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A chronicle of all things fun - eating, drinking, traveling... plus the occasional ranting

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    It was supposed to be a wonderful evening.  This bunch hadn't gotten together for a meal in a while, and I hadn't had the opportunity to see one of my friends in months as she played hermit.  So when she asked for the bunch of us to get together, I was only too happy to organize.  After a couple of rounds of back-and-forth, I was delighted that we settled on my old favorite Caprice.  I had only gone back once since Chef Fabrice Vulin took over the reins, and I did enjoy that lunch very much.

    Given that there were 8 of us, we were told that we must take a set menu.  Fine, I would have asked for one from the kitchen, anyway.  We were presented with two seemingly standard alternatives, but since we are no longer familiar with the restaurant's repertoire, I didn't have an issue taking the "chef's signature menu".  After all, I wanted to see what the chef believed were his "best shots".

    I was pleasantly surprised to be recognized as I approached the entrance, and once through the double doors it wasn't long until I found myself facing Sebastien Boudon - the maître d'hotel.  The other Sebastien (Alleno, the sommelier) came over soon after to inquire about our wines for the evening.  There's still a certain degree of that warm-and-fuzzy feeling left.

    First came cheese puffs were made with two types of cheese including Parmesan.  Bigger than I expected, and pretty nice.

    Le fenouil, une rillette de maquereau - cherry tomato gelée, tomato tartare, with fennel salad on top and a deep-fried croquette of mackerel rillette.  Lots of nice umami from the tomato, and the croquette had good acidity.

    Le foie gras d'Alsace au naturel, la cerise Burlat - apparently the black pepper encased in the foie gras torchon have been cooked.  Very, very smooth texture here.  There's a thin layer of red wine gelée, topped with Burlat cherry halves as well as some cherry chutney.  Yum.

    Le homard bleu, la pastèque - very, very pretty and also very refreshing for the summer.  The bottom of this "pie" was a layer of watermelon, with diced homard bleu, egg yolk emulsion, avocado and green apple, and topped with lobster gelée, lobster carpaccio, and a little bit of lemon mousse on the side.  My favorite dish of the evening.

    La langoustine royale, le Kristal caviar - the only dish I've had before.  The langoustine à la plancha was delish, as was the caviar.  The watercress coulis came with girolles, mousseron de prés (Scotch bonnets), and lemon confit. Pretty delicious.  I still don't get the tiny ravioli.

    Le Saint Pierre de Bretagne, coques et palourdes - John Dory's not one of my favorite types of fish, but this roasted fillet was better than most.  Came with cockles, clams, artichokes, pine nuts, tomato quenelle, and a melange of vegetables.

    Le pigeon fermier - of course I would choose pigeon over wagyu... and this was done very, very nicely.  The breast was resting on a bed of sweet-tasting barley couscous with Moroccan spices, with chickpeas and fava beans on the side.  A swoosh of tomato purée and a small quenelle of very sweet caramelized onions adorn the rim.

    When I was asked how I wanted my pigeon, my reply was "rosé". And it was most certainly pink, and very tender.  Very, very good.  The leg was also incredibly delicious.

    Sélection de fromages affinés - I was trying to be good and only picked a few... and didn't follow a couple of the other guys into the cheese cellar.

    Croix Cathare - nice and creamy with some acidity.

    Coulommiers - very ripe and a little stinky with ammonia.

    Colombier - pretty acidic, thick and creamy.

    Murat de Montagne - salty with a bit of ammonia, and a little stinky.

    Comté, 4 years - ah... what else can we say about this crowd favorite?  Yum.

    Une soupe de fraise - really delicious, with seasonal Gariguette strawberries with beautiful Tahitian vanilla cream.

    Le chocolat Guanaja - bitter chocolate soufflé with liquid center, along with a generous serving of hazelnuts.

    I was too full to really enjoy the mignardises... and so were the others.  So we had them packed so the kiddies at home can enjoy them.

    But I did nibble on a mini madeleine.

    I noticed that the restaurant had raised their corkage from HKD 500 to HKD 750.  This kinda hurt for the bunch of us, as wine is central to our gatherings.  So we decided that each couple will bring 1 bottle instead of 2, since that amount of wine would still keep us pretty happy.  I did bring an extra bottle... just in case.

    1970 Dom Pérignon Œnothèque, dégorgée à Janvier 2014 - sooooo beautiful.  Very fragrant and nutty nose with coffee and toast.  Very smooth on the palate, with mild acidity here.  Wow!  Loved this.

    1998 Roulot Meursault Les Vireuils - a little toasty on the nose, very nice and elegant, and took a while to open up.  Very round on the palate.

    2001 Dominique Laurent Bonnes-Mares - very nice and fragrant nose, fruity, with some dried herbs.  A little leather and eucalyptus here.

    1990 Castello di Ama Vigna L'Apparita - decanted about half an hour prior to serving.  Some medicinal notes here, with mint, dried herbs, some sweet fruit, but definitely a little green and vegetal.  Tannins are still here after 25 years.

    1971 Schloss Schönborn Hattenheimer Nußbrunnen Riesling Beerenauslese - really grapey, nutty, sweet, with orange marmalade.  Yum.

    An evening with good food and good wine, but unfortunately one that ended with us leaving on a sour note.

    Before we arrived, I notified the restaurant about one of our friend's condition, and that she would be ordering à la carte instead of taking the menu.  During the ordering process, she was very specific with Sebastien and truth be told, he was very helpful and accommodating - befitting a restaurant that not long ago held three Michelin stars.

    But there was a particular ingredient that she did not and could not have, and about this she was very specific and insistent.  She checked with the staff three times about this.  When the dish arrived, she took a bite, and then saw the ingredient in front of her.  A couple of us looked, smelled, and suspected that the banned ingredient was in her dish.  We asked again, and to my friend's horror we were told that the kitchen had indeed used the banned ingredient.

    This was just unacceptable.  Somewhere along the line, communication broke down between the front of house and the kitchen.  Either the kitchen wasn't told, or the kitchen forgot or didn't care.  After being so specific and careful, an unwanted ingredient was still served to a guest.

    We might have expected this from a lesser establishment - because we knew that the establishment's staff wouldn't care - in which case we would not have patronized it.  But this was (my once beloved) Caprice.  A restaurant that once held three Michelin stars - and still holds two.  In the Four Seasons Hong Kong.  When we come to establishments like this, we expect better.  Caprice used to have impeccable service - far better than any other restaurant in town - but it is no longer the case.  How far it has fallen!

    Yes, Sebastien was apologetic, and my unhappy friends had a few words with the hotel manager.  The restaurant ended up not charging the unhappy couple for their meal, and I think they may have waived corkage for a couple of bottles.  So they made an effort to make amends, but unfortunately the mood for the evening had already been soured.

    And what a shame!  Some of my friends (who were frequent guests) haven't been back since Chef Fabrice came onboard, and were really looking forward to returning to Caprice.  Now they've lost a few customers for good.

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  • 06/06/15--22:53: Sunday goose
  • It's Sunday and I'm going back to the office... like I have been for the last few weeks.  Hello Kitty is meeting her friend for lunch at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), and since it's so close to my office, I decided to join them for a quick lunch.

    Half roast goose (燒鵝半隻) - with three of us, just having a quarter was clearly not enough.  And I definitely can't get enough of the crispy skin, plus the flavors from five-spice and star anise.  Very, very nice.  Even the lean breast meat was delish, never mind the fat that shows up under the skin in the other parts.

    Vermicelli soup (湯米粉) - thankfully this isn't anywhere nearly as salty and full of MSG as the bowl I had on my last visit.

    Blanched choy sum with oyster sauce (蠔油菜心) - need some veg for that balanced diet.

    With my belly full, I now had all the energy to work through my Sunday afternoon!

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  • 06/09/15--05:41: Early bird
  • I was getting together with a friend tonight and took the opportunity to take her to Neighborhood.  This fan of David Lai's has enjoyed numerous visits to On Lot 10 over the years, and was really looking forward to checking out the new digs for the first time.  We decided to have an early evening and took the first seating.

    Truffle poached artichoke / smoked garlic aioli - my friend loves artichokes, so this was definitely on our hit list.  The flavors were about as expected, although this was unusually cold.

    Burrata / Gariguette strawberry / balsamico - the restaurant's Facebook page had shown pictures of burrata from Thailand, then pictures of this.  It looked interesting enough, and I was happy to give it a try - especially since Gariguette strawberries are in season.

    The burrata was pretty soft and creamy, although it would have been even better had it been a little more liquid.  But the creamy burrata worked well with the sweetness and acidity from both the strawberries and the balsamico.   The fragrance from mint leaves and fennel flowers provided a subtle accent on the dish.

    Baby razor clams / zucchini / basil - the kitchen does wonders with these baby razor clams, usually with a lemon butter sauce that has nice acidity to it.  Plenty of garlic here, too.  We couldn't resist using the delicious sourdough bread to soak up the sauce.

    Grilled chicken / garganelli / morels - apparently David left word for the kitchen to serve this to us... so how could we refuse?  I've always been a fan of David's roast chicken, and this was no less delicious as his other creations.  Love the flavors from the skin!  The whole dish - chicken and garganelli included - was drenched in delicious sauce that had a nice bit of acidity to it.  Squeezing the sauce out of the morels with one's teeth was pure joy.  BURP!

    Chocolate palette - my friend was gonna pass on dessert until I mentioned this... and she sure was glad we ordered it!  That chocolate ganache was just... Sinful.

    Canelés - nope, can't get enough of these.  The humidity is getting to these so that the shell is no longer as hard and crispy, but there's still enough crunch there.  Love the moist centers.

    A pretty good early dinner, and we both enjoyed the simple dishes.  Yeah, it does look like I'm coming here almost as much as I used to go to On Lot 10...

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  • 06/10/15--08:02: (Not) In Bruges
  • Every year, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel does a few "pop-ups" featuring renowned chefs from around the world.  The quality of these chefs is generally very, very high, with many of them heading two- or three-Michelin starred establishments.  This is due in no small part to the efforts of Richard Ekkebus who, as the public face as well as the driving force behind Amber, has that ensured the restaurant was ranked among the World's 50 Best for the last 5 years running.  Increasingly, these chefs come from the kitchens of other restaurants ranked among the World's 50 Best, as Richard continues to enlarge his network.

    I had the pleasure of attend two very good events last year - with Azurmendi and Gaggan.  Both featured cuisine that was creative and revelatory.  I missed out on a couple of these earlier this year due to my busy work schedule, and as I continue to be in overdrive mode, I haven't paid too much attention to the list of incoming chefs.

    Two days ago, I received an invitation from the hotel's PR department to join a pop-up dinner featuring the cuisine of Chef Gert de Mangeleer of Hertog Jan - a restaurant just outside Bruges, Belgium with three Michelin stars and recently ranked No. 53 on the World's 50 Best (yes, I know this sounds like an oxymoron...)  After rearranging my feeding schedule, I happily accepted the invitation.  As I've said before, Richard is not someone you turn down...

    Then I saw some Twitter traffic between Richard, Gert, and Chef Gaggan Anand... and hugging was mentioned.  Since the Entourage movie just came out last week, I decided to channel Ari Gold and suggested that the three guys just "hug it out".  Richard then suggested a "group hug" when I came to dinner tonight.  So, yes, I was really looking forward to having this group hug and preserving it in perpetuity with a picture.

    There was the usual cocktail session before dinner, with Chef Gert and the kitchen team preparing and serving snacks out in the open.  We sipped on R and L Legras Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs - the house pour at Amber - while I chatted with fellow diners who would be seated at my "media" table.

    Crispy chicken - peanuts - puffed rice - this was very, very good.  The rice crispies and the crispy chicken skin were very toasty and yummy, so much so that I told Your Highness that I could smell it coming from his mouth as he was chewing about a meter away from me.  Nice peanut flavors, too.

    Goose liver - passion fruit - anise seeds - now THIS was interesting.  These looked like mini char siu buns (叉燒餐包) or something, but were in fact meringue shells filled with foie gras and passion fruit cream, injected from the bottom.  The bottom was closed off with a thin, translucent wafer flavored with Coca-Cola.  Sprinkle some anise seeds on top and voila!  The amazing thing was that when you put the thing in your mouth and bite down, the whole thing crumbles into a powdery, creamy pile that quickly disappears.  Poof!  But the flavors were just so good!

    Potato - smoked eggplant - miso - a dot of miso and a dot of smoked eggplant mash sit on top of a "nest" made with deep-fried strands of potato.  Garnished with pretty chive flowers.

    West-Flemish cured beef - black garlic - lime - this was a mystery.  There were "rods" of beef inside these crispy, cylindrical shells, although I didn't taste any black garlic.  There was a little acidity here, although I assumed it was coming from the tomato powder on the exterior.

    We took our seats, and Richard came into the room and introduced Gert.  Gert talked to us about purchasing 3 hectares of land just outside the city of Bruges 5 years ago, where diners are served in a barn dating to the 18th century with protected status.  They grow all their vegetables, herbs, and flowers on their own land, and in fact has flown them in by air for this pop-up.  Truly impressive.

    Candied pointed bell pepper, fresh goat cheese and anchovy, tomato broth with marigold - cutting open the bell pepper reveals a filling of goat cheese, anchovies, chopped green olives and perhaps something else green that was crunchy.  The subtle and elegant floral notes in the tomato broth was lovely.  The filling was a little on the salty side, but this was neutralized by the paired rosé, while the wine highlighted the flavors of the anchovies.

    2013 Terre Nere Rosato - a rosé from Mount Etna on Sicily.  Nice and fresh, with honey, peach, a little flint and a little bit of oak in the nose.

    Royal Belgium caviar with watermelon and mozzarella pearls, dashi vinaigrette - this set the standard in terms of presentation for the rest of the evening.  Wow!  Caviar placed inside little cones made of sliced kohlrabi, served with little pearls of milky mozzarella and watermelon, and garnished with nasturtium.  The flavors were just so well balanced, with the sweetness from watermelon and the milkiness of mozzarella tempering the saltiness of the caviar.  Of course the acidity, too.

    2009 Tement Sauvignon Blanc Grassnitzberg - very rich, thick and viscous on the palate.  Nose was a little pungent, with definite notes of polyurethane and plastic, along with a little pipi de chat.  Some lemon and muscat grapes, too.  Very full on the palate, and a pretty nice wine overall.

    Asparagus from Sijsele with tamarind and fresh herbs from our garden - and they only get prettier.  This was pretty much nothing but veg, and it all came from Hertog Jan's farm.  Apparently this dish was inspired by Michel Bras'gargouillou.  The beautiful asparagus was poached in clarified butter, and in fact the waitstaff drizzled more clarified butter onto the herbs.  The thin biscuit sitting at the bottom tasted of cumin, and there was a nice tang of acidity coming from the tamarind.  A beauty to behold, and a beautiful combination of freshness.  It was a walk in the gardens, indeed.

    Speaking of clarified butter... I can't help but think of a friend who once mused about tying a certain female celebrity to a chair before proceeding to force-feed her clarified butter.  You know who you are...

    2011 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett - nose was more pungent and in-your-face than expected.  Reasonably sweet on the palate for a kabinett.  Heck, I'll never get tired of drinking German Riesling...

    Marinated langoustine with pickled beetroot, raspberry and vanilla - we were now presented with another flower, only this was crafted from wafer-thin slices of beetroot.  It was such a beautiful work of art that Your Highness posed for pictures as if contemplating the similarities between this and Georgia O'Keeffe's poppies.

    Underneath the flower was the marinated but raw langoustine, not exactly chopped up like a tartare, but it's kinda been torn apart.  We also have these rolls made of ribbons of pickled beetroot, whose nice and crunchy texture contrasted with the langoustine.  Into the mix comes raspberry coulis and raspberry pulp, as well as smoky vanilla seeds.  Another dish combining a gorgeous look with wonderful flavors.

    2012 Jean-Marc Pillot Puligny Montrachet Les Noyers Bret - buttery, ripe, and oaky nose.

    Kohlrabi ravioli with smoked Oosterschelde eel, goose liver and yuzu - the little "dumplings" here were made of smoked eel from the Oosterschelde delta on the Dutch and Belgian border, in wrappers made of thin slices of kohlrabi.  They were sitting on little medallions of foie gras pâté, with yuzu cream.  The smoky flavors of the eel were outstanding, and the dish was surprisingly not too rich in spite of the foie.  Again, you've got contrasting textures as well as contrasting flavors... but they all seem to come together harmoniously.

    2011 Leflaive et Associés Monthélie 1er Cru Sur la Velle - very prominent nose of toasty corn, which obscured the fruit a little.  Not bad, and I thought the wine paired well with the smoked eel.

    Wagyu beef Stroganoff style with marinated mushroom and spicy peppers - by now we are used to the stunning presentations, but I still can't help but marvel at the sight of this dish.  The vibrant colors were simply stunning, with the green from the fern providing sharp contrast to the orange of the "Stroganoff" sauce and the shichimi (七味) powder, as well as the purple chive flowers.

    Side view shows the beef resting on top of a cylinder.

    The beautiful marbled beef from Miyazaki (宮崎) was tender and yielded to the knife "like buttah"... And I made sure I took each bite with a little bit of the sauce.

    The "cylinder" beneath the beef was a roll made with marinated pepper, and filled with marinated mushrooms, spicy beetroot, and green peppercorns.  This thing packed a nice punch.  I definitely felt the flames dancing on my tongue, and the wine from a hot, alcoholic vintage certainly didn't help.  I described the wine pairing as "pouring oil on fire" to my neighbor FineFoodDude.

    2005 Señorio de San Vicente from magnum - double-decanted 4½ hours prior to serving, and I can definitely see why.  Really ripe and sweet on the nose, with a little pencil lead, vanilla, oak, and later on that exotic coconut butter I love.   Nice and rounded on the palate, very smooth.

    Rhubarb with yoghurt and blossoms - the tuile was filled with yoghurt and rhubarb foam on top.  I definitely tasted some orange blossom, and perhaps rose.

    Cracking the tuile reveals a collection of frozen yoghurt balls at the bottom.

    Lheraud Pineau des Charentes Collection Perle Rose - wonderful sweet nose, with a little straw and definitely sugarcane.  Minty, too.  Slightly medicinal on the palate, but very sweet and alluring.

    What a fantastic meal this was!  The combination of the flavors, the stunning presentation of each dish... Everything about this meal was screaming "three stars".  This was modern European cuisine at its best, and I'm incredibly grateful for the invitation.  One day I hope to be able to sit at a table in the barn and take in the view while savoring Gert's food.

    P.S. One disappointment of the evening came after we were done.  I was looking around for Richard and Gert to take that group hug picture, but the two of them had skipped out - no doubt gone drinking and take a late-night dinner.  I guess I'll have to get my Entourage moment another time...

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  • 06/11/15--07:39: Manor at the Villa
  • After being stuck in the office continuously for the last few weeks, tonight was, amazingly, my third straight night of dining out.  It was also the meal I was looking forward to the most, as it had been months in the making.

    Many of us have been mourning the loss of our beloved Manor Seafood (富瑤海鮮酒家) ever since they closed.  The Great One and I still refuse to go to Ichiran (一蘭) in Hong Kong, as the ramen shop took over the very same space.  Efforts have been made to engineer a comeback, but so far the owners have not been persuaded to re-open it.  What we were told, though, was that with some advance notice, our favorite dishes from Manor could be served at West Villa Restaurant (西苑酒家) - which is under the same ownership.

    Our friend who organized this dinner pre-ordered many of the old favorites from Manor, and the Great One and I were almost giddy with anticipation.

    Yunnan black fungus in aged vinegar (陳醋雲耳)

    Wild mushrooms in truffle paste (松露醬野菌)

    Eggplant with salty egg-yolk (黃金茄子) - we ordered this for the Great One, who is a huge fan.  You would not believe that these little cubes were actually eggplant and not tofu...

    Roasted "gold coin" chicken (懷舊金錢雞) - this is what the Great One and I missed most.  The gold coin chicken, aka cholesterol sandwich.  We have never found its equal anywhere else, and were ecstatic at the prospect of having the "real deal" again.  Curiously, these were missing the top layers of the "bun"... so one could not hold them like sandwiches.

    Here's a close up shot, and you can see that awesome glaze on top of the glistening fat.  These were also significantly thinner than the ones we used to have at Manor.

    I cut one in half to see the cross section.  We've got barbecued pork / char siu (叉燒), chicken liver, taro, pork fat (冰肉), and the bottom bun.  The char siu was definitely too thin, as was the chicken liver.  Not nearly satisfying enough.  But the real problem for me was that the thing was too salty, and slightly too tough.  This appears to be on the regular menu at West Villa, but it isn't the same as our beloved cholesterol sandwich.  This one's too skinny.

    Roasted suckling pig (天下第一豬) - ah yes, the "number one pig under the skies"... or so the restaurant claims.  We would naturally compare this to the one at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) / Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) / Seventh Son (家全七福), which is kind of the standard-bearer in our minds.  I'm not sure that this was significantly better or worse than what I could get at the trio of restaurants above, although I think if I had to pick fault, the crackling tonight was a little bit uneven.  But heck, this was a roast little piggy!  Ain't nothing better than this in the world!

    Double-boiled soup of conch with maitake musaroom (淮杞燠響螺湯) - ummmm... major typo and lost in translation here... First of all it's "mushroom", and in reality there's no maitake (舞茸) mushroom here.  The other main ingredient is Chinese yam (淮山) and, of course, chicken.

    The dregs...

    Baked Abalone with ginger and spring onion (薑蔥鮑魚煲) - Manor was famous for their casserole dishes, many involving ginger and spring onion.  Here we've got some abalone sizzling away...

    The abalone was nicely scored not only to enhance the flavors but also the texture.  Yum.

    Roasted goose (鮑皮燒鵝皇) - pretty good roast goose, but a few of us at the table all agreed that Yat Lok still comes out tops.

    Stir-fried cabbage with dried shrimp (蝦干炒椰菜) - I really liked this dish.  Very simple, with shredded dried shrimp mixed in among the shredded cabbage.  The wok hei (鑊氣) was apparent and beautiful.

    Blanched vegetables (大哥灼菜) - some choy sum (菜心) in superior broth (上湯).

    Manor signature stir-fried noodles with soy sauce (富瑤豉油皇炒麵) - this was damn good... Isn't it amazing that sometimes the simplest dishes - nothing more than noodles stir-fried with bean sprouts and yellowed chives in some soy sauce - could be such a thing of beauty?  Oh yeah, the wok hei (鑊氣) was good here, too.

    Almond flavored bun (雪影杏汁包) - a signature dish.  Fragrant almond custard inside a crispy yet fluffy bun.  A nice finish.

    Since our friend had arrange the dinner through the restaurant's owners, they have also kindly waived corkage.  Normally this would have meant a load of wine, but since the Belieber had to leave early to have a rendezvous with his idol at the Calvin Klein VIP thingy, we had to take it easy...

    2004 Prieuré-Roch Chambertin Clos de Beze - so fruity as always, with strawberries, nice toasty notes, a little plummy, and later on a little Chinese angelica (當歸).  Very nice and enjoyable.

    2004 Ponsot Griotte Chambertin - nose was definitely more closed initially, without decanting or aeration.  A little smoky, animal, leather, with a little violet later.  More acidic.  Not drinking as well as the Prieuré-Roch.

    2001 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series - vanilla and lemon.  Soooo ripe and buttery.  Yum!

    That was A LOT of food... but very satisfying.  While the gold coin chicken was a little bit of a let down, it gives us hope that maybe, someday, we will have the opportunity to have the real deal again.  Many thanks to our friend for the arrangement and the generous treat!

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    I cried tonight.

    I was watching a showing of the acclaimed documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above from Director Chi Po-lin, courtesy of MOViE MOViE and Duddell's.  The images shot from the skies above my beloved Taiwan were indeed beautiful and breathtaking - well, some of them at least... But I also got to see a lot of things which were deeply disturbing and thought-provoking, and I couldn't help but cry.  Cry for my country because my fellow countrymen have spent the last few decades destroying the very land which we call home.

    For those who have seldom (or never) ventured beyond Taipei's city limits, Taiwan is in fact a beautiful island.  The Portuguese sailors who first set eyes on her referred to her Ilha Formosa for good reason.  The high mountains, the forests, coastline... all offer some breathtaking views.

    But that beauty is being destroyed, bit by bit, at the hands of the natives.  No, this time we cannot blame Imperialist Japan for chopping down our 1,200 year-old cypress trees and shipping them off to Tokyo to become the famed original torii (鳥居) at Meiji Shrine (明治神宮).  This time it's all on us.  We did, after all, voluntarily chop down and sell off another 1,500 year-old cypress tree to replace the original torii after it was destroyed by lightning.  Well... at least somebody got paid the second time...

    For years, I've known that people living in the mountains - some of them aborigines (原住民) - have been chopping down trees believed to hold little economic value, and planting betel palms (檳榔樹) to harvest betel nuts for quick cash.  Not only does this destroy the beauty of our mountains, it's also an environmental disaster in the making.

    It's no secret that Taiwan sits on the Ring of Fire.  Earthquakes are a common occurrence.  By cutting down trees with deep root systems - which tend to keep soil in place on top of the mountainous rock - and replacing them with betel palms whose roots don't reach down very deep, these people create a dangerous situation where the earth no longer stays on the mountains.  Then Mother Nature comes with a one-two punch.

    First, earthquakes shake the earth loose on the mountains, as there are no longer deep roots to hold them in place.  Then the typhoons and the rains come, pouring down with increasing vigor with each passing year, bringing the earth down from the mountain tops, causing mudslides which wash away roads and houses downhill.  The mudslides travel downhill with such brutal force that it knocks down and uproots even more trees in their paths, creating a vicious cycle.

    All this so that people can make a few bucks sell the betel nuts, which are then mixed with limestone powder and chewed by the locals, who proceed to spit out the remnants on the streets and pollute the environment.  But that's another story.  Meanwhile, owners of tea plantations and cabbage farms at high altitude also commit the same crime, as more trees are felled.

    More environmental damage is done by Taiwan's thriving aquaculture.  All those fish farms along the coastline pump up lots of underground water, gradually depleting the freshwater supply.  Local industry are also big consumers of water, with world-class flat panel makers and other electronic companies among the main culprits.  All this at the same time that the capacities of the island's reservoirs are on a downtrend - thanks to all the silt build-up from the torrential rains that carry the loose earth from the mountain tops.  And you know what happens when you pump out more water from underground than the earth can handle?  The land sinks.

    Taiwan's world-famous electronics industry is responsible for some of the worst pollutions in the country.  One of the unexpected byproducts of filming Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above is that some of the footage of pollutants being pumped out to sea enabled the local authorities to nail Advanced Semiconductor Engineering for their crime.  The fact that they build underground pipes to secretly pump toxic pollutants into our oceans made it particularly heinous.  Last year I almost choked on my coffee one morning when I read about the company's success in issuing Asia's second "Green" bond.  You must be fucking kidding me...

    There were, of course, more stories told about how we are destroying the very land that nurtures us... such as cement makers chopping down our beautiful mountains, then shipping half of their production for export.  WHAT-THE-FUCK?!  Why would anyone who loves their land do something ridiculous like that?!

    Well, like most of the stories being told in this movie, it all came down to one word: GREED.  Short-term gains.  Making a quick buck while destroying the land you live on, fucking it up and leaving a total mess for your kids and grand kids.

    So yeah, I cried tonight.  I cried for the bleak future that my country faces.  I cried for the selfishness and short-sightedness of my fellow countrymen.  I cried because people all around the world were doing the same type of stuff to our beautiful planet.

    Only the beautiful voices of innocent children reminded me that there may still be hope.

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  • 06/17/15--08:45: Red ribbon day
  • I have to admit that I can't for the life of me remember the last time I had a glass of Champagne from G.H. Mumm - the brand with the distinctive Cordon Rouge on the label.  To my knowledge, none of my friends own any... and I don't recall ever seeing it in any bars and restaurants I frequent.  Just about the only time I ever see it is on the podium at Formula One championships, when the winners each take a magnum and spray each other - and the podium girls - with the bubbly.  In fact, Lewis Hamilton recently got some unwanted negative publicity for doing just that in Shanghai...

    So when an invitation came via a friend to attend a dinner hosted by the Champagne house, featuring old library vintages, I didn't exactly hesitate.  Of course just about every Champagne house declare vintages, but I just haven't seen vintage Mumm around before... never mind this trio of fantastic vintages.

    The other reason I was curious enough to attend the dinner was the venue.  I had deliberately stayed away from Bibo ever since its opening for a number of reasons.  First, all the initial coverage seemed to be mostly about the art - which gave me the impression that the food wasn't the real focus.  Then when you finally get to reading about the food, the press release and coverage seemed to be another case of trying to hype up the supposed illustrious background of the chef.  Coming around the same time that I did anexposé piece on the lies surrounding Cocotte, a friend and I were naturally very suspicious about the truth behind Chef Mutaro Balde's résumé.  When you can't find any references to the guy having worked in the places he claims to have, the guy either occupied too junior of a position, or merely staged there for a short while, or worse - he never worked there.  Anyway you cut it, it was just too risky to shell out my own cash to give this place a try.  And when the reviews came back mixed, there was all the more reason not to.  So I didn't.

    But tonight was different.  Even if the food sucked, the evening would not have been a total waste on account of the bubbly.  So my downside was limited.

    I did come to dinner with some trepidation, though...  I've been prescribed some steroids by my doctor, and when I asked him whether I could drink wine while taking these pills, my fellow wine lover told me that I could take "a glass or two".  What I should have asked, of course, was what would happen if I drank too much...

    We started with some Cordon Rouge, the signature cuvée of the house.  This was pretty easy to drink, but I didn't want to take in too much at this stage of the evening...

    We sat down at the dinner tables, and not surprisingly, this was another dimly-lit restaurant.  Nevermind that the lighting was too poor for photography, but I could barely read the menu!  For those of us who are no longer young, reading in dim light is a tall order.  I wish more restaurants could understand that... or they should get in touch with Silver Group...

    L'amuse bouche - this came in two parts.
    Sweet corn velouté - this was OK, with a sprinkle of what I assumed to be piment d'espelette powder on top.

    Watermelon and yellow beetroot salad

    L'huître: oyster served over lemon granitée and Champagne sabayon - these Fine de Claire oysters came with both an acidic lemon granité as well as a creamy Champagne sabayon.  This was nice and well thought-out, as the richness of the cream and the acidity neutralized the briny flavors of the oysters, and also prevented the accompanying Champagne from bringing out and highlighting those briny flavors.

    Mumm Blanc de Blancs Mumm de Cramant - very nice mousse, pretty light, elegant, and rounded on the palate.  A little toasty.  Also a little ripe on the palate but not too much.  "Small" production of around 4 to 5,000 cases annually.  This wine was originally a private cuvée of the house and not released for sale.  The distinctive label harks back to the days when the bottles were only given to friends, along with a business card folded at one corner - to indicate that the wine was delivered in person.

    L'asperge: classic steamed white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce - it's still asparagus season, so it's not surprising that this came up on the menu.  This, of course, works wonderfully well with Champagne.  We also have cured salmon with chunks of ham, as well as cucumber ribbons.

    Then comes the main event: the trio of magnums being launched.  Each magnum bears the chef de caves' signature as well as the date of disgorgement.

    1996 Mumm Collection du Chef de Caves, en magnum - nice acidity here, which was a little focused but not quite to the point of sharpness.  A very precise wine, with a very nice balance.  A little caramel on the nose.  Slight bitterness on the finish, but otherwise very round on the palate.  Sweetness on the palate came out when paired with the salmon.  What a beautiful wine with tons of potential.

    Le vol au vent: Bresse chicken facon blanquette with seasonal mushrooms - I had a problem with this dish the minute I read the description.  Why would anyone take something as fine as Bresse chicken, chop it up and make vol au vent with it?!

    Well, I was right.  My palate certainly wasn't sophisticated enough to distinguish between the cubes of chicken inside the puff pastry and the chilled chicken from any supermarket.  Especially when the chicken was overcooked and no longer tender.  And the vol au vent was only OK.  The catered version at the Mouton-Rothschild dinner earlier in the year was much, much better.

    1990 Mumm Collection du Chef de Caves, en magnum - a mature wine, with very little bubbles.  Ripe on the palate, with marmalade notes.  Great depth of flavors here, with a really long finish.  Beautiful!

    La caille: pan-fried Brittany quail, gratin dauphinois, apricot glaze and coffee emulsion - the quail was OK, but I would have preferred it be much more pink.  Gotta say that the coffee emulsion was pretty interesting.

    1985 Mumm Collection du Chef de Caves, en magnum - first whiff of the wine and I said to my neighbor : "This is why I love Champagne!" A fully-mature Champagne, with classic salty plum (話梅), minerals, and caramelized nose.  Still very much alive and fresh for a Champagne this age, thanks to the recent disgorgement.  An incredibly beautiful wine!

    La framboise-pistache: ivory crémeux, pistachio cream, fresh raspberry and lemon sorbet - this was very tasty.  Three pistachio tuiles are lodged in dollops of crémeux, accompanied with raspberries and raspberry granité, accompanied by lemon sorbet and garnished with dill flowers.  Lovely combination of acidity and sugar sweetness, as well as a contrast of textures.

    Mumm Le Rose - nose of strawberries.

    Les mignardises - green apple gelée, caramel vanilla toffee, and almond cubes.

    Our hosts were friendly with the owner of the restaurant, and he very generously shared some L'Or de Jean Martell with each of us.  This is a pretty exclusive Cognac blended from over 400 eaux-de-vie... with a street price of a few thousand U.S. Dollars.  I don't normally drink Cognac, but I wasn't about to be rude and pass up this rare tipple.  Nose was floral, sweet with caramel notes.  This was much smoother than I expected.  A beautiful Cognac.

    Many thanks to our hosts for a very enjoyable evening.  The Champagnes were beautiful, and despite my efforts to try to limit my intake, I could not help but drink more of the beautiful bubbly - particularly the three Collection du Chef de Caves vintages - than I was advised to.  Thankfully there were no serious side effects that evening...

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  • 06/20/15--07:03: The rock from Ginza
  • It's the start of birthday season, and Hello Kitty was nice enough to take me out for dinner.  I was free to choose where I wanted to go, and (perhaps) surprisingly chose to have sushi.  I rarely choose to have sushi in Hong Kong, and I can count the number of visits per year on one hand.  However, Ginza Iwa (銀座いわ) have managed to get themselves a little macaron, and that piqued my interest.  I took the opportunity to check out this local branch of a starred sushiya from Tokyo.

    I looked at our choice of three menus, and decided that I would be happy enough with the cheapest set Miyabi.  It was, after all, my first time here... and I found it hard to justify paying USD 300 to 400 for sushi in Hong Kong when I paid less for Sukiyabashi Jiro (すきやばし 次郎)...

    So we were served a series of 5 otsumami (おつまみ):

    Chicken grunt (伊佐木)

    Striped jack (縞鰺) - texture seems softer than usual.

    Oyster (牡蠣) - from Shimane Prefecture (島根県).  Served simply with lemon juice, which neutralized the briny flavors.

    Fan shell (平貝) - grilled and wrapped in seaweed (のり).  Coated with some sauce that was a little spicy.

    Some pickles to cleanse our palate, in addition to the pile of pickled ginger...

    I asked our chef what this was, since no one bothered to tell us when this was laid down in front of us.  The answer I got seemed to be "tatsuyo (たつよう)", but with my dysfunctional hearing tonight I wasn't sure if I heard correctly... and it turns out I didn't.  I later learned from my friend Gary that this was, in fact, Japanese hairtail (大刀魚). The grilled fish had a soft, velvety texture that was very pleasant.

    Then came our 8 pieces of nigiri (握り鮨):

    Golden alfonsino (金目鯛) - beautiful.

    Oval squid (障泥烏賊) - shredded to show the chef's knife skills, with some chiffonade of perilla (紫蘇) leaves between the neta (ねた) and shari (しゃり), topped with a dab of minced ginger.

    Gizzard shad (小鰭) - very nice acidity from the marinade.

    Japanese horse mackerel (鯵) - again with the chiffonade of perilla (紫蘇) leaves between the neta (ねた) and shari (しゃり), topped with a dab of minced chives called asatsuki (浅葱).

    Red clam (赤貝) - this was OK.

    Cockle shell (鳥貝) - pretty soft and tender, and not crunchy at all.  Later we realized that our portion is only half the size of those who ordered omakase...

    Sardine (鰯) - so fatty and delicious.  With chiffonade of perilla (紫蘇) leaves between the neta (ねた) and shari (しゃり), topped with a dab of minced asatsuki (浅葱) and ginger.

    Purple sea urchin (紫雲丹) - in a 軍艦巻き.

    The お椀 was simply a bowl of miso soup, with nori (のり) seaweed.

    Finally, a slice of ultra-ripe musk melon (マスクメロン) from Shizuoka Prefecture (静岡県).  Just dripping with juice...

    A pretty good meal overall.  Although I didn't ask the chef, I wondered if they aged their seafood, as the textures on some of them seemed more tender.

    But was it worthy of a macaron?  I'm not sure.  First of all, I usually ask for omakase (お任せ) at a sushiya but chose not to do so tonight.  Our neighbors who chose the full spread definitely had a few very interesting items which I would have liked to have tried, but perhaps not at the price I would have had to pay.  I would say there were no fails or disappointments, perhaps with the exception of the two clams, which were served to us without the traditional "slap" that causes the reflex curling of the muscles.  This was done for the cockle shell served to our neighbors, but not for us.

    The other minor annoyance was that the chef seemed happy to serve food without announcing the identities of the dish to his customers.  Perhaps this was because the young-ish Japanese chef spoke limited Cantonese, but I did question him about each dish early on in Japanese, so he should have been aware that there would be no language barrier.  And it would have been obvious that I wanted to know every dish and every garnish.  So why, then, did he remain silent?

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  • 06/22/15--08:52: Killer birthday dinner
  • It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Uwe Opocensky's.  I have never had anything less than a fun and fantastic meal every time I visit one of the two outlets whose kitchens he helms, and despite his repeated attempts to "kill me" with too much food, I keep on going back to see him.  As I'm spending my birthday with the parental units this year, I decided that I would take the Tiggers to Mandarin Grill + Bar and see what new stuff Uwe has come up with.  As usual, I gave him advanced warning and told him to show me what he's got...

    Someone arrived a little early and let slip that it was my birthday, so what was already meant to be a pampering meal actually went up a couple of notches in terms of VIP treatment...  Oh well, if one were to choose a day to be pampered, this would certainly be a good day!

    As soon as we were seated, Ken brought over a bottle of Champagne that with compliments from Uwe.  This bottle of 2004 Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs was really easy to drink.  Pretty smooth on the palate, and the acidity was surprisingly not as high as I expected for a blanc de blancs.  A little ripe on the palate, with slight bitterness on the finish.

    Then came the first of many courses for the evening.  This was apparently a last-minute special when they found out about my birthday... and another very generous gesture from Uwe.

    Caviar hands - on a block of ice shaped like a hand sits 5 lumps of caviar.  These come from sturgeon farmed in Lake Qiandao (千島湖) near Hangzhou (杭州) in China.  The 5 different types were:


    Golden Kristal


    Golden Sevruga

    Beluga - coming from the first harvest after 17 years.

    I tasted some of these on their own, and other spoonfuls were placed on blinis.  I do have to say, though, that while I was very grateful for Uwe's generosity, I probably should have just given my portion to Babu.  Babu is a huge fan of caviar, and truth be told... my palate isn't fine enough to detect all the nuances between the different types of caviar.  At least, not tonight.

    The other aspect which turned out to be a shame was that as the caviar was placed directly on a large block of cold ice, the bottom layer in contact with the ice was quickly frozen.  Maybe I should have just eaten the caviar quickly instead of spending a minute (or maybe two) taking pictures...

    Hands - I had seen pictures of these posted on social media from friends' visits to the Krug Room.  These represent farmers' hands, as the Mandarin has now begun to source their vegetables, herbs, and flowers from an organic farm on Cheung Chau (長洲).

    Pea tarts - very nice and sweet peas.

    Flower pot : organic, soil, cress, salad, kombucha, camomile - now the signature salad, with brown and green "soil" at the bottom.  Camomile and kombucha dressing.

    Tomatoes - tomatoes on the vine, with freeze-dried tomato sponge at the bottom, topped with olive oil caviar.

    Radishes - with garlic herb butter.

    Baby carrots - with crème fraîche and chives.

    Mini taco shells - with herbs and cresses and truffle.

    New potatoes - steamed with the same soil they were grown in.

    Complemented with organic sea salt from a Japanese farm.  Gotta say these flakes were pretty big!

    White asparagus - coming from Uwe's mother.  Yum.

    Cauliflower - battered and fried, with Madagascan spices.  Very yummy.

    Escargot - of course, there are snails in the garden, too!

    With mushrooms and flowers on top.

    Frog's legs - and yes, there are also frogs in the garden.  Deep-fried frog's legs are always good to nibble on...

    Matcha : Japanese, tea, whisk - ah, the familiar "green tea" from Uwe.  This is a DIY course, and this time Uwe's decided that I will have to mix it up on my own.  We are presented with a traditional Japanese set for tea ceremony, with ground basil powder in the bowl.  Then tomato consommé is poured on top, and one takes the bamboo whisk and quickly whip things up.  I showed Uwe the foam created by my whisking, and he wasn't exactly impressed...

    Anyway, I still love this.  Fragrant with clean, pure flavors.  And pretty to look at, too.

    Scallop : Japanese, seared, salad - the Japanese scallop is served two ways, with a sprinkle (ふりかけ) of sesame seeds, nori (のり) seaweed, and smoked paprika on the side.

    Marinated in kombucha and served with a salad.

    And also seared on a hot stone.

    Nicely done.

    Red mullet : French, clam, mussel, squid, octopus - the red mullet was covered with a layer of lardo on top.  Incredibly, as big of a fan as I am of lardo, I actually wished for crispy red mullet skin instead... and the mullet was ever-so-slightly on the overcooked side.  There was shellfish ragù with mussels and razor clams.

    On the side was an octopus salad with gazpacho, along with some croûtons.

    1970 La Lagune - birthday means birth-year wine, so I fished this out of my cellar for this quiet evening.  Opened for 1 hour without decanting.  Nice acidity and still some tannins here, but otherwise a pretty typical claret.

    Pork : Spanish, suckling - look at this beautiful chunk of suckling pig... and that crackling!

    This was chopped into a few pieces and served with a fennel salad and a couple of dots of apple sauce.  There was also of quenelle of homemade kimchi mixed with panko (パン粉).  The suckling pig was incredibly succulent and tender, although the crackling was slightly on the salty side.  I thought the kimchi/panko mix paired really well with the pig.

    Beef : U.S., Brandt, short rib, cutlet, artichoke, girolle - this came with both a slice of côte de bœuf (which would be the daintiest piece of côte de bœuf I have ever seen) and piece of short rib slow-cooked for 36 hours.  Served with artichoke slices, crispy artichoke chips, and girolles.  Jus and homemade tomato paste on the side.

    Not surprisingly, the short rib was very, very tender.  The côte de bœuf, however, was surprisingly a little tough and chewy... due to the specific cut and not as a result of overcooking.

    Cherries - I had apparently complained about not getting these (although I have no recollection of that...) so Uwe decided to send me some cherries.  Pitted, of course, with stems made of candy.  Served on a bed of cream.  Very nice.

    Mango : Japanese, puff, vanilla, ice cream - the mango is from an 89-year-old gentleman in Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県), who has 25 trees and places nets below each fruit so that it can be caught as it ripens and falls.  Definitely very ripe and sweet.  Served as a "millefeuille" with the puff pastry - which was incredibly flaky - and a quenelle of delish vanilla ice cream.  At this point I'm thinking that Uwe doesn't know me well enough, because mango is just about my favorite fruit in the world and he actually served this dessert to Hello Kitty instead of me...

    Ham and cheese - this is actually two separate items... and also something I've seen on social media.  A leg of "jamón" is rolled out in front of us.   Uwe takes a knife and starts slicing...

    ...which yields not slices of savory ham but ice cream made to look like ham.  Another fun dish.

    The "cheese" is actually a warm cheesecake, which was so liquid that it almost resembled a fully mature Cabri Ariégeois or Vacheron-Mont d'Or... where one just spoons it from the container.

    Soooooo rich... I wish I had more room in my stomach.

    Once again Uwe presented us mignardises in a setting resembling a garden in spring and summer.

    We got some "tomatoes", made with what seemed to be Marscapone cheese filling.  And chocolates looking like lady bugs.

    Also "carrots" made with what seemed similar in texture to marzipan.

    Plus lots of bite-sized muffins, daisies made of sugar...etc.  There was no hope of us finishing them, so we asked the staff to pack them away for my godson Bear.

    This was a lot of food... AGAIN.  I was pushed almost to the point where I would be tempted to call an ambulance, but thankfully didn't cross that line tonight.  Many, many thanks to Uwe, Ken, and everyone for a very fun evening.

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  • 06/23/15--07:49: Underwhelmed in Shanghai
  • For years I have counted Tony Lu's restaurants among my favorites in Shanghai, visiting Fu1039 (福1039) or Fu1088 (福1088) whenever I have occasion to visit.  On this particular trip, many of my friends were out of town on my one free evening, so with just two of us for dinner, it seemed natural for me to choose Fu1015 (福1015), the (slightly) newer and more upscale sibling.  The restaurant serves only tasting menus, which meant that instead of the usual family-style dishes typical in Chinese cuisine, the two of us could have a decent variety of dishes in smaller portions.

    My 2½-hour flight delay, a pretty common occurrence when one flies in and out of Shanghai and Beijing, meant I was half an hour late to dinner.  I arrived to find my friend waiting for me patiently, with some seasonal lychees (荔枝) on ice in the middle of the table.  These were incredibly plump, bursting with sweet juices, and I couldn't stop going for one after another...  So refreshing on a hot and sweaty day!

    There are two set menus on offer, and we decided to take both and share the dishes.

    Assorted cold dishes (精美冷菜四拼) - these are identical for the two menus, and come with four different items:
    Kumquat with foie gras (金桔鹅肝酱)

    Soft foie gras mousse at the center.

    Vegetable in tofu pocket (野菜百叶包) - with finely diced Indian aster (馬蘭頭) and tofu inside, wrapped in a sheet of tofu skin (百葉).

    Traditional Shanghainese smoked fish (老上海熏鱼) - a favorite since childhood. Yum.  Love the sweet flavors here.

    Slow-cooked lotus root filled glutinous rice with rock sugar (桂花糯米藕) - another childhood favorite.

    Soup course came next - arriving before we were done with our appetizers - and the two could not have been more different in terms of style...

    Double boiled matsutake soup with wild bamboo pith (松茸炖野生竹笙) - very clean and clear, with very subtle flavors.

    Hairy crab meat soup with mashed potato and tomato (蟹粉土豆浓汤) - I suppose the chef has decided to blend European flavors together with a very traditional Shanghainese ingredient.  Unfortunately I am not a big fan, since I don't really care for the combination of mashed potatoes and tomatoes.  For me it just seems like a terrible waste of hairy crab meat and roe (蟹粉).  They've also added some chili powder here to give it a kick.

    Now come the main courses... which once again arrived before we finished our soups.  So I ended up asking the staff to hold off on our next dish.  Yes, Chinese restaurants everywhere operate on the same principle of sending out dishes at the pace dictated by the kitchen and not by the diner...

    Braised cod with home-made sauce and sesame bun (香酥鳕鱼 酒酿干烧汁) - the cod was battered and deep-fried.  The sauce was made with fermented rice (酒釀) - a very classic Shanghainese ingredient - along with finely diced ham and bamboo shoots.

    Braised prawn with chili sauce served with fried bun (辣酱烧明虾伴雪茄馒头) - pretty big prawn in a sweet and spicy sauce.  Pretty familiar flavors since mom cooks tiger prawns like this at home, although she doesn't add the chili or egg drops and just uses ketchup and tomatoes.

    Braised sea cucumber and pork knuckle with soy scallion sauce (葱烧猪手辽参) - putting two very yummy ingredients together makes me happy.  I could never, ever resist pig trotters, especially when they've been braised until the skin (and the fat and collagen underneath) becomes very tender.  Yum!  The sauce was pretty sweet, and I was wondering if they used spices like cloves.

    The spiny sea cucumber (刺參) was also nicely braised until it was soft and wobbly.  Very tasty.

    Grilled wagyu rib eye with mushroom (火烤雪花牛肉) - FAIL.  Ummm... there's nothing Shanghainese or Chinese about this dish, and if I wanted to eat grilled rib eye, I certainly wouldn't come here for it.  I would forgive the chef if this was executed properly, but these sorry-ass thin slices of beef got cold very quickly.  And who the hell wants to eat cold beef, especially when the marbled fat starts to congeal?!

    Braised pea sprout with maitake mushroom (舞茸菇扒豆苗) - having lived in Hong Kong for the last 20 years, I've gotten used to eating pea shoots (豆苗) during the winter and cooler season... therefore I was surprised to see them on the menu during the summer months.  But apparently they're cultivated year-round in China.

    Braised shredded bean curd with shrimp in broth (大煮干丝) - shredded tofu (干丝) would always have a special place in my heart, since I was taught to eat it by my grandparents.  Simple pleasures.

    Dim sum combination (美点双辉) - when they said "dim sum (點心)" in English, I assumed these would be savory nibbles like dumplings.  Instead we got a couple of sweet pastries...

    Seaweed and cashew puffs (腰果苔条酥) -

    Fanggao with date paste (枣泥方糕) - very, very classic Shanghainese.  Fanggao (方糕) is a little dry and hard, and generally pretty bland... so it's perfectly matched with a sweet paste inside.

    Soybean milk ice cream with Shanghainese fried twisted dough sticks (豆浆油条) - my friend was so unimpressed with this that she shoved it back in my direction after a couple of spoonfuls.  I thought it wasn't bad... and this kinda reminds me of the way Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation takes traditional Chinese flavors and converts them into ice cream dishes.  They even use the same type of mini-casseroles (砂鍋)...

    Home-made raisin ice cream with rum (朗姆酒葡萄干冰糕) - my friend didn't like this, either... and frankly, neither did I.  Again, if I wanted to eat rum raisin ice cream, I could have just gone to the supermarket and gotten myself a tub of Häagen-Dasz!

    Honestly, dinner tonight was very underwhelming.  I've been a long-time fan of Tony Lu's restaurants, and this was the first time I've come away disappointed.  Most of the savory dishes were OK, and one was even pretty yummy.  But when I factor in the exorbitant price of RMB 800 per head and look at the ingredients being used, I can't help but feel a little ripped off.  OK, so I'm paying a premium for dining in an all-private-room restaurant, but I would have felt the same way whether there were two or ten of us in the room.

    So how the hell did this place get to be No. 16 on Asia's 50 Best?  I can think of one theory.  Whereas Fu1039, Fu1088, and Yong Yi Ting (雍颐庭) in the Mandarin Oriental Pudong offer à la carte menus - forcing single or couple diners into ordering a handful of dishes, Fu1015 and sister vegetarian outlet Fu He Hui (福和慧) offer only set menus perfectly suited for travelers.  So when people who vote for Asia's 50 Best visit Shanghai - possibly traveling in small groups - these two outlets become natural destinations.

    In any case, I won't be back here again.  If I ever have the urge to visit another one of Tony Lu's outlets, I'll make sure I round up a few more friends and hit Fu1088 or Fu1039 again... where I'll pay less and get better food.

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    It's the first day of the conference, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker organized a dinner at Hakkasan.  I secretly chuckled when I first heard about the choice of venue, because when I took some Taiwanese clients on my only visit to the London original 10 years ago, I dismissed it as a place serving Chinese food that appealed to foreigners.  But I guess given the make up of the conference attendees, and the fact that it's in a historic building on the Bund, made it a natural choice for an event like this.  And hey, who am I to complain when someone else is footing the bill for dinner?  Just shut up and eat...

    Our hosts have arranged a set menu for us, which seemed draw primarily on the restaurant's "Taste of Hakkasan" menu - no doubt kind of a "greatest hits" selection.  So I guess it's fair to judge their food based on this selection then...

    Deep fried squid salt and pepper (椒盐鲜鱿) - can't go too wrong with this stuff.  Deep-fried food FTW!

    Dim sum platter (四式点心拼) - with four different bites: scallop siew mai, chive dumpling, har gau, and roast duck mushroom.

    Crispy duck salad (沙律香酥鸭) - with pine nuts, alfalfa sprouts, and grapefruit pulp.

    Crispy prawn with chili and spices (辣子琵琶虾) - flattened, dry and slightly chewy.

    Roasted silver cod in Champagne and honey sauce (香槟焗黑鳕鱼) - the sauce was pretty bland.

    Roasted chicken in sesame BBQ sauce (赤麻酱吊烧鸡) - sauce was spicy and a little salty.

    Stir-fry seasonal greens (时日蔬菜) - classic Shanghainese baby bok choy (小白菜) with some deep-fried garlic on top.

    Sautéed Angus striploin with black pepper and merlot juice (蒜子黑椒牛仔粒)

    Fried rice with corn and Chinese pickles (榄菜玉米炒饭) - I wished they had added a little more preserved black olive mustard (欖菜), because this was pretty bland.

    Five spice caramel apple (香料焦糖苹果) - this was kinda interesting, with the apple coming in many thin layers.

    The food was, as I expected, totally forgettable.  It wasn't BAD food, but just absolutely nothing to write home about.  The fact that this was No. 46 on Asia's 50 Best... was kinda like that year when the London original was ranked No. 19 on the World's 50 Best.  Basically, WTF.  Have the other decent restaurants in Asia all closed?  Has anyone ever been to a decent Chinese restaurant?!  I guess we know the answer to that one...

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    I'm in pretty bad shape tonight.  Thanks to the oft-occurring flight delays from Shanghai, I got home at 5:15 a.m. this morning.  Needless to say, I didn't get a whole lotta sleep.  Then my sinusitus got worse, so my doc sprayed some stuff up my nose to get release the congestion, and prescribed some antibiotics.  The combination of these things suddenly knocked my olfactory receptors offline, and soon I was no longer able to smell much.  Not even the glass of 2007 Verget Corton-Charlemagne Vieilles Vignes that my doc treated me after my visit.

    But I had agreed to join a friend for dinner to celebrate our birthdays - since hers is just one day after mine.  And dinner was gonna be at Kiangsu Chekiang and Shanghai Residents (Hong Kong) Association Restaurant (香港蘇浙同鄉會餐廳) - an old favorite member's club I haven't visited in nearly a decade.  So in spite of my lack of sleep and my clogged up nose, I dragged my ass over to dinner.

    There were quite a few hungry mouths to feed, and the food kinda just kept coming... and there was even a second round when some of us (not yours truly) still felt hungry.

    Drunken chicken (花彫醉雞) - not bad, although the flavors from Huadiao wine (花彫) didn't stand out.

    Smoked fish (上海燻魚) - I took a piece from the belly with those big bones, and it seemed particularly wet and juicy.

    Smoked pigeon (煙燻頂鴿) - I guess my nose really wasn't working tonight, because I could only detect a little bit of the smokiness.

    Mock roasted goose (脆皮素鵝) - pretty crispy and good.

    "Twinned" lion fish (鴛鴦沙咀魚) - apparently this was recommended by the staff.  I guess the fish was pretty tender and the flesh had a fairy silky texture.  Interesting to have this served two ways - including battered and deep-fried.

    Smoked duck (樟茶鴨) - haven't had this in a long time, and this was pretty good.  Crispy and smoky skin, with meat that was nicely seasoned, slightly dry and chewy as expected.

    Fried crab, in soya bean sauce and with rice cakes (年糕醬炒青蟹) - this was highly anticipated, and indeed it's one of my favorite dishes in Shanghainese cuisine.  I've always loved Shanghainese rice cakes, and when they're stir-fried with tons of soy sauce and sugar, and comes with crab covered in that sweet, sticky sauce... mmm mmm good.

    Braised pig knuckle (紅燒元蹄) - did I say the last dish was one of my favorites?  Well this is even better, and my favorite since childhood.  How can I not like a hunk of jiggly, wobbly, tasty skin and fat?!

    Dried tofu in shreds, hashed with chicken and ham (雞火拌乾絲) - this isn't my usual or preferred way of having shredded tofu, but I don't mind having it served dry with soy sauce.

    Sauteed shrimps (清炒蝦仁) - the quintessential Shanghainese dish.  The amount of manual labor that goes into shelling these tiny river shrimps is just incredible.  Covered in cornstarch as usual.

    Pan fried yellow fish with salted egg yolk (黃金小黃魚) - actually pretty damn good!  I only took the rear half with the tail, but the yellow croakers were very succulent, and the coating of salted egg yolk provided just the right amount of flavors.

    I was pretty full by now, so I didn't try out a couple of the other dishes... Instead I was saving stomach space for...

    Red bean birthday bun (豆沙壽桃) - the birthday girl was adamant about having this tonight, and I can see why.  These were pretty big!

    Reasonably fluffy, with a generous filling of red bean paste.  Very yum.

    We all brought some wines tonight.  In fact, there was so much wine we could never hope to finish them.  Given my inability to smell anything, I decided to just take small sips of everything, and eventually gave up trying the wines.

    2004 Dom Pérignon - a little warm, ripe and hot on the palate, and a little bland.

    Jacques Selosse Initial, dégorgée 30 Avril 2013 - ripe and full-bodied, a little buttery on the nose.  Much, much more complex than the Dom.

    2003 Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Pucelles, en magnum - very ripe on the palate, hot finish, very little acidity.

    2001 Kistler Chardonnay Vine Hill Vineyard - very ripe on the palate.

    2007 Araujo Sauvignon Blanc Eisele Vineyard - some ripeness on the palate.

    2000 Rauzan-Ségla

    A pretty fun evening, although I was getting pretty depressed as the night went on and I realized I could no longer smell just about anything.  So I went home to get some much needed sleep...

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    It's the third day I haven't been able to smell much of anything, and I'm joining the MNSC boys for dinner.  I already gave them a heads up that my olfactory receptors have been knocked offline, and it would be pointless for me to participate in the regular tasting format.  I did want to try the wines, since I knew that Dr. Poon was bringing out some good stuff as usual, but asked for half pours since any wine was technically wasted on me...  But since I could still taste, albeit with somewhat diminished capacity, I still showed up to dinner at The Pawn.

    House-made ricotta, olive oil, dried herbs, aged balsamic - something familiar to start us off.  Not surprisingly the herbs didn't taste as fragrant to me tonight, but I could still tell there were rosemary and thyme.  I took down a nice slice of bread with this.

    There was also the usual charcuterie board: ibérico shoulder, grape chutney, pickle, grilled toast, home-cured meats - duck breast, salami, pancetta, pork rillettes.  Plus the duck liver parfait that I love so much.  I must have been pretty hungry, because I had trouble stopping.  I wanted to devour 3 slices of bread with the rillettes and parfait...  And that lardo...

    Rabbit with nasturtium and sorrel - medallions of rabbit loin, and also what seemed like rabbit terrine with aspic.  With sorrel ice and sorrel emulsion.  You've also got a couple of pieces of caramelized hazelnut crisps with chicken liver parfait inside.  Although the dish was cold and I wasn't expecting cold rabbit, I found the dish pretty enjoyable.

    Sea bass, dried black olive, courgette - the sea bass was well-executed but under-seasoned.  Served with sliced courgettes, courgette mash, black olive purée and nasturtium.

    Suckling piglet belly, poached pineapple, confit squid - now having this dish for the third time, and yeah, me likey the pork belly.  The fresh and poached pineapple as well as the confit squid added both texture contrast and flavor balance, but somehow the dish fell a little short.  Maybe the crackling just wasn't crispy and crunchy enough.  Maybe there wasn't enough fat underneath.  In any case, while the dish was tasty, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as it should have been.

    I was too full to have dessert, even though my sweet tooth was definitely tempted.

    But let's look at the lineup of wines Dr. Poon generously prepared for us... none of which I was able to smell.

    1964 Dom Pérignon - not a lot of bubbles left.  A little marmalade, and a little hot and ripe on the palate.

    First flight: opened and decanted about an hour prior to serving.
    1990 La Mission Haut-Brion

    1990 Lafite-Rothshild

    Second flight:
    1988 Ponsot Clos de la Roche Cuvée William

    1988 Guigal Côte-Rôtie La Turque

    1988 Domaine Leroy Romanée-St.-Vivant

    Third flight:
    1989 Rayas

    1989 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Hommage à Etienne Guigal

    1989 Rousseau Chambertin

    An incredible lineup of wines, thanks to Dr. Poon's generosity. How I wish I had been able to get some pleasure out of tasting these... instead of feeling miserable.  Oh well...

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    Sheets pinged me bright and early this morning, reminding me of our lunch date.  I had the privilege of lunching with him and Uncle Six at the family's famed Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓) last year, but I've been waiting for another opportunity to have dim sum with them.  I finally got my chance today, and I roped in another friend to join us.

    We walked through to the very back of the restaurant to the usual table.  The placard announcing that the table is occupied for "employee lunch" was prominently displayed, in the vain hopes that customers fighting for a table would have the good sense to leave us alone.  To no one's surprise, not everyone got that message...

    The elders have already started, so we quickly took our seats and dug into the food...

    Steamed rice flour rolls with minced beef (牛肉腸粉)

    Siu mai (燒賣)

    Steamed dumplings with shark's fin (魚翅餃) - Sheets guaranteed that there was absolutely no shark's fin here...

    Beef siu mai (牛肉燒賣)

    Fish cake rolls (魚崧扎)

    Steamed glutinous rice with chicken (古法糯米雞)

    Stir-fried beef noodles (乾炒牛河) - even with my slightly dulled sense of taste, I could taste the wok hei (鑊氣).

    Choy sum (菜心)

    Steamed brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕) - very nice.

    Deep-fried egg crullers (蛋散) - I saw these on a pushcart and I just had to flag the server down and get some.  These are just about the biggest crullers I have seen in this town.  While they may not have been the best, they were still very, very satisfying...

    It was good to finally scratch this long-awaited lunch off my list.  Very grateful to Sheets for the opportunity and the treat.

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    I was updating Doc on my condition this morning when he suggested we meet for lunch at one of his usual spots.  I haven't been a frequent visitor to Duddell's (都爹利會館), as it's not a natural choice for me.  But I'm always happy to have occasion to try the food, and it's been a good 6 months since my last visit.

    I took the liberty of ordering a few dim sum items, picking out ones with unusual ingredients, to see whether the kitchen can deliver.

    Spring roll with shrimp and black truffle (松露鮮蝦春卷) - sure, I could taste a little bit of the truffle, but it didn't add all that much to the spring rolls.

    Abalone puff with chicken (原隻鮑魚雞粒酥) - I liked the texture of the whole abalone, but to be honest it didn't have a whole lot of flavor.

    Roasted duck dumpling with preserved vegetable (雪裡紅火鴨餃) - this was a winner.

    Growing up with Shanghainese food at home meant I have been eating preserved leafy mustard (雪裡蕻), so the flavors were instantly familiar.  Worked well with the diced roast duck.

    Seafood dumpling with egg white and caviar (黑魚子蛋白海皇餃) - not bad, but once again the "caviar" didn't add a whole lot to the dish.

    Steamed rice roll with beef and tangerine peel (陳皮馬蹄牛肉腸粉) - pretty decent.  I really liked the crunch from diced water chestnuts, and also the fragrance from the preserved tangerine peel.

    Braised seasonal vegetable with oyster mushroom and shrimp roe (蝦籽百靈菇扒時蔬) - spinach with crunchy oyster mushrooms, with deep flavors coming from shrimp roe in a starchy sauce.

    Doc's a regular here, so they sent us a complimentary dessert platter with a trio of treats:
    Steamed bun with sesame custard (麻黃包) - very, very delish with a filling that was rich in flavors.
    Baked sago pudding (焗西米布甸) - very nice and rich. To my surprise, I couldn't stop spooning it into my mouth.
    Century egg puff (皮蛋酥) - I'm sure it's good but this dessert just isn't my cup of tea.

    Pretty good lunch, although some dim sum items seemed to have been created with the intention of adding a tiny dab of ingredients which would make the whole thing look more "premium".  I guess I should come back for dinner again... maybe.

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    Since early 2007, I have been wanting to gear my future travels towards visiting more locations which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are so many amazing places around the world to see!

    Here is the list that I have already visited so far. Click on the links to see pictures from my Picasa albums.

    Total count: 59 sites in 19 countries

    Greater Blue Mountains Area - 1976
    Sydney Opera House - 1976

    Angkor - 2001

    The Great Wall - 1997, 1999
    The Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang - 1997, 1999 (Beijing only)
    Mogao Caves - 1999
    Temple of Heaven - 1997, 1999
    Summer Palace - 1997
    Imperial Tombs of the Ming and Qing Dynasties - 1997
    Historic Centre of Macao - 1990, 1995, 2005, 2010
    Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an - Tianshan Corridor - 1998, 1999
    South China Karst - 2000
    Xinjiang Tianshan - 1998
    Westlake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou - 1998

    Bordeaux, Port of the Moon - 2009
    Cathedral of Notre Dame, Former Abbey of Saint-Remi and Palace of Tau, Reims - 2002, 2009
    Champagne Hillsides, Houses and Cellars - 2002, 2009
    Climats, terroirs of Burgundy - 2010
    Historic Center of Avignon: Papal Palace, Episcopal Ensemble and Avignon Bridge - 2011
    Historic Center of Lyons - 2011
    Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion - 2009
    Palace and Park of Versailles - 2009
    Paris, Banks of the Seine - 1994, 1995, 1997, 2002, 2009, 2010, 2011
    Roman Theater and its Surroundings and the "Triumphal Arch" of Orange - 2011

    Agra Fort - 2007
    Taj Mahal - 2007
    Fatehpur Sikri - 2007
    Humayun's Tomb, Dehli - 2007
    Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Dehli - 2007

    Borobudur Temple Compounds - 2005
    Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy - 1997
    Prambanan Temple Compounds - 2005

    Fujisan, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration - 1983, 1985, 2002, 2004,
    Himeji-jo - 1998
    Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) - 1998, 2006
    Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara - 2006
    Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range - 2003
    Shrines and Temples of Nikko - 2007

    Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi - 2008
    Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly - 2008
    Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang'an - Tianshan Corridor - 2008

    Changdeokgung Palace Complex - 2008

    Melaka and George Town, historic cities of the Straights of Malacca - 2003

    Bahla Fort - 2007
    Falaj System of Irrigation - 2007

    Monastery of the Hieronymites and Tower of Belen in Lisbon - 2006
    Historic Centre of Oporto - 2006
    Alto Douro Wine Region - 2006

    Singapore Botanical Gardens - 1974, 1975, 1976, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1999, 2004

    Works of Antonio Gaudi - 2006

    Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces - 2008, 2011

    Historic City of Ayutthaya - 2008
    Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic Towns - 2008

    United Kingdom
    Westminster Palace, Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church - 1976
    Tower of London - 1976, 2005

    United States
    Statue of Liberty - 1994, 2006

    Itchan Kala - 2008
    Historic Center of Bukhara - 2008
    Historic Center of Shakhrisyabz - 2008
    Samarkand - Crossroads of Cultures - 2008

    This list will be continuously updated as my travels take me to more sites.

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  • 07/05/15--01:04: Sustainable but not local
  • I was on my way to Causeway Bay to meet Hello Kitty for lunch when she suggested that we check out Jamie's Italian.  Neither of us have actually been there since the place opened last year.  It was never high on my list of priorities, and there was the issue of long lines in the months after opening.  Since I don't have that famous mythical "food writer's card" that someone waved to skip the long lines, I simply didn't go.

    We were going for a late lunch, and since many months have passed and they've actually opened a second location across the harbor, I figured there wouldn't be any lines now.  I was right.

    Our server brought us the menus, which included a "Sustainable Seafood Week Menu".  Since I do try to be more environmentally conscious, and do carry a copy of the World Wildlife Fund's Sustainable Seafood Guide, I decided to order two dishes off this particular menu.

    Smoked mackerel bruschetta - I was a little bit surprised that this came on one single piece of hard focaccia, but meant I had to cut it myself before eating or sharing.  The fennel didn't seem to carry much flavor on its own, but thankfully the ricotta was nice, and the mackerel did deliver good, smoky flavors.

    Crab tagliolini - the kick from the chili was surprisingly strong, and kinda overwhelmed the flavors of the crab meat, but at least the texture was good.  A shame that the tagliolini was a tad overcooked and limp.

    Tagliatelle bolognese - this was much better.  The tagliatelle was more al dente, and the ragù rich with the flavors of Chianti.

    Epic brownie - I'm not a brownie connoisseur, but I'm not a fan of this.  This was like one of those flourless cakes that just tasted like a mouthful of dry powder... and there ain't nothin'"fudgy" about it - despite what the menu claims.  This HAD to be taken with the gelato or you'd be gulping down water to wash the powder off your tongue.  There wasn't nearly enough sauce, either.  But at least the caramelized popcorn was good... and the only saving grace here.

    I didn't come here with any expectations, and I guess the price point was low enough that there wasn't much to complain about.  Other than the brownie, the savory dishes we had were decent.

    But the "sustainability" bit pushed a button here...  While I applaud Jamie's for sourcing sustainable seafood, it is sad that all the sustainable seafood came from Ireland or Denmark - which meant that they were shipped a long way from home, and thus had a reasonable carbon footprint.  Here in Hong Kong we pride ourselves in the availability of seafood, and it's a shame that Jamie's was unable to source their sustainable seafood locally.  Was that not an option?

    I guess we still have a long way to go.

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  • 07/07/15--05:25: Michelin fried noodle
  • I needed to grab a quick dinner in Causeway Bay before meeting up with a friend for drinks, and on this night, I decided to make a long-overdue return to Ho Hung Kee (何洪記).

    The word "return" isn't exactly accurate, since the Ho Hung Kee today looks very different from my last visit a few years ago.  They have moved from their old, street-level shop on Sharp Street East to the bright and airy space inside Hysan Place.  Instead of old, wooden tables with glass tops, we now dine on beautiful, white marble tops.  The tables have more space between them even though they are still somewhat cramped together, but at least there is now ample space between the rows of tables.  And the dining space has at least doubled, if not close to tripling.

    All this comes at a cost, of course.  The price of my favorite dish - which I had listed as among the food I would want to eat in my last 24 hours on earth in my interview with Apple Daily (蘋果日報) - has gone up by at least 70%.  And I don't seem to remember Ho Hung Kee adding on a 10% service charge at their old location...

    Stir-fried rice noodles with beef (乾炒牛河) - my old favorite.  Still pretty damn good, with enough oil to make it tasty yet not enough to make it greasy.  Love the taste commonly known as "wok hei (鑊氣)", showing that the dish was fried at high heat.  And the onions, spring onions, yellowed chives, and bean sprouts all add their distinctive flavors.  Very satisfying.

    But Michelin star worthy?  Not a place like this.

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  • 07/09/15--22:52: Golden happiness
  • It's been a helluva week at work, and there hasn't been a lot of happiness in the last few days.  So on Friday, when we can kinda breathe a sigh of relife - at least temporarily - I decided I needed a little bit of happiness to perk myself up.  I roped in a good friend who can commiserate with me, and went for lunch at Gold by Harlan Goldstein.

    As usual I passed up the set lunch in favor of one of two pastas that I almost always order here, even though it cost a good deal more than my friend's set lunch.  It's not that I don't think the set isn't gonna be delicious or good value for money, but I came here to maximize my happiness... and cost be damned!

    Linguine, Spanish red prawns, shrimp paste, garlic, chili and bottarga - I can never resist any carabineros, and although these were significantly smaller than what I used to have, I got to have 4 of these... and that means 4 heads I can suck the goodies out of!  That shellfish sauce with dried shrimp... so much umami.  A little bit of chili to add some kick, and shavings of bottarga on top.

    Yeah, I got exactly what I came for - a boost in happiness.  Now I can go back to the grind at the office.

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    Dinner tonight was with Hello Kitty and My Birdbrain Cousin, and I planned it very poorly... or rather, didn't really plan at all.  I had to call 4 restaurants before finding one with seats at a reasonable hour, and in the end had to settle for Sun Tung Lok (新同樂魚翅海鮮酒家) in Tsim Sha Tsui.

    From its inception back in the glorious days, this place has always been known for its over-the-top emphasis on shark's fin, abalone, bird's nest...etc.  So it was no surprise that we sat next to a Strong Country couple as I overheard the woman ask the man whether they were having shark's fin or abalone tonight.  Alas, I am too much of a cheapskate to order ingredients like that... especially since I never order shark's fin for environmental reasons.

    Braised Spanish pork belly in homemade kimchi gravy with toast (京韓烤西班牙黑毛豬腩) - we had no idea how big this was... and it was pretty monstrous!  Oh yeah, this pork belly was sooooo good...  Just look at the grill marks on the skin...

    ...and the layers of fat.  Very, very tender.  I didn't quite get the "kimchi gravy"... but we needed it on top of those incredibly delicious, double-deep-fried toast sticks... But honestly, the pile of canned corn was a little WTF...

    Pan-fried minced pork with spicy salt and Malaysian's Nyonya gravy (馬來娘惹五香煎手啄肉餅) - this was also a lot bigger than expected.  These minced pork patties were made with diced water chestnuts, corn, and some chopped chilis.  Pretty good stuff.

    Not sure why they think the gravy is "Nonya", but I tasted a little shacha sauce (沙茶醬).

    This was the point when I started to get a little upset.  We had barely begun to touch the first dish of pork belly, and the pork patties were also on the table, when they decided to bring us the third dish.  There are two things wrong with this kind of service...

    First, why would the kitchen serve us three dishes in quick succession when we haven't even made a dent in the first dish?  There were only 3 of us, so how did the kitchen expect us to go through the first two dishes so quickly?  To be honest, this is the common problem with probably 90% of Chinese restaurants out there - they all try to serve all the dishes you've ordered in the space of 10 minutes... and who gives a shit whether you can go through your food before they all get cold?!

    The other problem - and one that I find particularly unforgivable for a top-end restaurant with 2 Michelin stars accustomed to serving supposedly discerning clients - is the fact that the veg course was served in the middle and not at the end just before the carbs.  Anyone who knows anything about the serving order of dishes for Chinese food will not make this mistake.  So why the hell did they just throw the veg dish on our table at this point in time?!

    Daylily in superior broth (上湯金針菜) - very seasonal dish, with very clean flavors.  Love it.

    I told the waitstaff that I wanted the kitchen to hold off on serving the other dishes, since we have barely touched the three dishes we've already got.

    After a few minutes, things got even worse.  They decided to bring us our fourth dish, even though I gave specific instructions to hold off.  I almost blew up, and the staff saw that I was visibly angry.  This was simply inexcusable.  Is this the kind of service one should expect from an illustrious restaurant, with the famed Chef Chan (陳勇) helming the kitchen?  Why is there absolutely no coordination between the kitchen and the front of house?

    The staff took our next dish back to the kitchen, with instructions to make a new batch.

    Sweet and sour Kyushu king prawn with pine nuts (松子咕嚕原隻九州蝦皇) - when the staff figured that we had polished off enough of the first three dishes, they brought this out for the second time.

    Truth be told, I ordered this because My Birdbrain Cousin asked we can have good sweet and sour pork... and I couldn't find it on the menu.  The waitstaff overheard our disappointment, and informed us that, of course, the kitchen can whip up a proper sweet and sour pork if we so wished.  But in the end I figured we should try something different.

    And this was a little different.  It is basically a different version of sweet and sour fish (松子魚)... and they made sure there were pine nuts.  Not bad at all, and they served it with a thin piece of deep-fried toast underneath...

    Seafood fried rice with preserved shrimp paste (大澳蝦醬海鮮炒飯) - pretty good, with just enough of that shrimp paste from Tai O (大澳) to enhance the flavors, but not too much to be overpowering.  With diced prawn and scallop.

    1999 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Brune et Blonde - should have chilled it as it is too warm.  Lots of sweet fruit in the nose, like prunes.  Very fragrant nose with woody notes.  Acidity was evident in the nose, and also on the palate.  Still plenty of tannins here.

    The restaurant offered us free dessert, but we declined.  We were simply too full, and we had something else in mind for dessert, just a few floors down at street level...

    There's a seasonal flavor at Lab Made that I've been wanting to try... and tonight was the perfect occasion.

    HK crispy - meant to simulate the tastes and textures of the classic Hong Kong breakfast of peanut butter and condensed milk on toast.  This was actually really good, with lots of peanut butter flavors... especially the savory side.  They sprinkled chunks of what seemed to be melba toast, as well as the same toast ground into powder.  Very, very happy.

    Many thanks to My Birdbrain Cousin for treating me to a late birthday dinner.

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