Articles on this Page
- 03/13/15--08:35: _NuRmami
- 03/12/15--08:35: _Flavors of Niigata
- 03/16/15--07:10: _Chef Talks: sustain...
- 03/19/15--08:08: _Neighborhood madam
- 03/22/15--08:29: _The end of a chapter
- 03/24/15--08:08: _100-point Porn
- 03/25/15--03:48: _Speedy goose
- 03/26/15--08:36: _Repetition at the s...
- 03/28/15--07:15: _Earth Hour 2015
- 03/29/15--08:10: _Bolshoi in Hong Kong
- 04/03/15--02:22: _A very Good Friday
- 04/07/15--07:31: _Pasta dinner
- 04/08/15--08:14: _Out in the 'hood
- 04/10/15--08:30: _Que pasa
- 04/13/15--08:32: _Where everybody kno...
- 04/09/15--07:44: _Deep-fried nobodies
- 04/16/15--06:27: _Casual Filipino eats
- 04/17/15--08:31: _Friday night excurs...
- 04/22/15--00:43: _No fork day, part 1...
- 04/22/15--08:46: _No fork day, part 2...
- 03/13/15--08:35: NuRmami
- 03/12/15--08:35: Flavors of Niigata
- 03/16/15--07:10: Chef Talks: sustainable consumption
- 03/19/15--08:08: Neighborhood madam
- 03/22/15--08:29: The end of a chapter
- 03/24/15--08:08: 100-point Porn
- 03/25/15--03:48: Speedy goose
- 03/26/15--08:36: Repetition at the speakeasy
- 03/28/15--07:15: Earth Hour 2015
- 03/29/15--08:10: Bolshoi in Hong Kong
- 04/03/15--02:22: A very Good Friday
- 04/07/15--07:31: Pasta dinner
- 04/08/15--08:14: Out in the 'hood
- 04/10/15--08:30: Que pasa
- 04/13/15--08:32: Where everybody knows your name
- 04/09/15--07:44: Deep-fried nobodies
- 04/16/15--06:27: Casual Filipino eats
- 04/17/15--08:31: Friday night excursion to Macau
- 04/22/15--00:43: No fork day, part 1: 2-star lunch
- 04/22/15--08:46: No fork day, part 2: 1-star dinner
NUR was always a restaurant I would have loved to trash for a number of reasons. First, the PR machine made a big deal out of Chef Nurdin Topham's time at Noma - where he staged briefly, then spent a few months interning at the Nordic Food Lab. I used to say that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli", and nowadays that phrase is certainly applicable to Noma. I'm not saying that Chef Topham's experience at Noma and the Nordic Food Lab wasn't revelatory or had influenced his cooking, but the guy spent a decade with Raymond Blanc, and nobody seemed to be interested in that piece of info. That's perhaps understandable, I guess... because how many restaurant PRs in this town actually know who Raymond Blanc is?
The second reason there was an open invitation to trashing was the PR spin about the restaurant's stated policy of sourcing ingredients locally - getting on the "local farm-to-table" bandwagon. Now, I'm not pooh-poohing the movement. I do support it and feel that it is best to eat things sourced locally - both from a freshness point of view and also from a carbon footprint angle. But I was browsing through pages in blogosphere, and everywhere I looked there were things like Irish salmon, Gillardeau oysters, Stockyard wagyu, Taiyouran egg... etc. So what, exactly, were being sourced locally, other than the few herbs and veg?! Was this yet another case of PR spinning a story and hyping it up?!
Whatever the case, I ignored most of the reports coming out from the initial flood of invitational meals and decided to stay away. Over time, though, more friends whose opinions I trust delivered positive feedback. Then Rubberman decided to give these guys a macaron at the end of last year, and that finally piqued my interest.
So when I Love Lubutin asked whether I had any interest in checking out the place, I didn't hesitate to say yes. She promptly called the restaurant for a booking, only to receive a confirmation e-mail that started by saying "Dear Mr. XXX"... We both lamented that in the 21st century, there are still plenty of restaurants in this town where the staff assumes that a woman calling to make a reservation must be a secretary calling for her male boss. It wasn't the first time, and it ain't gonna be the last...
I arrived at the restaurant first, and immediately the staff assumed I was said Mr. XXX... I, of course, couldn't be bothered to correct them. It is what it is...
The restaurant only offers a single tasting menu, so after confirming to the staff that I had no allergies or preferences, there wasn't much to do except wait for the food to arrive.
Beetroot taco - with beetroot chutney and watercress emulsion. Sweeter than expected.
Dehydrated candied carrots - with carrot powder on the side, along with cumin powder on sour cream.
Melon with pickled cucumber - paprika on top.
Rice crisps with homemade ricotta, fennel and dill - the ricotta was very nice.
Barley bread with pickled cordyceps - with thin wafers of mushroom stems.
But I did have to endure the next 30 minutes of listening to I Love Lubutin talk about going into the kitchen to
The two of us walked out of NUR with smiles of our faces, appetites which had been satiated, yet without the feeling that we've completely stuffed ourselves - which was really nice for a change. Other than the final dessert - which disappointed on texture but not on flavors - I was happy with just about everything else I had tonight. And there were quite a few highlights - including the tomato, scallop/peas, both the protein main courses, and the apple dessert. Hit rate was pretty high tonight. And the high number of dishes delivering umami did not go unnoticed.
But the burning question remained: how well is the restaurant doing in terms of using local ingredients? Well, I guess we can assume that many of the vegetables and herbs are sourced locally. That's much easier to achieve. We still had Hokkaido scallops and Taiyouran eggs from Japan. It's much easier to source seafood locally, and I wondered about the squid and mackerel. For meat is would be really tough, unless we're talking about poultry or game birds like pigeon. Let's see how this progresses as time goes on.
One final thought: since everyone talks about Chef Nurdin's history with Noma, we might as well make a comparison between my dinner tonight and my dinner at Noma Tokyo. While Noma Tokyo was a spectacular dinner in terms of creativity, I have to say that I enjoyed my dinner tonight a lot more. While there were a couple of cold or tepid dishes tonight, and there was acidity in many of the dishes, the majority of the dishes were at least warm. That helps to keep my stomach happy, while the combination of cold food plus acidity resulted in an unsettled stomach for me in Tokyo. So I guess this is just a lot more up my alley... for a guy with simple tastes who just prefers hot food.
The latest victim I chose to
skewer review for the South China Morning Post this month was Ebi-no-Hige (海老の髭) - the first Hong Kong outpost of a hospitality group from Niigata (新潟). The izakaya features a good selection of dishes that includes regional specialties, which both No Fish and I found interesting, so we picked this place over a couple of others.
The set menus didn't look too interesting as they didn't feature much in the way of Niigata specialties, so I decided to order à la carte instead.
Our server came and plopped the appetizer onto the table and left without any word or explanation. I guess this is what we should expect from izakayas... or is it? As it turns out, this was pretty much the case throughout the entire dinner - just about every dish came without any introductions. I guess since I had ordered every single dish off the menu myself, the staff figured that was no need to point out the obvious...
From here on the food arrived in rapid succession... and I think we got the next 5 dishes in the span of 15-20 minutes - thereby hitting one of my biggest pet peeves. Sigh...
We turned down the offer of green tea ice cream, as we had other plans for dessert. When I asked for the bill, it turns out there is an automatic charge of HKD 50 per head for the appetizer and dessert. I guess this is kinda like how some Korean restaurants automatically charge you for banchan (반찬)...
I gotta say that I found almost all the food to be very solid and enjoyable. This ain't fine dining - it's just simple izakaya food designed to go with... you guessed it... sake and other types of alcohol. Most of the service staff could use a good deal more of training, but that's what you get when you visit a restaurant in the first weeks of its operation... at least in Hong Kong.
Speaking of sake, I was a little surprised to find No Fish in a drinking mood. I must have been stingy on alcohol at our last few meals together. Anyway, she herself was surprised that I didn't pooh-pooh her choice of sake as being "too feminine"...
I had an evil plan of getting us some ice cream after dinner, since we were just 2 blocks away from Lab Made Café. I had vaguely remembered seeing someone post an interesting and local Hong Kong flavor, and wanted to grab a scoop.
When we arrived, though, said flavor was nowhere to be found. Instead, one of the usual four flavors on offer has been turned into a random lucky draw, with the staff serving one of four flavors which, supposedly, they don't even know the identity of. This was apparently in support of local social enterprise Dialogue in the Dark, whose mission is "to raise awareness and create tolerance for otherness in the general public" - including, obviously, people who are visually-impaired.
So No Fish and I each for a different flavor, and ate our first few spoonfuls with our eyes closed and trying to spoon the ice cream into our mouths without the benefit of sight...
A pretty fun evening out. I guess I should stop being a tightwad and start bringing out bottles of wine again for dinner...
Tonight I attended a talk at the Fringe Club organized by Slow Food Hong Kong. It's part of a whole series of talks featuring prominent chefs in town, and tonight there were two featured speakers - my good friend David Lai from Neighborhood (and formerly of On Lot 10), and Nurdin Topham from NUR. The two of them took turns talking about their experiences in Hong Kong, focusing on their use of sustainable produce.
Nurdin Topham is a relative newcomer to Hong Kong. He talked about how the 10 years he spent with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons have shaped him, especially the philosophy of using high quality, organic, sustainable produce. In the short period that he has been here, he spent a good deal of effort trying to make sure his ingredients are seasonal and come from local sources - as much as possible, anyway. This was something I pondered while dining at NUR for the first time just a few days ago. While proteins - especially meats - are hard to source locally, fruits and vegetables are a little easier... but even those can be challenging given the quality of sustainable and organic local produce.
David said his original motivation for visiting the markets was to get to know the amazing array of different species, and to gain an understanding of the "seasonality" of these species. He also felt that as Hong Kong began as a fishing village, it is important to cling on to that heritage and maintain ties to the seas surrounding us.
Over time he has managed to build good relationships with the vendors, as they see him as someone who really cares about his produce. This has enabled him to be shown certain catches that "normal" buyers don't see, or offered first dibs on some premium items that otherwise would be shipped off to the highest bidder in China. As long-time customers of On Lot 10, my friends and I have enjoyed the benefits of David's relationships on countless occasions.
The latter half of the session was devoted to addressing the topic of sustainability, and how our current consumption behavior is leading us down a disastrous path. A lot of the issues that we are objecting to now is the direct result of our over-consumption, and we have to accept the reality that unless we change our behavior, certain things are here to stay.
Industrial farming is certainly something that comes to mind. When I was young, my family and I certainly did not eat as much meat as we are doing now. For my parents' generation, they grew up during a time when meat was something that showed up on the table on special occasions. It wasn't that they were particularly poor, but the supply of meat was very limited and nobody was eating much. My mom told me that when you go to the butcher in those days, you didn't have the luxury of choice in terms of which cut of meat you got. A piece of meat was cut into different portions, and which cut you got depended on luck and your place in the line - as customer #3 got a specific part and customer #9 got something else.
So we are completely spoiled for choice today, thanks to our incessant demand - and the rise of industrial farming is a direct result of trying to meet that demand. Today we have no choice but to have battery farms for chicken, and raise cattle the way it is done... because to do so in the "more natural" way as the old days would leave a large gap between demand and supply. If we insist on consuming "organic", "natural" meat, I think we would need to cut our consumption, because there is simply no way to organically, humanely raise this much livestock and poultry.
David also talked about overfishing, which has led to ever-dwindling stocks of certain specifies of seafood. The inevitable outcome is the rise of aquaculture, as we will no longer be able to catch in the wild everything we wish to consume. For those of us concerned with what we put into our bodies, it is imperative that we look for sustainable sources. Since certain types of marine life will eat anything - including garbage - shouldn't it make sense that we care about who is farming them and what they're feeding the fish?
Each seat at the talk was provided with a pocket copy of World Wildlife Fund's Seafood Guide, which shows various type of fish - both wild caught and farmed - and whether they should be consumed. Of course, I've been looking at this over the last few years - and even have it on my smartphone - although, admittedly, I haven't always followed it to the T.
Someone from the audience asked about alternative proteins - like insects, for example. Of course there was a report published by the United Nations in 2013 on this topic... Since Nurdin had been tasked with looking for ways to deliver delicious insects to the table during his time at the Nordic Food Lab, he seemed to be in the perfect position to answer this question... And guess what? They failed. They just couldn't make insects taste delicious. So I guess that idea's out the window!
Instead of drastic solutions like eating insects, the chefs on stage actually had a very simple message. Consume less. We don't need to cut meat and fish completely from our diets, but if we each consumed just a little less of it on a daily basis, that would already have a significant impact.
I think that's a fantastic idea, and certainly something that each of us can do pretty easily.
I had the pleasure of entertaining someone special tonight. Big Sister Madam has been out of town for a while, and I felt pretty privileged when she agreed to let me take her out for dinner over a bottle of wine.
Our dinner reservation was a late one, so we met up at the Amber Bar for a drink. I was curious about their wine cocktails, and ended up ordering one using Stonier's Pinot Noir as a base while adding crème de cassis, crème de lychees, and orange. Not surprisingly this tasted very sweet, and with a few chunks of orange peel floating on top, this tasted a little like a very sweet sangria...
Having been responsible for introducing Big Sister to On Lot 10, it was no surprised that she requested to go to Neighborhood. It's actually been a while since I was last there, and I was ever so happy to show my friend David Lai some love!
We weren't in the mood for a feast, so we just picked up a couple of "simple" dishes that struck our fancy...
I initially offered a bribe of wine to get Big Sister out, and asked her what she wanted to drink. She was pretty specific in her requests, and since I just happened to have this lying around in the office...
It was so good to catch up with my friend and welcome her back to Hong Kong. Looking forward to sharing more wines...
At a dinner earlier this month, I received word that Chef Hideaki Sato was leaving Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), a restaurant much beloved by myself as well as the Tiggers. This came as a big shock to me, and I immediately checked with Chef Sato on his departure date. When I was told that he was due to leave at the end of the month, I quickly organized a last dinner with the Tiggers. It is, after all, their favorite Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong.
Tonight's menu read a little like a "greatest hits" collection, with a number of my favorite dishes sampled over the last 3 years. I was only too happy to be able to taste them again one last time...
The little quenelle of grapefruit sorbet on top was really incredibly refreshing, and worked well with the other ingredients.
For the first time that I can recall, the soup base wasn't made of ichiban dashi (一番出汁), but made with the other parts of tilefish like the bones... etc. This gives the soup a wonderful sweetness. A little bit of kuzuko (葛粉) was used to thicken the soup slightly, and some yuzu rind was used to impart the familiar fragrance. The Shogoin (聖護院) turnip and the leek were pretty nice, too.
An absolutely stunning meal. I couldn't be happier than I came tonight, but also a little apprehensive. What will the new menu look like after Chef Sato's departure? I'm sure Chef Seiji Yamatomo has chosen a worthy successor, and I look forward to checking out the style in the coming months.
But I also look forward to seeing Chef Sato and Takano-san at their new restaurant in Central. Simple, healthy French cooking with Japanese ingredients. お楽しみ！
Us MNSC boys are a
disorganized busy bunch, with a few of us being out of town on a regular weekly/monthly basis, so as the years have gone by, it has become increasingly difficult to pin everyone down for our dinners. After failing to agree on a date for our annual dinner - where all members would be present - for a whole three months, we delayed that gathering yet again and decided just to have the Ox host a regular tasting dinner tonight.
We also had a last minute change of venue, and ended up - to no one's surprise - at The
Porn Pawn. I was, of course, only too happy to check out the dishes now available this season.
The Ox was incredibly generous as usual, and served an amazing lineup of delicious wines we've all had before - and probably would never get tired of having.
First flight: opened 1 hour and 15 minutes before serving.
Second flight: decanted 2 hours and 45 minutes before serving.
Third flight: decanted 3 hours and 40 minutes before serving.
A quick dinner at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) before crossing the harbor for the Bolshoi Ballet, at the request of my friend.
We also ordered a plate of blanched choy sum (菜心) on the side. Gotta get your veg in! A plate of rice on the side makes the meal complete.
For the last 6 months, as I have been raving about the private dining facility that I have been privileged to be introduced to, more and more of my friends have been asking me to take them there. Since the place isn't really open to the public, I guess there really isn't an alternative for them... I am the only access since I'm considered "in". So I've been going back on a monthly basis, as friends who have already been request for repeat visits, and friends who have read my previous posts ask to try the delicious cuisine.
Yeah... I have a pretty tough life... This feels almost a little like On Lot 10, in a way that my friends always asked to go there with me, as they knew that our food would invariably be special and more interesting than if they went on their own.
Tonight the party was larger than usual. We had been doing dinners for 8 to 10 people, but in the last 2 days the ranks swelled to 13, which in a way helped bring down the cost slightly. As usual I asked for a couple of modifications to the chef's proposed menu.
A few of us were getting a little tired of having steamed ocean tongue sole (清蒸海方利), even though it's not easy to find them these days. So I asked the chef to suggest alternatives, and the choices were humpack grouper (老鼠斑), humphead wrasse (蘇眉), or Hong Kong grouper (紅斑). All three species of premium coral fish, which the Cantonese especially favor, are clearly in the "Avoid" category on the World Wildlife Fund's Seafood Guide. That makes for a difficult choice for someone who cares about sustainability, because there's gonna be guilt involved whichever one I ended up choosing. After researching online through the usual channels (i.e. Wikipedia) and double-checking with the actual IUCN Red List, I settled on the humpback group since it is only listed as "Vulnerable" instead of "Endangered" like the other two choices.
We didn't coordinate too much on the wines tonight, but I requested for people to bring whites since I myself was bringing a magnum of red...
This was a pretty good night, and I think my friends enjoyed themselves. However, I'm gonna have to have a lot more input in terms of the menu next time around... Even I am getting a little tired of having the same bunch of dishes repeatedly over the last 6 months!
It's that time of the year again, and for the seventh year I participated in Earth Hour. While I stayed away from Victoria Harbor last year and simply jogged under the stars, this year I decided to go back and watch the harbor go dark.
I wanted to make sure that I was out in the open before 8:30 p.m., and after a quick bite, Hello Kitty and I quickly left Harbour City and walked towards the harbor front. By the time we reached the water, most of the major commercial buildings on the Hong Kong side that I could see had gone dark.
The Agricultural Bank of China didn't get the memo last year, and its signage remained on throughout the entire event. I'm glad to see that they decided to participate this year.
Anyway, we kinda hung out and enjoyed the evening breeze for the next hour or so. Somewhere along the time, we did notice that the LEDs at the top of China Resources Building in Wanchai kinda came back pretty early... if they were turned off at all... At around 9:15 p.m. - 15 minutes before the end of Earth Hour, we started seeing a few commercial billboards light up in Causeway Bay. Sogo was the first among them.
Two years ago, I complained that when the lights started turning back on, I felt the Samsung LED sign was incredibly blinding. Tonight that honor goes to the LG sign, which seemed much brighter than its compatriot. The LED panel above CCB Tower was a close second.
I was really happy to see the people of Hong Kong participate in this very meaningful exercise, even if it is largely symbolic in terms of the actual energy saved. We really do need to work harder to conserve energy and help save our planet.
I'm lucky to have friends around me who love performing arts, and they always manage to take time out to book tickets for sought-after shows. Last year my friend Ninja booked tickets for us to go see Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's production of Iphigenia in Tauris. I was so, so grateful that she remembered how much I enjoy Pina Bausch's work... then I proceeded to do a complete fuckup when I got the showtime confused, and organized a weekend eating trip to Macau. Not only did I deprive myself of a great performance, I also ended up making Ninja go watch the show on her own.
This year Ninja and I kinda coordinated early, and she picked up tickets to a bunch of shows. Most interesting among them were the two shows by The Bolshoi Ballet. Yes, I can count the number of times I've seen ballet on one hand, and this would be the perfect opportunity to get more exposure.
As Ninja was supposed to be out of town for business on the day The Flames of Paris was showing, she very kindly ceded her ticket to me so that Hello Kitty could come see the show with me. We also ran into ILove Lubutin and the Great One at the performance...
Honestly, I wasn't a fan of this production. I know there was a story that was being told here, but I just didn't think ballet was the right medium for that story. From the very beginning of Scene 1 when the Marseillais appeared on stage, their movements just looked completely silly and laughable to me - and it kinda set the tone for the rest of the performance. The soldiers were practically crawling across the floor, which
Maybe I was suffering from food coma, or maybe I was just tired... but I actually fell asleep through the first half of Scene 2. I really tried to stay awake, but to no avail. I knew the soloist dancing the role of Mireille de Poitiers was doing a good job, but I saw too little of her performance.
I managed to wake up during intermission, and in any case the music for Act 2 was much more energetic, as was the dancing itself. Much more interesting, this second act, but the story also got a little gruesome. We ended with the guillotine, forchrissake...
A few days later, I finally got to watch the second show with Ninja. Jewels was much more up my alley. It didn't have a story to tell, but rather, it was simply choreographed by George Balanchine around three different musical pieces. To me, what this meant was that the focal point was squarely on the dance movements themselves, and I really paid attention to the purity and beauty of movement.
I took an immediate liking to Emerald. The costumes were beautiful and the elegant, graceful movements were perfect for the music. Nina Kaptsova turned in a beautiful performance, and I think this was my favorite part.
Ruby was set to Stravinsky, and much more upbeat and energetic. For some reason, a particular move towards the beginning brought to mind the last dance in the movie Center Stage, where Amanda Schull was also dressed in red and was dancing to Jamiroquai's Canned Heat. I liked this part, although I thought Ekaterina Shipulina was too stiff and her movement control wasn't precise enough. Anastasia Stashkevich put in a stunning performance.
When the curtain lifted to reveal Diamonds, the crowd let out a very audible collective sigh - presumably at the sight of a line of white tutus glistening with rhinestones. While Ekaterina Krysanova was good, she was deliberately slow in some parts, putting her out of sync with the corps de ballet. As Ninja complained after the show, the whole beauty of Diamonds is the impeccable synchronization of the movements. When your principal dancer chooses to set herself apart, the magic is destroyed.
We were surprised to run into my friend David Lai, a.k.a. The Man in the White Tee who, incidentally, "dressed up" in a sweater and wasn't actually in a white T-shirt... It was good to see him, especially outside of his restaurants!
It's the first day of the long weekend, and I had the privilege of being the "plus one" (and brought along a "plus two"...) of my friend as he hosted a winemaker over lunch. I had briefly met Etienne de Montille on our MNSC trip to Burgundy a few years ago, and was very happy to make his acquaintance again today. We were having dim sum at Seventh Son (家全七福) today, and having done a very poor coordination on wines with my generous host, I brought along a very casual bottle. It's a decision I would soon regret...
We ordered a round of dim sum and quickly went back to the wines on hand. This was definitely a mistake and I should have known better. Since this place is just like Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), it means that the kitchen will just send out every single dim sum item in the space of 5 minutes... and you'll end up with 10 plates in front of you that you can't finish without things getting cold. I had long ago learned to order dim sum in multiple rounds at Fook Lam Moon, but I was totally distracted today... So we had to send a couple of items back while I grumbled about this service issue.
The chicken, which was likely to have been raised locally due to the on-and-off ban on live chicken imports from mainland China, led to a discussion on sustainable/organic farming locally in Hong Kong. Our visitor could not fathom the Hong Kong government's lack of support for local farms, since it's something that the government of his country strongly supports. Well... we all know that the Hong Kong government only really cares about big business... and that means catering to the interests of real estate developers.
After we finished our wines, we had a little bit of dessert to finish off...
Well, we were lunching with a winemaker, so of course we were drinking... Guess who brought the cheapie bottle?
Many thanks to our host for a very enjoyable lunch, and I had a lot of fun engaging in discussion with Etienne. I hope to have the opportunity to see him again soon.
A friend and I were getting together for dinner over a bottle of wine, and as usual we were racking our brains trying to choose a venue. Wanting something simple, the choice eventually came to Gradini. This was pretty perfect for me because it's just literally across my office, so I ended up working a little before dinner.
The menu featured plenty of classic dishes, which was just fine with us. It's always good to gauge a kitchen by how well the classics are executed...
A very nice and enjoyable dinner. Nothing here was mind-blowing or on the cutting edge, but I thought the food was generally pretty solid and reasonable for the price. Given the dearth of choices in town when it comes to Italian cuisine, I think this is a place I can certainly come back to more often... especially given its location.
Hello Kitty felt that some flag-planting was long overdue, and decided that she would not let the opportunity slip by again. Since she has never been to any of Chef David Lai's restaurants, she requested that the ceremony take place at Neighborhood, because... who else would be in a better position to take her there?
We decided to sit at the bar tonight, as we wanted to sit next to each other instead of across. This also made it easy for us to talk to David, as he spent a good amount of time behind the bar
hanging out with to entertain us. We decided to take it easy on food tonight, as we really just wanted to hang out while casually munching on the simple dishes.
Many thanks to David for indulging us, for letting us sip from his Whisky collection, and for helping someone with the all-important flag-planting...
Following our last successful expedition to NUR, ILove Lubutin decided that she wanted to hit another restaurant with me. Neither of us have tried Quest by Que, although we've both heard good things about the place. As luck would have it, she knows Chef Que's wife... so it wasn't a problem for us to get a table.
Because the whole thing was frozen, the brownie at the bottom was a little too hard, and the marshmallow in the middle became a little too chewy. But that coffee ice cream was just incredible... I've never had another coffee ice cream with such an intense flavor of the roasted coffee beans. I normally prefer fruity and refreshing desserts, but I gotta give pretty high marks for this one.
After we were done with our food, Chef Que came over to say hello. He ended up hanging with us a little, and asked if we would mind being guinea pigs and try out a few bottles of wine he was thinking of adding to his wine list. What, me objecting to tasting wines? Hello? I did think, though, that the Cali pinot would have a better time standing up to the strong flavors of his food. And ILL did suggest to the Chef that he offer the bánh mi as lunch takeout...
So ILL and I had a second successful outing, as both of us were pleasantly surprised. From my one and only previous experience with Chef Que's food, I knew that he could take familiar Southeast Asian dishes and reinterpret them - in the same vein that Alvin does with Bo Innovation. While I found his food too salty at TBLS, I was happy with the level of seasoning tonight. I would be very curious to come back and see what else he can put together...
I was planning to work late and have a simple dinner on my own, when a friend pinged me. Was I busy tonight? No. She needed a pick-me-up. Could we go to David Lai's Neighborhood tonight? Well, I wasn't feeling particularly hungry, but I could certainly keep her company. I happened to be in touch with another friend who was already at Neighborhood, and we quickly arranged for me to take over her table after her time was up.
I wasn't the least bit hungry, thanks to the fact that about 2½ hours before sitting down to dinner, I decided to inhale a bag of incredibly delicious, recently-expired Calbee yuzukosho (柚子胡椒)-flavored potato chips. So from my perspective, ours was gonna be a low-revenue table for David...
David was amazed that I didn't want to drink anything (so was my ex-colleague at the next table)... but I really don't need to drink at every meal. After asking me several times, I finally relented. He very kindly sent us two shots of chartreuse, and told us to take the herbal solutions for medicinal purposes...
As my friend e_ting wrote just a few days ago, I wish Neighborhood really was my neighborhood joint. (Incidentally, e_ting and I really are neighbors...) I looked around and there were three familiar faces in the restaurant - besides, of course, David and Shirley who know me by name. So yeah, while it isn't exactly like Cheers for me, it's definitely got that neighborhood feel to it...
Another month, and another review for the South China Morning Post. Interestingly, when I received the list of suggested restaurants for me to check out, there was something from my hood. Since very few of the other restaurants looked interesting, and the chance of reviewing something else in my hood in the future is likely to be slim, I jumped on this rare opportunity. I also roped in my neighbor e_ting, who had just returned from a prolonged absence from our hood.
Jin Cuisine (晉薈) in the Holiday Inn Express Hong Kong Kowloon East (that's a real mouthful!) isn't exactly a new restaurant, but it qualifies for a new review as it changed from serving Shanghainese to Cantonese cuisine. So off we went!
Not wanting to monopolize things, I asked e_ting to share the ordering duties with me. Many of us tend to order very specific items when visiting restaurants for the first time, which we use as "litmus tests" to gauge whether a kitchen can deliver on the basics. I got to see what her tests were.
To be honest, this was better than I expected. While someone complained about the presentation, the execution was pretty decent. No, they didn't use hawthorn (山楂) for the sauce... it was still ketchup-based. But the batter was relatively thin, and stayed crunchy even after a long time. The pork was just fatty enough to be tender and juicy. All in all, not bad at all.
Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) and Fook Lam Moon (福臨門). Those versions had diced cubes of lotus root encased in minced pork patties.
So imagine my surprise when this showed up... Two thin layers of lotus root sandwiching a little bit of minced pork, battered and deep-fried. Very tasty, actually... because the lotus root was thin and therefore crunchy. We did think the batter had soaked up a little too much oil, though...
All in all, food was pretty decent and there were no fails. Price was reasonable, too, for a hotel restaurant - albeit some distance from city center. But the service left much to be desired...
Let's face it. We're nobodies, and we certainly don't expect to go to a restaurant we've never been to and get pampered by the staff. It wasn't surprising that the staff were fawning over the TV and movie star in the private room next door. It's also understandable that the staff would pay more attention to regular customers, but was it really necessary for four of them to greet the two regulars coming to sit at the neighboring table?
At the end of dinner, the question was raised whether anyone had poured tea for us during dinner. The reality was that other than coming to bring the 5 dishes and 1 bowl of rice that we ordered, we probably had two changes of plates - the second in preparation for dessert. Otherwise I don't think the staff paid any attention to us. Again, we don't expect special service or attention, but we did feel a little
Oh well, it's not like we would make this our regular hangout, anyway...
The more concise review written for the South China Morning Post's 48 Hours is here (may require subscription).
This morning my friend Susan Jung from the South China Morning Post put up a link to her review of Lab Eat, a new Filipino restaurant and bar. She had raved about the place a few days ago, telling us it was the best Filipino food she's ever had. Well, since I was looking for ideas on where to eat tonight in that general vicinity, I decided to go check it out for myself. Purely coincidentally, my dining companion knows one of the partners who invested in the restaurant.
Filipino cuisine is one that I am completely unfamiliar with. I haven't had the slightest urge to hit a Filipino restaurant in the last 20 years that I've been in Hong Kong, and my one and only trip to the islands was more than 25 years ago. So yeah, this would be a little eye-opener for me.
The fact that there were only two of us severely limited the number of dishes we could try, but I was really looking forward to this experience. Since neither of us know much of anything about Filipino cuisine, we both looked to our friends for suggestions - me picking dishes from Susan's review, and my dining companion from her Filipino friends.
We started with cocktails, and I ordered my current favorite - negroni. This was OK, but I've really been spoiled by the ONegroni that I get at On Dining Kitchen and Bar.
Not bad at all for a casual meal. Maybe Filipino cuisine isn't seen as one of Asia's more exciting offerings, hence the general low-level of awareness of the dishes. The fact that dishes had to be described to us using ceviche and tom yum as frames of reference underscores this point. But I liked what I had, and I only wish there were more mouths (and stomachs) around tonight so we could have tried more dishes.
For the longest time, the Great One has lamented about the fact that she has never eaten at The Eight - the Cantonese restaurant in the Grand Lisboa Hotel with three Michelin stars. Her routine for Macau usually consists of a very long lunch at Robuchon, after which she no longer has any stomach space for the dinner she always planned to have. So any other restaurant basically has zero chance of making it on her list...
Ever since my first visit there 4 years ago, I have been raving about this place... and I really do think it is the best Cantonese restaurant I have been to in the Hong Kong/Macau region. Apparently Fergie decided to check things out for himself a few months ago, and he's become a fan as well. So we finally decided organize an excursion to Macau tonight for the Great One's benefit since, as they say... when the Kat's away, the mice will play.
I rarely ever let establishment owners or chefs know in advance of my arrival - except for establishments in whom I have the utmost confidence. As this is the Lisboa and I will invariably order up a bottle or two in advance, I pinged the PR team at the Lisboa to ask for help. After consulting with Fergie, I put in an order for a few dishes, and asked them to fish out an old bottle of Riesling for me. I also told them about the crew I was bringing with me.
We were greeted upon arrival by the lovely Eugenia, as well as the hotel's Chinese FnB manager Kenneth - whose father, Lai Yau-tim (黎有甜), is the man behind Tim's Kitchen (桃花源). After introductions, they very politely left us alone in the privacy of the room they arranged for us.
And what a substitute! The giant crab claws were really fresh and sweet, while the steamed egg white custard was just full of the flavors of Chinese wine, and were mottled with tiny bits of finger. One of us (not naming any names here...) inhaled the crab claw so quickly we were left wondering if the kitchen had forgotten to put one on top of the custard...
The Great One promptly declared this to be her new favorite suckling pig, even better than the Kimberley Pig - whose standards had been slipping over the last couple of years.
As for me, I'm still kinda partial to the sticky rice stuffing from the Kimberley Pig, although there was no doubt the rice stuffing here - made with Cantonese sausage (臘腸) and liver sausage (潤腸) - was incredibly tasty. At one point I was reminded of the fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) we had at the private dining facility...
Fergie couldn't possibly go through a dinner like this without some wine, so we picked out a couple of bottles from the hotel's extensive cellar...
All of us - except for the Great One - were completely stuffed and could eat no more. This was clearly too much food for the four of us, yet there were so many other dishes on the extensive menu that the Great One wanted to try. I guess the only solution is to plan a return visit soon... And no, none of us could have eaten that bowl of Shanxi handmade noodles that we talked about at the Noodle and Congee Corner (粥麵莊) downstairs, after dinner... even if there were only a single strand of noodle in the bowl...
Many thanks for the hotel for the wonderful arrangements and service, and of course for those delicious, extra dishes.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from my friendly neighborhood prime broker, inviting me to a lunch session with a couple of their senior managers from head office. I gotta admit that the discussion topic wasn't exactly the most exciting, but what caught my eye was the word "Amber" in the subject line. Well, as I said in my reply, it's "very difficult to turn down Amber"... innit?!
After we all sat down and introduced ourselves, our guest speakers kicked off the discussion while our server began bringing the food in. First, of course, were the bread baskets to go with the butter that had already been laid out on the table.
Curiously, there was no cutlery on the table at all. It's true that a meal at Amber always starts with a number of nibbles - all of which are eaten with one's hands. But there were no bread knives on top of our bread plates... so I ended up spreading the butter by pressing my bread against the plate itself. A little surprising for such an establishment, but it's a minor slip-up.
The nibbles start coming in, but nobody moved a muscle. Not for a while, anyway... Eventually hunger gets the better of me, and I started grabbing them and shoveling them - discretely - into my waiting mouth.
Mushroom Puer tea, with cream and chives - pretty nice mushroom flavors.
Virgin Bloody Mary - very nice, with a spicy crust.
I immediately picked up the wonderful, smoky scent once the plate was laid down in front of me. My Nontron knife cut into this tender hunk of meat easily, and I was instantly in love. The meat was sooooo tender... and just incredibly tasty. I took my time savoring the taste, and was just about the last person to finish the main course...
A very delicious but heavy lunch. Many thanks, of course, to my friendly neighborhood prime broker for this treat. Burp.
Despite decent-but-no-magic last visit, I'm back at Akrame tonight with the Great One... at the kind invitation of Chef David Lai. Apparently Chef Akrame Benallal was back in town, and I was invited to join a small group for dinner. I figured that going with David couldn't hurt, and the food was bound to be better when Akrame himself was around.
Even though I'd seen my weight shoot up over the last week and secretly preferred the 6-course menu, I decided that I should just take 8 courses like everyone else. Based on past experience, I did not expect the leave the restaurant feeling stuffed. I would be right.
After taking out my camera, I put my bag on the floor against the wall. As the owner was in the house and she certainly remembers me, a stool was offered for my bag, but I politely declined.
As usual the meal started with a small selection of nibbles.
There is always wine when our hostess is around, and the restaurant very kindly arranged to waive the corkage for us this evening.
This was a pretty good dinner. We were certainly well-treated tonight, and a very friendly Chef Akrame came to explain each course. There were a few dishes which were very tasty, and certainly all of the dishes demonstrated the creativity of the chef. I was satiated but not stuffed, although we decided that supper with pizza or noodles was no longer viable at this point...
But a couple of us experienced a little sticker shock when the bill came. I should have remembered that when starred chefs from France visit their outposts in Asia, the menu is often "special" and there is a corresponding increase in price. I am sure some of the 40% premium charged tonight was reflected in the quality of the ingredients. But at HKD 2,000 a head for an 8-course dinner (for food only), they are putting themselves in the price range of Amber, Pierre, Caprice and the like.
And at that top price range, customers have expectations not just about the food but also ambiance, service... etc., which the three aforementioned restaurants are in better positions to provide given they have the resources of 5-star hotels. Near the start of the meal - perhaps just after the nibbles and as the first course was being served - we found ourselves with no utensils. I can't believe that this happened to me for a second time today - and both times at restaurants with macarons from the Rubberman. As my hostess remarked, it's just a "no fork day" for me. But I digress...
Put it simply: at the price being charged tonight, I would expect to have my mind blown, at least by one or two dishes. I wasn't. It was very good, but a meal at either Amber, Pierre, or Caprice would have produced a few more "ooohs" and "wows" from me. It was very much like my lunch at Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo - everything was technically faultless, but where was the magic? Maybe I just don't "get" Akrame, the same way that some people don't get Pierre Gagnaire?
I gotta go see him in Paris to be sure. But since I've already cancelled my wine trip to France this year, I guess it's gonna have to wait till next year...