I find his behavior reprehensible. You would have thought he'd learned his lesson, but no, apparently Daniel Ho - who is the "super-duper mega popular 超級宇宙無敵人氣 blogger" behind siuyeahdragon 為食龍少爺 - has done it again. So now the gloves come off, and FLAME mode is ON!! (apologies for using this near-obsolete internet speak... it's what we used when I first got on the internet before the so-called World Wide Web even existed...)
Lemme backtrack to more than a year ago. In June 2013, Scumbag had lunch at Amber - with two Michelin stars and currently ranked No. 24 on San Pellegrino's The World's 50 Best Restaurants - for the first time. At the end of his meal, he realized that the staff had neglected to bring him the customary mignardises - the little nibbles like chocolates, mini macarons and the like. He apparently got upset, called the staff over, and demanded that they bring him his mignardises... all the while threatening them with something like "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! I HAVE A FOOD BLOG AND I WILL WRITE YOU UP!!" The staff at Amber - who are naturally savvy and wishing to avoid any bad PR - apologized, offered to pack said mignardises, presented a box of macarons instead and offered a 10% discount on the next meal.
I know this was what happened, not because I was there myself or I had heard it from someone at Amber, but because this Scumbag had written about this on his blog. Not only did he have the gall to pull a stupid, immature stunt like that, but he had the gall to brag about it on his blog! Oh BTW if you try to look for it now, he has since covered up his tracks and deleted the part about "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" from that particular blog entry.
But a number of us saw it and we remember that it happened. It prompted I Love Lubutin to write her last published blog entry, and it's one of the main reasons behind my post last year. I wanted it on the record that Scumbag is not like the rest of us. Most of us have the good sense not to pull stunts like that.
So now, a year later, something similar happened. Only this time it got more serious and the police got involved. This afternoon there was a flurry of activity on some Facebook pages. The following is a summary I put together after reading several posts and numerous replies on different pages, coming from both sides.
Apparently Scumbag had gone to Giando with a few people to celebrate a birthday. The restaurant offered free-flow Prosecco for a two-hour period. Nearing (or over, depending on who you ask) the end of said period, a request for an additional glass was turned down - whether politely or not I don't know. Scumbag and his friends then proceeded to have a fit, refused to pay their bill, and somewhere along the line that old familiar phrase of "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! I AM A BLOGGER AND I WILL MAKE YOUR ESTABLISHMENT FAIL!" came out. Scumbag even allegedly threw the name of his employer around - as if that had anything to do with anything! BTW I hear he works for HSBC... for now.
So what happens when you have customers who refuse to pay their bills, appear to be drunk and disorderly, throw a fit and insult your staff? You call the police, naturally. Any restaurant owner/manager would do that when people are thinking of having 霸王餐 - refusing to pay after eating. Eventually the restaurant did charge someone's credit card for the bill, and the police didn't take anyone into custody... although I really wished they had.
Lemme point out a few things here:
First of all, don't ever over-estimate your own importance. If people don't recognize you by sight, that means YOU ARE A NOBODY. Unless your name is Barack Obama, Beyoncé, Tom Cruise...etc. you wield a lot less influence than you think you do. NOBODY GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT YOU WRITE ON YOUR BLOG. If people really cared about what you think, you'd be raking it in like Martha-fucking-Stewart with millions (of US Dollars, not HK Dollars) sitting in your bank account, and you wouldn't be working your menial job at HSBC.
Second, never throw the name of your employer around. This has NOTHING to do with your work, and it's really poor form to pretend that you are somebody from HSBC. In some of the financial institutions that I've worked for over the years, pulling a stunt like that will at least get you reprimanded or worse - get you fired. Your employer doesn't appreciate their name being used as leverage in something that is purely personal, especially when it involves negative PR and the police.
Third, stop being such a fucking cheapskate. First you threw a hissy fit over some MIGNARDISES that staff at Amber forgot to serve you... Yes, it was a mistake they shouldn't have made, but doing all that over some bite-sized petit fours?! If they had skipped a starter or main course and still charged you for it, I could at least understand that... but over something they throw in FOR FREE?! Now you get upset at Giando over not having an extra glass of PROSECCO?! If it were a glass or a bottle of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay I'd be pretty upset myself, but PROSECCO that's used to serve as "free-flow"?! Dude, if you're gonna do something like this, at least do it in style, man!
But I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you throw fits over little things like this, because I'm friends with some people who used to work with you, and they all don't wanna hang out with you no mo' because of how cheap you are... and your attitude of thinking that you're such a stud, such a media darling and that you know it all, when they all can see that you don't know jack shit...
Hey all you media and PR types out there, take a good look at this guy. This is the kind of so-called "super-duper mega popular 超級宇宙無敵人氣 blogger" that y'all keep wanting to invite to your clients' restaurants for those freebie tastings. For the few of you who've been sending me invitations and wondering why I've been ignoring you and turning you down, here is the reason why. It's because I don't wanna sit at the same table as guys like Daniel Ho. I don't even wanna be within a 100 feet of him. The people I choose to hang around in my free time have class, and he ain't got none.
A friend is entertaining a group of Taiwanese foodies, and my services were once again called upon to ensure that a good time was had by all. Would it surprise anyone that my go-to restaurant for such an occasion turned out to be On Lot 10? I think not... We chose not to book out the entire section upstairs, and as it turned out there was another party of equal size sharing the space. I was initially a little apprehensive, knowing how loud a group of 12 can get after a little alcohol. Guess what? The youngsters at the next table weren't exactly quiet, either...
After a little wine tasting at a friendly wine merchant in Central, the gang casually strolled over to the restaurant, almost a full hour before we were expected. The kitchen probably had to scramble a little to come up with some food while we started sipping on bubbly... As usual I discussed the menu with David but made only one request for the beef. Everything else was carte blanche per SOP...
my very first visit.
From here on the heavy hitters arrived one by one...
Besides the layer of pasta which had absorbed all the incredible flavors - and parts of which had also formed a crust like the socarrat or rice crispies - there was plenty of chorizo, pimentos, onions...etc. You also had buchot mussels and those amazing Palamós prawns. The prawn heads were still incredible and I wasted no time in sucking out whatever I could, but the real beauty lie in the fact that the tails were done mi-cuit! Incroyable!
Most of us were so full - and left staring at the amount of leftovers - that we didn't want any dessert. Some people did ask for some... and got the usual tarte citron and tarte Bourdaloue.
Given that the gang had already tasted 2 bottles of wine earlier, we ended up opening only four magnums tonight...
It's been a while since I last had a meal with the Tiggers, and tonight was an opportunity to catch up with them. I can't remember the last time I was at Wan Wah (文華廳) for dinner, but it was kinda nice to try out different dishes than what I'd been having at lunch on the weekends.
the rib I had at Ho Lee Fook. Unfortunately, this was overcooked and dry. It also wasn't as tasty in terms of flavors. Pretty disappointing.
Perhaps thanks to the traffic arrangements resulting from the Occupy movement, we were pretty much the only locals dining here tonight - every other table looked like hotel guests unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine. I hope they enjoyed the food like we did. Finally, many thanks to Babu for the treat tonight.
Last week Harlan G posted a picture on Facebook, reminding people that as the weather gets cooler, it might be a good idea to keep warm with a bowl of his wild boar ragout pasta. Well, it's been a while since my last bowl, so I quickly called up Gold by Harlan Goldstein and got myself a reservation. I also grabbed a couple of the Alcoholics along, since they are my usual partners in crime when it comes to this joint.
While the ladies seemed hungry and dug into some focaccia and their crab cake, I sat silently while they indulged... preferring to save my stomach space exclusively for the dish that I had come for.
No, I don't come back nearly often enough for this. I think I need to venture out for lunch a little more...
The original plan for today was to putz around at home until after lunch, then make my way to the island side for a kiddie birthday party followed by dinner. As a result of an invitation to Kwun Tong, I decided to make it a real excursion and ended up making 3 stops around this area that's normally off my map...
I dragged my ass out of bed to catch the early show of McDull: Me and My Mum (麥兜 我和我媽媽). I've always loved McMug (麥嘜) and McDull (麥兜) ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago - yes, I love juvenile, "low B (低B)" humor - but I've kinda missed out on the movies that came after the first two. So I went to Kwun Tong to watch this early show before it disappeared off the screens.
I gotta say that I wasn't expecting tears to roll down my cheeks while watching animation... although I suppose there were moments while watching My Life as McDull (麥兜故事) when my eyes were a little moist. This movie focused on McDull's relationship with his mother, and showed a mother's unwavering and unconditional love for her son. As someone who has always had a close relationship with his mom - although not always fully appreciative of her love and sacrifices - this certainly touched a nerve with me. Yes, I love my mom. And I think they should have timed the release with Mother's Day...
After walking around exploring the mall to kill time, I strolled over to meet a friend for lunch at MIC Kitchen. The first (and only) time I came was about a year and a half ago at the restaurant's invitation, and I enjoyed both the food as well as our conversations with Alvin Leung. Since that visit the restaurant has gotten themselves a macaron, and was also forced to change its name... apparently due to a certain global fast-food chain I no longer patronize since I'm no longer "lovin' it". I took this opportunity to do an update visit on my own dime - after turning down yet another kind invitation from the restaurant a few weeks ago.
Alvin likes to serve a dip involving local flavors with his bread. I didn't quite catch what our waiter was saying, but for some reason the dip reminded me of preserved leafy mustard (梅菜). I found myself unable to stop scooping more of it onto the warm bread.
The arrival of our main courses also brought with them a couple of issues I had with the service. My friend and I ordered essentially the same dish but with different types of prawns. Our waiter came over with the two bowls and set them down without checking with us which one of us was having which dish, then simply walked away. Unfortunately, he got it wrong. I think the manager noticed the look of incredulity on my face, and quickly corrected the waiter's mistake.
With our pastas, we were also brought a little pot of "har mi" (蝦米) oil which we could pour onto the noodles. Naturally I poured a good amount as I know how yummy this is, and I wanted to make sure the noodles were well-coated. The bartender must have seen me indulging greedily, because he came over and "cautioned" us not to pour too much, "because it was oil, after all"... Mmmm... thank you for your concern regarding my health, as I no doubt look like a fat tub of goo in your eyes. Or was it perhaps because I had used up more of this precious oil than what you would like to allocate to your average customer?
With our bellies full, we strolled over a few blocks to attend the opening party of my friend KC's kitchen studio 名廚教室 by Fancook. I have a lot of respect for KC, who has transformed himself from a part-time blogger and banquet organizer to a full-time professional food critic and much, much more. He and his people have managed to build a brand around themselves, culminating in this kitchen studio which has enlisted the sponsorship of global brands.
The hospitable KC offered us drinks, but instead of Champagne or wine, I asked if he had any Prosecco... After digging around the various fridges, he did manage to scrounge up a bottle to quench my thirst...
KC's pretty well-connected with the local F and B community, so it wasn't surprising to see a number of chefs from starred restaurants come and join the festivities. There were a few I didn't recognize, but the ones I could pick out from the star-studded lineup included Joe Chan from Sun Tung Lok, Leung Fai Hung from Hoi King Heen (海景軒), and Cheng Kam-fu from Celebrity Cuisine (名人坊).
With that last piece of suckling pig, my excursion to Kwun Tong came to an end. I bid farewell to KC and headed to Stanley Beach on the island for a kiddie birthday party. But before I left, KC remembered that he had promised me a copy of his Singapore dining guide 新加坡美食天書. Many thanks for this precious gift, and I look forward to visiting the studio for some good meals!
A few weeks ago I received an email from a group of friends, trying to fix a date for our next gathering. After a round of discussions, it was decided that we would go for some Chinese food. I suggested we try the private entertainment facility next to my office - IF I could manage to book it.
When I called the number for reservations, the lady at the other end of the line asked me whether I had ever been there - as they are not open to "public". When I told her that I had been there at the invitation of the organizer of my first dinner - and specifically mentioned the date - it was apparent to me that she checked the booking history to verify my claims. After she was satisfied that I was kosher, only then was I allowed to make a booking.
A few days ago, I received a copy of the menu from the chef. I was happy to the point of giddiness. Listed among the other items was the snake soup that I had been longing to try - especially given the pedigree of the chef. There was also the mountain turtle which I didn't get to have at the last two dinners, plus a host of other stuff. When My Favorite Cousin saw the menu, her response was simply: "reptile night is it?"
...and not only met, but exceeded. I don't remember much about the snake soup I had in the private room at Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒)in IFC, which was supposedly cooked by Chef Lee Yuk-lam himself, but this could very well be the best snake soup I have ever eaten in my life. It certainly blows Tim's Kitchen out of the water with ease. First of all, there were actually five different types of snakes used - but don't ask me to name them all... All the ingredients were shredded to such a fine degree. Unlike at Tim's Kitchen the seasoning here was nicely balanced, which allowed the delicate flavors of all the ingredients to come through - including the aged tangerine peel.
Yes, I had a second bowl. And took away a third bowl for another day.
I saw a smile come across on I Love Lubutin's face - a rare occurrence at Chinese meals. We also had someone break down and have the first mouthful of carbs in several weeks - who then proceeded to have seconds (and thirds)... Before the dish arrived, I was confident that there would have enough leftovers for someone to take home. There was none left, at least not after I Love Lubutin cleaned off both the spoon and the plate...
We didn't do too much coordination in terms of wine tonight, and despite our best efforts, we consumed less alcohol than I had hoped...
So here I am. Again. At what I nowadays refer to as My Favorite Restaurant. Yes, boys and girls... I'm back at On Lot 10 for another dinner. Afu was coming into town for a few days, and demanded that I take him here. I took the opportunity to introduce him to the Great One and invited her along. I was also originally supposed to dine with Mr. Ho tonight at a venue I haven't tried before, and since it's always better to have one more mouth at the table - and he originally wanted to come to On Lot 10, anyway - I roped him in so that we could be a table of four. Now we have the bare minimum number of mouths to feed properly...
As usual I only pre-ordered two ingredients with David and left the rest up to him. Upon hearing the series of dishes he had in store for us after my arrival, I tried in vain to convince him to cut down on the amount of food - knowing the beef at the end will deliver the knock-out punch. Initially he agreed to send us fewer starters, but in the end I think he didn't listen to me at all, which was just typical...
Lucullus. The leeks were nice, and there was plenty of black pepper. The tongue was slightly on the salty side, though.
David wanted to serve us a bird that was prepared differently, and this way one could have an easier time tasting the true flavors of the bird itself. The poached foie was perfect - so tender and fluffy that I'd almost call it mi-cuit... The soup definitely had a lot of different spices... I wanted to say "five spice" but I don't think it was. The surprise was black pepper, which none of us felt was necessary and kinda threw the delicate balance a little out of whack.
IUCN Red List... But thankfully it's only the collar and not the entire head like last time!
I know how much Mr. Ho loooves fish collars... going back to the old days when we used to visit San San Trois together. There was plenty of chewy collagen here in addition to the meat. And the usual caper sauce once again provided the acidity necessary to balance it all. And those potatoes!
We were definitely too full to have cheese or dessert, and this time I put my foot down and told the staff not to send us any.
There was, of course, wine... but we took it easy tonight.
Kikuhime Kukurihime from isshobin (菊姫 菊理姫 一升瓶) - yup, I made my friends drink the leftovers from 3 nights ago... Initially the sake tasted kinda flat on the palate, but it gradually got better with aeration, and even went from smooth and sweet (甘口) to being more dry (辛口). Still drinkable, and actually I prefer it less dry.
Like my fellow blogger Gary, I will preface this post by saying out loud (for the hundredth time) that I've never been a fan of Dining Concepts' restaurants. I've been to a handful of their numerous outlets over the years, and so far I have had the overwhelming urge to go back to... just about none of them. It's not that they serve bad food, but mediocrity runs through their veins, and there's no pull factor for return visits.
Then came a string of so-called 'celebrity chef' outlets - which started years ago with Olive - probably the lone outlet of the group I have fond memories of. Then it was Michael White's Brainless Al Molo followed by Mario Batali's widely-panned Lupa and the now-defunct Carnevino. The latest gweilo big name to plant his flag in these territories is Gordon Ramsay, who opened the doors to Bread Street Kitchen a few weeks ago. All of these guys inexplicably chose Dining Concepts as their partner. Why? Well, I'm told that when posed with the question, Mario Batali said something along the lines of "Because my good friend Michael White told me to." Orz x10...
Anyway, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked about my experiences with the two new "celebrity chef restaurants" which opened up recently (the other one being Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian), and my standard response has been that I have little or no desire to pay either a visit. I wasn't about to pay out of my own pocket to go there, and since the restaurants themselves would never have invited me (and I probably would have turned down those invitations anyway), I was pretty much destined to not dine at either...
...until I was asked to join a review of Bread Street Kitchen. Being slightly higher-end than the other - and with slightly better feedback from the community - I decided to join a small roundtable for lunch.
The organizer was unable to book by phone, so some of us arrived early and got seated in the bar area. We wanted to sit at a high table for four instead of at the big communal table that seats about ten, but the request was turned down. Later on another group of four came in, and while they were initially seated at the other end of our communal table, they were soon relocated to the table which we had requested to sit at. So... did we not look respectable enough?! Anyway, we ordered up a storm to share...
First came our starters:
The mains arrived together:
I was getting pretty full after the shepherd's pie, but we couldn't exactly leave without reviewing the desserts! Turns out that was the best decision we made all day, as the desserts were all pretty good.
We were very, very stuffed at the end of the meal. There was just a chunk of stuff sitting in my stomach, and it would be there until well into dinner time...
Lunch today was OK. There were only two obvious fails - although both were mains - and there were even a couple of highlights. But when the desserts clearly outshine the savories at a restaurant, you kinda do have to wonder...
Last week I had a conversation with a chef who felt that Gary was being a little unfair in saying that diners here were paying a premium for ordinary gastropub food. Having tasted the food myself, I now feel somewhat qualified to add my own comment on this. Yes, I do think the food was pretty ordinary, although that wasn't any different from my expectations before the meal.
Were we paying a premium? Divided evenly, each of us had the equivalent of a 3-course lunch, and our cost was about HKD 430 or so per head, inclusive of service charge. Not ridiculously expensive, but not cheap by any means. Could we have done better elsewhere in town? Well, the cheapest set lunch L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon offers costs HKD 478 before the 10% service charge. But you also get an amuse bouche at the beginning and mignardises at the end, plus a cup of coffee or tea. So when you take all of that into account, suddenly Robuchon doesn't look expensive compared to Gordon Ramsay's gastropub anymore. And whose food do you think I'd rather be eating on any given day? Oncle Joël, of course! Do I choose fine dining or gastropub for the same price? That's a no-brainer.
Thanks to the celebrity hype, Bread Street Kitchen is booked flat out for weeks to come, and no doubt it will do brisk business like many other Dining Concepts outlets. You just won't find me at one of its tables, because there's precious little there that will draw me back.
Butcher's Club Burger has generated a lot of buzz in the months since its opening, with its staple of dry-aged beef burgers along with a bunch of off-menu items on their "Secret Menu". It's also been running a series of "Burger Takeover" offerings where different chefs around town come in and do their special versions of burgers for a limited time. I liked the burger (actually, half a burger) I had the only time I went, and even though I was mostly drunk at the time, I remember being impressed. Unfortunately all I've heard since then was that the lines are simply too long at regular meal times, so I never went back for another bite.
A few days ago I found out that the latest Burger Takeover features a burger put together by Gregoire Michaud, who also put together some very sinful looking bacon profiteroles that I saw pictures of. After a few of my friends went and provided positive feedback, I figured it was time to make the trek and grab one for myself.
So it's Friday night, OF COURSE there was gonna be a hungry crowd! This would have been a good time to pull out that Food Writer Card and skip the line, but alas, I don't have one... So I dutifully walked up to the cashier and tried to place my order.
Me: I'd like to take the special burger.
Marcin at the cashier: Which one?
Me: Well, the new one from Gregoire. I can't remember the name off the top of my head.
Marcin: Well, I can't give it to you unless you can tell me the name. That's how it works around here...
Me: Oh come on! Don't make me look it up on Facebook! *takes out phone and starts looking for the name*
I was getting a little annoyed at having to play this little game, but eventually Marcin relents and let me order without telling him that I wanted the Hamburguesa. I also get a can of root beer and retreat to a corner and wait for the number to be called.
A couple of minutes later, Marcin calls me over and gives me the bad news. They've run out of Manchego for the burger. The chef comes over and asks me what I'd like for him to do. They can substitute plain old cheddar and still serve me the burger, although it wouldn't taste exactly the way Gregoire intended; or they could offer me a different burger. Well, the reason I trekked all the way here was for Gregoire's Hamburguesa, so I decided to stick with it despite the cheese substitution. I'm a little more annoyed than I had been while ordering, but shit happens and I've already paid for the burger. I didn't want to leave on an empty stomach and come back another day.
As I sat at the very end of the counter by myself and waited for my burger, Marcin comes over again to check my order number. He then opens up the cashier, takes out some cash and puts it down in front of me. He said he felt bad that I couldn't get the burger exactly as it should be, so he was offering a 50% refund (including the drink). I thanked him and told him that it wasn't necessary, since it was "just a piece of cheese", but he insisted.
So in a matter of seconds, all the annoyances I had felt in the last few minutes just magically disappeared. Poof! Thanks to this kind of good service - where restaurants offer a little discount as a gesture of goodwill towards a customer who may or may not feel slighted - I was now perfectly happy with my situation. While HKD 210 for a burger and a can of soda felt like a (perhaps justified) premium, having it at HKD 105 was without a doubt a real bargain!
So I guess happiness CAN indeed be bought... and in my case for a mere HKD 105.
That was a very good burger, and at half price, it was an immensely satisfying burger.
Halfway through chomping, Marcin came over and wanted to offer me some Bourbon, as he said something about "hate to see you sit there and drink alone"... (I was drinking my root beer from a can, by the way) I must have looked fucking pitiful... sitting alone in a corner on a Friday night, with nary a friend in sight. That was a very friendly gesture, and while I very much appreciate this I turned him down. Happiness level went up again, and this time I didn't even take anything.
This was a pretty quick in-and-out for me, and on my way out Marcin told me to come back the next time I felt like drinking some Bourbon with him.
I strolled down the street and headed for the subway station, but stopped at an outlet of Cali-Mex I hadn't seen before. I wasn't interested in anything savory, but glancing at the menu I noticed that they have churros. Now THAT is something I haven't had in a while... so I ordered one up.