My godson Bear got a few days off school this week, and Mrs. Tigger decided to take him for another trip to Hong Kong Disneyland. She invited me to come along, and being the dutiful godfather that I am, I figured I'd take the afternoon off and join them.
When I arrived at the park, Bear was waiting to take pictures with Donald and Daisy - who were dressed as jack-o'-lanterns. We were soon picked up by our guide, who would accompany us on our three-hour tour.
Now, Mrs. Tigger has obviously taken Bear to Disneyland many, many times. So why would they need a tour guide, you ask? Well, for the tidy sum of HKD 4,688, the guide will spend three hours with you and take you anywhere you want, while enabling you and five of your friends to cut to the front of the line on any ride or any show. We entered through the exits and side doors of every ride, jumping in front of just about everyone else who was waiting in line. That was pretty damn sweet!
As our tour started at the same time that the Flights of Fantasy Parade, and this was something that Bear absolutely loves, we hung around Sleeping Beauty Castle to watch. It was obvious that in spite of his recent fondness for Batman, Mickey is still his best friend.
After a while we decided to start our tour. Not surprisingly the Cinderella Carousel was our first stop, and I jumped on a horse in front of Bear so I could film him. We moved into Tomorrowland and did some target practice at Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster, but I only got to Level 3... Bear and his new best friend rode on the Orbitron, then I joined him and Mrs. Tigger driving around in Autopia - which turned out to be a tad boring.
Since Bear no longer wants to go on the Space Mountain ride with his mama, she roped me into riding with her. I think it's been more than a decade since I last rode on a roller coaster, and I had a lot of fun sitting in the front of the car. We crossed into Grizzly Gulch so that Bear could take his very first ride on the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars - now that he was finally tall enough! Bear and I rode in the very front, and I could see he really loved the ride. I was happy to have shared this experience with him.
Mrs. Tigger, Babu, and I went through Mystic Manor together, where we found that the vehicles were not set on rails. Instead, their movements were controlled through a Wifi network. That was pretty cool.
Once we crossed into Toy Story Land, I decided I had had enough rides for the day, and would just hang around and film the rest of the family. Bear went on the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop, which is a ride he likes.
Mrs. Tigger decided that she needed to take one more ride on the RC Racer, and in retrospect maybe I should have joined her...
We went through most of the rides that we wanted to do in nearly 3 hours, and I really did have fun hanging out at Disneyland with Bear. As I had a dinner appointment back in town, I left them just as the sun was starting to set...
Our friend David Lai has partnered with Yenn Wong and opened up Fish School, doing what he is best known for these days - serving up delicious, local seafood. He's developed strong relationships with local fishermen and fishmongers, enabling him to get prized catch that others only hear about. So we were very, very excited when this new project finally came to fruition.
It seemed incredible that, despite all of us being big fans and knowing David well, none of us had been to Fish School during its first week of operation. So when Felix came back to town, we figured we'd use this as an opportunity to check the place out.
Just like Neighborhood, the entrance to Fish School is in a non-descript alley, and took me a minute or two to figure out. At least this time around, there was a lit sign visible from the street to provide a clue.
The place was definitely hipster, from the decor down to the staff... and that doesn't work for an old fart like me. Most of the staff wore white lab coats, and more than a few had ink on their arms... prompting ILove Lubutin to take out her fountain pen and draw a few fishies on her arm. The menu comes on a stainless steel clipboard that weighs entirely too much for no obvious reason. Someone remarked that the skinny wine coolers looked like marble urns that you put ashes in, and in any case they are pretty useless when it comes to chilling wine.
Exposed copper pipes descend down a wall and turn into the faucet, with one of those lever handles that you find regulating gas pipes to turn the water on and off. I gotta admit that my eyes rolled back a little, and I might have emitted a little groan...
And we collectively complained about the decibel level. Does the music really need to be this loud? At some point it starts to resemble a bar or a night club, not a restaurant where one expects to carry on a decent conversation with fellow diners.
Anyway... enough bitching about the place itself. I went to the kitchen to greet The Man in the White Tee Shirt, and he was pretty excited about the fish he had reserved for us as our main course. The starters would be a combination of things that we ordered and dishes that he felt we should have.
Mantis shrimp popcorn / cured duck yolk - anything deep-fried is automatically pretty good in my book, and this was definitely very tasty.
Texture was perfect. The sweet taste of mantis shrimp came through, and the duck yolk flavors weren't too overpowering.
Charcoal grilled "day-dried" threadfin - the four-finger threadfin (馬友) was dried/salted for a day, perhaps in a similar preparation as the Japanese ichiyaboshi (一夜干し). A simple grilling over charcoal would do the job.
The drying definitely changed the texture of this fatty fish, making it a little more flaky. Very simple, and very yum.
Monkfish liver foie gras pressé / aged tangerine peel / roselle - any time I see ankimo (あん肝) on the menu, I simply can't resist. This was interesting as it came with chunks of Chinese aged tangerine peel (陳皮) encased in the middle, which provided not only texture but citrus fragrance and flavors.
Served on brioche sticks. The acidity from roselle provided the nice balance, although I never would have complained about monkfish liver being fatty. The texture was just oh-so-smooth.
Marinated raw crab / sea urchin / oyster rice - this dish has popped up numerous times on social media over the last week and seems to be quite the darling. I've never been a fan of raw, marinated crab, but I made an exception tonight to eat it. The ingredients were scooped out of the shell and mixed in with the warm glutinous rice. We were told that the flavors were "a little Thai", and it definitely had more of a spicy kick than I expected.
Charcoal grilled eel - I normally don't like the ones I see in Cantonese restaurants, because they all taste of mud. This had no trace of mud whatsoever, and the honey glaze on top of the crunchy skin was just the right amount.
Heirloom vegetables and herbs garden "gargouiilou" - another one of David's hommage to Michel Bras. This included carrots, eggplants, pumpkin, and plenty of herbs.
White prawns / amaranth "risotto" / pickled radishes - the prawns were done just right, and came with a creamy pool of amaranth grains, topped with raw salmon roe and pickled radish. I was so happy to have been given a head...
Sole meunière - so here it is. Our main dish. I jokingly complained that David was so stingy that he served us just half a sole, but the truth was that this was one humongous fish! No, that's not a dessert fork on the side of the plate... This wild-caught tonguesole (金邊方利) apparently weighed more than 4 catties (斤), which was supposedly the largest specimen that the fishermen have seen for a number of years. David told us that he absolutely hated to cut the fish in half, but the truth was that there was no pan large enough in the restaurant to fit the entire fish... so he had to chop it so that it could be properly cooked.
And properly cooked, it was! A look at the bones shows that the flesh was falling off the bone... So tender, and with crunchy, deliciously rich and acidic skin. Since we got the front half with the head, we made sure to dig deep and thoroughly through every nook and cranny to get the stuff out - checking for eyes and teeth. Not much was left on the plate other than the bones...
Lemon custard / almond / coriander - we joked that this was inspired by the Cantonese dessert of 楊枝甘露, with pomelo and orange on top of lemon custard and grated almond powder.
Lemon marigold sorbet / poached plum / roselle - the lemon marigold sorbet was very interesting, and I definitely tasted the floral flavors. Too bad the plums were too hard and unripe.
Pumpkin ice cream / persimmon / melon - this was a winner. The pumpkin ice cream was yummy, but the killer was the soft, almost mushy persimmon. The kicker? The medallions of pickled melon.
Mango / burnt coconut ice cream / coffee - but the real winner tonight, at least for me, was this. We joked with Felix that, being a gweilo, he must automatically like this dessert because there's mango in it... The flavors of the burnt coconut ice cream - along with toasted coconut - worked incredibly well with the sprinkle of coffee-flavored powder at the bottom. The chunks of mango and the mango sauce just added a little more exotic tropical touches.
Other than Felix and I, this is normally not a drinking crowd... so we brought a little less wine than we ended up needing.
2008 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Côte de Bechalin - a little warm at first, so it was a little too acidic on the palate but not very crisp.
1990 Nicolas Potel Meursault 1er Cru Perrières - opened for more than an hour but nose was still a little closed. A little ripe and round on the palate. Finally opened up nicely after 2 hours, with lemon, toasty oak, and a little sweet butter in the nose. Should have gotten it decanted.
1988 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abstberg Riesling Auslese, from half-bottle - muscat grapes, white flowers in the nose. Nice balance between the acidity and the sweetness on the palate.
Needless to say, we were very happy with the food. Even with all our bitching about the place being too hipster and the music being a little too loud, the minute we took our first bites into the tonguesole, everything else ceased to matter. Yeah, we'd put up with anything just to have something like this again! Thank you, sir... may I have another?
About a month ago, I returned from a long roadtrip in the US, fired up my computer, and saw a tweet about Richard Ekkebus getting Ferran Adrià to come to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental. Being a HUGE fan of Ferran's, I immediately fired off a tweet to Richard, jokingly asking him "who do I hv 2 kill 4 a seat?" Richard rather cleverly suggested that I "shoot" an email to him, and so I did as I was told. Soon I had myself a table, and went about recruiting partners in crime.
There was some debate among my friends about whether the price of the dinner was "worth it" or "reasonable". I gotta admit that when I first found out about the cost of dinner - which was, admittedly, AFTER I had asked for a table - I experienced a little sticker shock myself. First of all... this was a book tour by Ferran. Everyone gets a set of the massive elBulli 2005-2011, the seven-volume compendium published by Phaidon that weighs a whopping 18kg... This presents a problem for some couples, who don't need 2 sets of books at home... and has led at least one couple to decline my invitation.
Stripping out the list price of the books makes the cost of the 12-course dinner, wine-pairing included, somewhat more palatable. But here we run into another objection from some people : for the not-inconsiderable price, what's on the plate isn't actually cooked by Ferran or his team. It's a menu put together by Richard and Amber Chef de Cuisine Maxime Gilbert - in consultation with (and obviously "approved by") Ferran. So it's not exactly equivalent to a "guest chef" performance. What you get comes 100% from Team Amber (with all due respect from this very fine team).
Comparisons were immediately made with the time Thomas Keller flew in with his team for a guest chef program at the Mandarin Oriental, and how diners experienced sticker shock back then (including myself, before later being told how much free-flowing wine was being poured at those dinners). People scoffed this time just as they did back then.
But plenty of people wanted in on this. Richard was jokingly being compared to Willy Wonka - holding the "golden ticket". Lots of people were more than happy to pay, only to be left empty-handed and upset. That's what you call "star power", and only a few people in the culinary world today command that kind of power.
In retrospect I kinda regret not going to the press event yesterday. It would have given me a chance to greet him a day earlier, but I didn't really think about spending my lunch hour at the event. And I'm sure his speech was a little different from the one he gave tonight, judging from friends' posts on social media.
After a round of Champagne and snacks, Richard made a short speech to introduce Ferran. He explained that each dish tonight was inspired by techniques developed by elBulli during a certain year (and was marked as such), and that tonight's dinner was by no means a copy of the dishes at elBulli.
We were shown a video introducing the work of elBullifoundation, after which Ferran delivered an inspiration talk. Other than explaining that he wanted to be disruptive force to challenge thinking in the culinary world, and to collect and disseminate knowledge - which I already knew from his visit 2 years ago - there were a couple of points I found noteworthy:
- an interesting analogy was made between going to a restaurant and watching a movie. When a diner orders à la carte at a restaurant based on the diner's own preferences, sometimes one ends up "watching the wrong movie" and leaves without the full experience. When the diner is served an entire tasting menu designed by the chef, he/she is able to experience the story as the chef/director had intended.
- there are few, if any, scholarships for talented young people wishing to pursue a career in gastronomy. Ferran wishes to change that, to encourage young people to enter this field, and introduced a young girl present who expressed her wish to work for him.
- the rationale behind publishing the compendium was to document the creative process as well as the inspiration behind the dishes. He was approached one night by diners who enjoyed the dishes, but wanted to understand the "why". Ferran proceeded to ask the room to guess the rationale behind the dish where the diner is asked to suckle on a flower to extract nectar, before explaining that he wanted diners to experience what it feels like to be a bee.
- Ferran also made the point that, when one looks at a masterpiece, frame of reference is lost if one does not know the year or era that the art was created. Hence the importance of dating their culinary creations.
Anyway... after everyone has had a chance to pose for pics with Ferran and Richard, we all took our seats and waited for dinner to be served... As it turns out, I've had a number of the dishes before.
First, the snacks that came with the first bubbly:
Watermelon and blood orange sangria/ inspiration technique EB98 - something I first enjoyed at this lunch in 2013. Loved starting with something sweet and refreshing.
Fennel and tomato macaroon/ inspiration technique EB02 - unfortunately I didn't manage to catch this snack tonight, but I have had it a few times starting with this lunch in 2015.
Fish skin chicharon with lemon peel and pith/ inspiration technique EB03 - very, very delish. Love the citrus flavors together with that crunchy fish skin. I would happily keep snacking on this non-stop.
Liquid 'nose to tail' and mustard croquette/ inspiration technique EB98 - something I first enjoyed at this dinner in 2013. What's not to love about a deep-fried ball of liquid pig?!
Belotta air baguette/ inspiration technique EB03 - first enjoyed at this lunch in 2013. Amazing how the baguette just seems to crumble and disappear with a poof!
2005 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - toasty nose. Very nice on the palate.
Underneath the tomato espuma lay a steamed oyster, and the fruity, acidic flavors of the espuma balanced out the slightly briny flavors of the oyster. The finely diced potato was surprisingly crunchy while showing just the slightest bit of starchiness, well-complemented by the seaweed and shallots. Not surprisingly it was the crunchy cubes of chipolata that made my heart sing...
2012 Cloudy Bay Te Koko - really big nose of Muscat grapes, definitely green notes here, with some minerality. Nice acidity on the palate and perfectly balanced with ripeness and sweetness. A lovely wine.
Raw amber jack, kyuri cucumber juice and Granny Smith snow/ inspiration technique EB99 - I mixed the Granny Smith snow with the slices of raw amberjack, which kinda covered up the natural flavors of the fish but I didn't mind. The medallion of cucumber jelly embedded with cucumber cubes was really clean and refreshing.
2013 Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Villages - toasty nose. Easy to drink but the least interesting wine of the evening.
Cep mushrooms and textures/ inspiration technique EB01 - a delicious pile of powder, mousse, and crispy pearls of mushroom, herbs, and (green peas?). Love the paper-thin cep wafer.
Beetroot, raspberry and foie gras Chupa Chup/ inspiration technique EB96 - first enjoyed at this dinner in 2007, and one of Amber's signatures which has been taken off the menu. My Favorite Cousin declared that she wished she could be served one of these every half-hour...
1998 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon P2 - nice and ripe on the palate with a little acidity on the finish. A little floral and a little yeasty on the nose. Yum.
Raw blue lobster, pig head and cauliflower couscous/ inspiration technique EB00 - what a beautiful dish! A wafer-thin layer of crunchy head cheese sits at the very bottom, topped with a layer of homard bleu carpaccio and a "couscous" of cauliflower... garnished with radish, sorrel, and flowers. The pearls provided some citrus flavors. So delicate and fine. Makes one wish the serving were three times as large!
2011 Casa Lapostolle Chardonnay Cuvée Alexandre - grassy and sweet, very ripe and buttery on the nose. Very ripe on the palate.
Black autumn truffle omelette surprise with artichoke/ inspiration technique EB03 - lovely presentation with bands of truffle mash.
Underneath the layer of "skin" was artichoke purée, topped with black truffle.
2011 Maison de la Cabotte Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes - a little fruity, some forest notes with dried herbs on the nose. Some acidity on the palate here.
Black/white cod under a squid veil/ inspiration technique EB04 - this came looking like a bloc of black lava...
Lifting the layer of squid ink gel revealed a foamy and mushy mix of bacalhau and cod, along with caviar. Not sure what the white strands were, but they had the kick of raw garlic. Very yum.
2010 Nevis Bluff Pinot Noir - wonderful nose of sweet fruit here.
Cuttlefish tagliatelle, Parmesan foam and white Alba truffle/ inspiration technique EB03 - first enjoyed at this lunch in 2014. Absolutely loooooove both the texture and bite of the cuttlefish "noodles", along with the "carbonara" sauce. Of course the white truffle shavings didn't hurt, either!
2012 Ca'Marcanda 'Promis' - lots of dried herbs, sweet fruit, with medicinal notes alongside a little smokiness. Loved that this was served at a cool temperature.
Bloody duck/ inspiration technique EB10 - not liking the "splatter" but this was one delicious dish! Loved the beetroot crisp.
The duck was melt-in-your-mouth, with very rich flavors which I assumed to come from the blood sauce. I would have loved another serving of this...
2010 Numanthia Toro Numanthia - really nice and fruity, really ripe on the nose, a little exotic coconut, with cool fruit and slightly metallic notes. A great pairing of a big wine with the big, bold flavors of the duck.
Pineapple, aloe vera, banana, lime and olive oil/ inspiration technique EB04 - thin slices of pineapple with banana sorbet, cubes of aloe vera, with olive oil pearls and shavings of lime zest.
2004 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé - toasty with strawberries and a nice and yeasty nose.
Dulcey chocolate, crispy microwave cake and peanut butter ice cream/ inspiration technique EB04 - first enjoyed at this dinner in 2014. Just loooove the texture and the flavors of the chocolate sphere and mousse. The peanut butter ice cream on the side was pretty delish, too!
2013 Domaine des Forges Coteaux du Layon Saint-Aubin - very sweet with some acidity.
Coconut, rice crispy and bitter chocolate mini-magnum/ inspiration technique EB03 - first enjoyed at this lunch in 2010.
Cool and refreshing coconut sorbet in the middle, with rice crispies in the chocolate coating. Always a nice way to finish a meal here.
A truly special dinner tonight. I was glad to have shared the evening with a couple of friends (and of course My Favorite Cousin), and it was certainly a nice tribute to Ferran and the team at elBulli who - as Richard said at the start of the evening - changed the way we cook and therefore also the way we eat. Unlike the last time I saw Ferran, I didn't get to spend any time with him tonight, but that didn't matter. I am, after all, not as privileged as the Great One... but I'm just happy to have had a seat tonight and bask in his aura.
A friend was in town and wanted to catch up with the Great One and me, and of course we met up over dinner. For some reason the task of choosing a restaurant fell on my shoulders, and I kept drawing blanks in my head... except for places with Japanese themes. Since I haven't been back to Ronin for over a year - and it was doubtful that my friend had ever been - I decided it would be an interesting night out together.
As it turned out, the Great One had just seen Matt a few nights ago while dining at Amber with Ferran Adrià... before Ferran went over to Yardbird with the Amber team for his second dinner. We had ordered a couple of our favorite dishes and asked the kitchen to "fill in the blanks", but once Matt arrived and saw us at the bar, things got a little more interesting...
The welcome snack / amuse bouche was a few pea shoots marinated in dashi (出汁) and yuzu (柚子).
Kumamoto oyster, apple, ginger - there was a hint of apple and a hint of ginger, but whatever else they put in was so salty that it covered up the creamy flavors of the oyster.
Uni, fresh nori, aonori panko - there is a pile of panko (パン粉) at the bottom that's been tossed with aonori (青海苔), plus some fresh nori (生海苔), and a little bit of yuzu oil. Mixing things up gave some crunch to the otherwise creamy sea urchin, and also added interesting fragrance from both the seaweed and the yuzu.
Then came the usual platter of sashimi when one asks for a tasting:
Tai seabream sashimi, karasumi, yuzu - always good to have bottarga.
Largescale blackfish (目仁奈) - never had this fish before. Whatever they put on top of the "flower roll" had a spicy kick to it.
Saba mackerel sashimi, persimmon, smoke - the usual, and love the fattiness of the fish paired with the sweet persimmon.
Kampachi amberjack sashimi, negi soy, sesame - the "relish" on top was full of spring onion and very tasty.
Hitachino Nest Weizen (常陸野ネスト バイツェン) - I normally don't drink beer, but I'll drink this from Hitachino. The Great One, of course, cared only about the fact that the label has an owl on it...
Sanma tartare, myoga, spring onion, chips - loved that this came with the deep-fried bones of the Pacific saury.
Chips came on the side.
Plated after mixing up the tartare with the myoga (茗荷) and spring onions on top, and I used the chips as the delivery vessel. Loved the fragrance of the myoga, and of course the fatty flavors of the fish. Yum!
Flower crab, uni, mitsuba - always a crowd favorite, and it seems we got ourselves a big pile of crab meat and sea urchin, but very, very little mitsuba (三つ葉). I'm sure just about no one else would complain about having too much crab and sea urchin, but I did miss the added texture and slight bitterness of the veg...
Lily bulb tempura, tensu - battered and deep-fried lily bulb with lily bulb mash at the bottom.
Grilled itoyori, olive, tomato - the golden threadfin bream is known locally as 紅衫魚. Simply grilled and topped with a dab of olive/tomato that reminded me of tapenade - but not as salty. The fish itself was very soft and succulent. Very yum.
K.F.C. - here the acronym stands for Korean fried crab... and in this case Japanese river crabs (沢蟹). Nice and crunchy, with the expected spicy kick on top of the sweet coating, plus a little citrus.
Quail, orange, sansho - another crowd favorite, so just so pink, tender, and juicy! Wonderful fragrance with the shavings of orange zest, and not real heavy on the sansho (山椒).
Kagoshima beef, maitake, egg yolk - this is an absolute must, and I've had it every single time I've been here. Kinda sukiyaki (すき焼き)-style. The most tender and smooth Japanese beef served with pan-fried maitake (舞茸) mushrooms, shredded spring onions, deep-fried garlic chips, a little chili powder, and topped with a raw egg yolk.
I was tasked with mixing it up and did a pretty piss poor job of it... but hey, you still get the same ingredients in the mouth... So, so, so, soooooo yummy.
Udon, clams, garlic leek - another one of my absolute favorites here is the udon, which comes from a guy in Fukuoka (福岡) using just flour, salt, and water. I get such an incredible, satisfying feeling as I bite into them.
Served with chopped clams and baby geoduck, and tossed with so much butter than I could just smell it. Garnished with deep-fried roots of garlic leeks. Slurp! Literally...
Hamaguri, olive oil, lemon, shichimi - we were done with food, but as I got talking to Matt about the clams he used for the udon, he proceeded to mention that he's got some clams from North Korea... (!!!) So of course we had to order one up! This giant clam was done basically a la plancha... Very, very nice both in terms of the flavors (fresh and sweet) and also the texture (nice and springy). I joked that the clam swam all the way from the cold and clean waters of North Korea...
Yardbird coffee shochu - one needs coffee to help with digestion, so I took one of these that they're famous for. Seriously good.
Seeing how our friend has been hitting a lot of traditional Cantonese places on his trip, I'm kinda glad that I ended up choosing something not so traditional. Food is always good here, and service is also pretty friendly. Gotta come back a little more often, then...
It's getting to year end and we've still got 4 more MNSC dinners to go, so they're gonna come at a (relatively) furious pace. We kicked off the season with Lord Rayas once again hosting at The Pawn.
It seems that our MNSC members are increasingly overlooking the food part of these dinners, and since Lord Rayas was very kind and accommodating so that the bloggueuuurrr - that would be yours truly - could taste whatever he wished, we were given the à la carte option.
Charcuterie board: Ibérico shoulder, grape chutney, pickle, grilled toast, home-cured meats - duck breast, salami, pancetta, pork rillettes - as usual we shared a couple of these. I can't tell you how much I wanted to take the entire quenelle of duck liver parfait and spread it on endless slices of brioche. Oh, and that quenelle of rillettes, too! That (onion?) chutney was damn good.
Soy marinated mackerel, coriander powder, burnt onion - this turned out to be a wise choice. I can never resist the flavors of a good mackerel, and having it marinated in soy just made it even better. Loved the pickled cucumber and burnt onion on the side.
Black olive risotto, basil, courgette - Lord Rayas also arranged this "middle course" for us, which was pretty good. Unfortunately black olive isn't really up my alley...
Herb brined lamb rump, spiced chickpea stew, courgette fritters - in retrospect this was probably the wrong thing to order at a serious wine dinner, as the smell of cumin and other spices filled the air around me. But it was so damn good! The New Zealand lamb was very, very tender... with just the right amount of lamb fat for that incredibly satisfying lamby flavor. I'm normally not a big chickpea guy, but even I couldn't stop spooning the stew onto my plate. Finally, I wish I had enough stomach space to devour the courgette fritter. It kinda looks like a quiche and it was just very, very tasty.
Beef burger 'extraordinaire', smoked cheddar, double onion, plum jam - we took one order of the burger and divided it up "mooncake-style" so that each of us had 1/6 of it. Unfortunately, the bottom part of the bun was completely soggy by the time I got to it, but that deep-fried onion ring was very yum.
Crisp fried onion rings and big chips in beef dripping - speaking of deep-fried onion rings... these were just awesome.
In the middle of dinner, Tom Aikens came by to greet the bosses. Apparently he's just arrived from London in time for the first anniversary of his collaboration, and will be sticking around for a couple of weeks.
Lord Rayas was incredibly generous with the lineup of wines tonight, opening a few bottles too many. I was pretty drunk by the end...
1996 Salon - very nice and toasty, some lemon notes, pretty round on the palate, smooth, with some acidity at the end. So glad that this is finally starting to open up and drink well.
First flight: opened 100 minutes before serving, not decanted.
1988 Dujac Clos de la Roche - really sweet nose, with lots of fruit. A little more smoky later. A little grippy on the palate. 93 points.
1988 Dujac Clos Saint-Denis - a little more animal notes in the nose, more dried herbs, really beautiful and floral, and a little more toasty. More full-bodied. 95 points.
Second flight: opened 2½ hours prior to serving, not decanted. Both bottles ex-domaine.
1996 DRC Romanée-St-Vivant - nice fruit in the nose, but also a little plastic initially, and alcoholic. A little toasty and minty. Light on the palate. 93 points.
1996 DRC La Tâche - much more fruity nose, more minty, sweet and ripe. Very nice. A little thin on the palate. 94 points.
Third flight: opened 2½ hours prior to serving, not decanted.
1985 Haut-Brion - very stinky, manure, animal, and medicinal nose. 94 points.
1986 Haut-Brion - a little riper, cool, hint of pencil lead, hint of medicine, with smoke, earthy, and stinky nose. Slightly savory on the palate. 95 points.
1989 Haut-Brion - definitely smoky, cigar box, with pencil lead and a little earthy nose. 95 points.
1973 Heitz Martha's Vineyard - a little grassy and sweet, minty.
A fellow food lover from another continent reached out to me a few weeks ago, wondering if I'd be interested in meeting up while he's in town. It's not my usual practice to meet up with complete strangers, but as we seem to have a couple of mutual friends, I kinda said to myself... "why the hell not?!" As I found out tonight, I actually completely ignored an earlier request to meet up... some 5 years ago!
After some discussion, we decided to meet up at The Chairman (大班樓). As there were only two of us, it would have been tough to do dinner at most Chinese restaurants. I remembered that this place has a set menu designed for two, so here we are.
Szechuan spicy New Zealand crispy lamb belly (川味香辣紐西蘭小羊腩) - served with slices of cucumber, pickled mustard (榨菜), spring onions, chili and Szechuan peppercorns. Good amount of acidity here to balance out the fat.
I was a little surprised that the chef decided to lead off with this... While the original intention may have been to stimulate our taste buds with the first course, the chili lit my tastebuds on fire, while the Szechuan peppercorns simultaneously numbed my tongue. Yes, the lamb was fatty and crispy the way I like it, but wouldn't this have been better towards the end?!
Deep fried crab meat and mushrooms dumplings (酥炸蟹肉香菇盒) - deep-fried is always good... The crispy shell is softened by the sauce that one ladles on top.
The filling consists of crab meat, diced spring onions, and a tiny bit of mushrooms. Pretty fragrant in the mouth.
Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged ShaoXing Wine and fragrant chicken oil and flat rice noodle (雞油花雕蒸大花蟹配陳村粉) - I suggested that we pay the supplement for this option because, after all, THIS is the signature dish of the restaurant. Before the dish showed up, I was wondering if they would really serve us a whole flower crab, but they did!
Besides the delicious crab, the story of this dish lies in the sauce made with aged Huadiao wine and chicken fat. Very fragrant and with a tinge of bitterness on the finish, I eagerly ladled an increasing amount of it over the rice noodles. If there was one perennial wish, it would be for the chef to add more chicken fat in the sauce... the way it was done at my beloved Manor Seafood Restaurant (富瑤海鮮酒家). But maybe my visitor was right... the chef did it this way was out of concern for our health.
Braised spare ribs with dark soya sauce, Chinese wine and red yeast (三杯紅麴一字排骨) - I opted for this choice instead of the "old" version that is braised spare ribs with preserved plums in caramelized black vinegar (話梅肉桂糖醋排骨).
Look at the fat here! Honestly I can't remember this much fat from my previous visits tasting the other version of spare ribs, but I ain't complainin'! I love how tender and tasty the ribs become with braising, but I didn't get the distinctive flavors that I typically associate with dishes that are cooked with "three cups (三杯)". I also didn't taste any of the red yeast.
Chinese vegetables stir fried with ginger (薑汁芥藍) - nice and crunchy stems on the kailan.
Fried rice with prawns trio – fresh prawns, sun-dried prawns and shrimp paste (三蝦炒飯：鮮蝦, 蝦乾, 蝦膏) - since my last visit I've come to terms with the fact that this type of fried rice should be done dry. The flavors here were dominated by the shrimp paste, while the textures provided by diced fresh prawns, diced dried prawns, and diced kailan.
Fresh ground almond cream (生磨杏仁茶) - my visitor was surprised by the presence of almond in a Chinese meal, but I assured him that almond cream is a pretty classic Cantonese dessert.
Wolfberry ice cream (杞子雪糕) - I've never been a fan of this ice cream, since the wolfberries have too little flavors and the milk in the ice cream is overpowering.
1986 Von Schubert Maximin Grünhauser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - lovely and fragrant nose of white flowers, coupled with classic notes of plastic. Still tasting pretty young and vibrant, with nice acidity that is not quite crisp thanks to some softness due to aging. Slightly bitter on the back palate.
This turned out to be a little too much food for the two of us... and we didn't even finish the rice noodles that came with the crab... nor the big bowl of flied lice. I'm glad I got a chance to make a new friend, and had the chance to go through the tasting menu for two at The Chairman. I can see that the restaurant is making an effort to cater to visitors who may not have the ability to call upon a large group for a "proper" Chinese meal, and this may explain this place's popularity with a certain crowd... as well as it's ranking on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.
Last week I found out that my trader has never been to Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), so I decided to take him for a taste of my favorite roast goose in Hong Kong. We went a little bit early to avoid the long lines, and thankfully we were seated right away...
Rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose (馳名脆皮燒鵝瀨粉) - knowing how they ration their drumsticks, I decided to let my trader have the drumstick while I just had the regular goose. No, I will never get tired of the flavors coming out of this goose... and I relished all the fat underneath the thin and crispy skin.
Blanched choy sum (菜心, 全走)
After we were done, my trader told me he understood why I love this roast goose so much. Well, it's certainly a helluva lot tastier than the stuff you get at Yung Kee (鏞記酒家)!
Tonight I had the privilege of attending a very special dinner tonight. My friend had decided to celebrate a big birthday with two other ladies, and planned a big bash at Amuse Bouche. One of the highlights of the bash was to be a blind tasting game, whether a selection of Bordeaux First Growths would be served and we would have to guess their identities. I was, of course, very grateful to my friend for her kind invitation... and dutifully put together an ensemble that roughly complied with the "black tie" dress code.
I knew I would have a good time the minute the doors of the elevator opened. Someone had put together a playlist for the evening, and Vienna from Ultravox was playing. That set the tone for the rest of the evening, and with the exception of a couple of WTF songs from the likes of One Direction - no doubt catering to the taste of the kiddies in their own play room - the music rarely strayed.
We started with some Champagne as we waited for everyone to arrive. To make sure that there was enough for the 40-odd guests, my friend brought out a methuselah of 1995 Dom Pérignon. Big nose of toast with some yeasty notes. Very lively on the palate, rounded with some maturity, but also very good acidity.
Black truffle crostini - these were pretty good. Certainly plenty of black truffle flavors.
Parma ham with melon
Deep-fried prawn with basil - wrapped in filo pastry and basically the same as Robuchon's dish. The basil leaf delivered wonderful fragrance in the mouth.
Then it was time to sit down for dinner. This was when we started getting served from the second methuselah - 2010 Henri Boillot Corton-Charlemagne. Big and toasty nose, plenty of oak here, with lemon citrus notes. Ripe on the palate with acidity on the finish. Very metallic and mineral after some caviar. After 2 hours, really opened up very well. A beautiful wine.
Les Caviar: blue crab meat with crustacean jelly, sea urchin and Oscietra caviar, cauliflower puree - there was caviar both at the bottom as well as on top. The crustacean jelly at the bottom packed plenty of flavors, and I could definitely taste the sweet and creamy sea urchin as well as the sweet cauliflower. A lovely, cool dish to kick off dinner.
Abalone: slow cooked South Africa abalone with mashed leek potato and New Zealand razor clam in Provence style - interesting to have the different textures of abalone and razor clams in the same dish... and both were very tender. The leek foam was pretty tasty, and there were cubes of radish, carrot slices, and bits of black truffle hidden inside.
Red Prawn: pan fried Spain Palamos red prawn, slow cooked octopus, chorizo and ratte potatoes, sauce salsa verde - the Palamós prawns are among my favorites, and this one was delicious. The octopus was very tender, and the chorizo gave the dish a very Mediterranean feel. Of course I waste no time in sucking out the contents of the prawn head which, while providing me with plenty of umami, kinda killed my palate for the red wines...
Bresse quail: pan fried Bresse quail with goose liver crème brûlée, sauce reglisse - a little disappointing, because the slices of quail were just too thin and not satisfying enough. The sauce reglisse and the (fennel?) delivered some nice and sweet flavors. Meat from the leg was minced and done as a croquette on the side. The real winner? That foie gras crème brûlée on the side. OMG. So creamy and rich. So sinful.
Cap of beef rib eye: roasted cap of rib eye from US Brandt Beef Family Reserve, garnished by pommes mousseline, French bean and sauce Bordelaise - this was actually very well-executed and surpassed my expectations. The cap was very tender, and it was nicely roasted to deliver the thinnest layer of smoky crust. But the winning element of this dish was actually the mashed potatoes. For a guy who doesn't normally eat mashed potatoes - with the exception of the one from Robuchon - this was incredibly smooth and buttery. In fact, it tasted very much like what I would expect from Robuchon. Gobble gobble gobble...
Apple tart: crispy green apple tart with gelato coconut ice cream - very thankful that the apple tart came in the wafer-thin variety... Not bad.
Now, there were 20 of us who participated in the "tasting game". The identities of the wines were already announced beforehand, so this would be a semi-blind tasting. All 6 wines were tasted side-by-side. Five of the wines were opened 4 hours before serving and decanted 30 minutes after opening, while the '61 was opened 30 minutes prior to serving and decanted 15 minutes later.
1982 Mouton-Rothschild - nose of pencil lead, smoke, and mint. Definitely a Pauillac. Still some fruit here, slightly earthy and stinky. A bit light on the palate.
1982 Haut-Brion - a little stinky and a bit medicinal. Later on some soy sauce notes. Least enjoyable wine of the evening.
1982 Margaux - smoky nose with cigar notes. Lovely.
1961 Margaux - the lighter color gave it away. Nose was very sweet and grassy. However the nose faded very fast so I stopped swirling the glass, and the palate started to turn acidic. Some fruit here but started to smell some stewed prunes, with a bit of medicinal notes. There was almost a little bit of sour plum juice (酸梅湯).
1986 Lafite-Rothschild - nose was more closed, minty, with some smoke, slightly exotic spices. Opened up later to show more exotic sweetness.
1982 Latour - nose was open and a little opulent. A little leather and also a hint of medicine later on. A bit lighter on the palate. Favorite wine of the evening.
So... how did I do? Well, against the advice of my neighbor, I decided to switch my answer for three of the wines around after choosing not to hand in my card earlier... and went from getting 3 wines correct to just getting the '61 correct. Sigh...
Oh and in case you were wondering, that silver thing on the counter behind all the bottles? That would be the carrying case for the Dom Pérignon methuselah... And I thought only 600mm f/4s get their own carrying cases...
I also got a taste of the red served to the guests who weren't participating in our game. 2003 Léoville-Poyferré was a little cedar and smoky. Tannins still here.
Awesome cookies. Couldn't resist taking a second one... and really wanted a third one.
There was a whole bunch of cupcakes looking all pink and pretty, but in the end I decided that I really didn't need the extra calories...
Each of us got a customized macaron. The ganache looked like chocolate, but definitely came with raspberries. Methinks the baker used a wee bit too much almond extract here...
This was a really fabulous evening. Incredible wines, delicious food, great music... There was even a photo booth with props for us to take pictures, but too bad I didn't have a chance to take the picture I wanted in the booth... so I asked the photogs who were on hand for help. This is what a friend called 左擁右抱...
The Good Doctor wanted to catch up over lunch, and decided to take me to one of his favorite sushi joints. I don't eat much sushi in Hong Kong, so I'm unfamiliar with most outlets in town. I've heard people talk about Sushi Kado (角) before so I was happy to check it out.
But first I decided to do a little homework, and the first piece I read was from 2 years ago on Fungry and Fabulous. Lynn's conclusion was that the flavors were much too mild and that Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬) would always be a better choice. I kept that in mind as I sat down and waited for lunch to start.
I ordered the seasonal sushi set (板前寿しセット), which comes with 12 pieces of nigiri sushi (握り寿司) and a roll (巻物). I specified - as I usually do - that I do not eat any form of tuna.
First comes a bowl of salad. It's always good to get some greens in.
Then came the seemingly obligatory steamed egg custard (茶碗蒸し) with crab. A nice a premium version with sweet crab meat, along with a touch of ginger in the custard.
Then came the procession of sushi...
Olive flounder (鮃) - with some shaved yuzu (柚子) zest on top in addition to soy sauce.
Striped beakfish (石鯛) - this was a little chewy.
Japanese halfbeak (細魚) - with a sprinkle of ground pink rock salt and a squeeze of lime.
Golden alfonsino (金目鯛)
Pacific saury (秋刀魚) - the Good doctor discussed with Chef Jason about the saury being smaller this year, and leaner.
Surf clam (北寄貝) - never had it grilled like this, making the texture softer than I'm used to.
Marinated mackerel (〆鯖)
Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) with crab tomalley (蟹味噌) - just love this... especially the addition of crab tomalley.
Sea urchin (雲丹)
Striped jack (縞鰺) - grilled to give that smoky flavor.
Rockfish (喜知次) - torched. Very tender as expected, and very oily. Substitute for fatty tuna belly.
Conger eel (穴子) - with a little bit of grated yuzu zest between the rice and the eel.
Egg (玉子) - way too wet and soggy. Not a fan.
Plum and perilla roll (梅紫蘇巻き) - substitute for the chopped tuna roll.
Well, unfortunately I didn't turn out to be as big of a fan of this place as the Good Doctor. Lynn was right - the flavors here are a little too mild for my liking... and without much variety in seasoning, they definitely seemed a little one-note. While the rice grains were firm, I didn't really taste much vinegar... and in fact wondered if any was used at all. So... while the chef used ingredients which were a little more premium for the higher price, and I had a decent lunch overall, I'll probably do the same thing as Lynn and go back to Sushi Sase...
It's been a while since No Fish and I caught up over a meal, and as usual, she was looking for a new restaurant to hit. Knowing that I'm a big fan of David Lai's, she suggested and booked Fish School about a month ago.
By this time, of course, I have already made my first visit to Fish School and tried a few dishes... so I was looking forward to trying some new stuff tonight. Unfortunately, we were seated in the one table in the entire restaurant with the least amount of light... so my pictures of the dishes turned out to be terrible.
Cuttlefish tagliatelle / shrimp paste / ficoide leaves - ah yes... cuttlefish noodles is definitely a trendy dish these days. I love the texture of these long strands... which came soaking in a pool of fish sauce. Adding some of the shrimp paste smeared on the side of the bowl gave it even more umami. The crunchy ficoïde glaciale is always fun to eat.
Salted garoupa / clams / potato brandade - this was very good... Loved the slightly chewy texture of the garoupa chunks after salting. The clams were good, and the potato brandade was as I would want it. But the best part was the deep-fried garoupa skin... so yummy!
Heirloom vegetables and herbs garden "gargouillou" - David decided that we should have some greens and eat our veggies, so we got a plate of this.
Yellow croaker - when we first sat down, David came over and told me about the yellow croaker. When David take the trouble to tell me about a particular dish, I know better than to ignore his hints... because it usually represents the most special item he's got in the kitchen. This 1-catty-plus yellow croaker - my favorite fish since childhood - was first butterflied, then salted for a little bit, pan-fried to get that crispy skin, then slowly steamed.
The result was delicious. Once again the texture turned a little chewy thanks to the salting process, but that only brought out the flavors of the flesh itself. I took out an entire side and put it on No Fish's plate, joking with her that she can tell people that she had fish fillet for dinner...
Potatoes - surprisingly, these were the first potatoes from David that I thought failed. Way too dry and hard.
I was very, very full after the yellow croaker... so I was just gonna share one dessert with No Fish. But David had other ideas and decided to send us two more...
Mango / burnt coconut ice cream / coffee - hands down the best dessert we tried out of the four at my last meal. Still very, very good with all that coffee, mango, and coconut. No Fish was right: the burnt coconut definitely tasted like those coconut candies we used to eat as kids...
Strawberry / crème fraîche ice cream / rose - the ice cream tasted like crème fraîche or yogurt for sure, and the subtle flavors of rose petals were pretty nice.
Lemon custard / almond / coriander - still just OK, but at least it's refreshing and light.
A pretty happy meal, but I still hate the music and noise level here. When I have to lean almost halfway across the table just to have a conversation with my friend, I no longer feel I'm in a restaurant. How I long for that remote in the movie Click... so I could turn the volume down a few notches.
During one of my visits to Amber last year, I was chatting with Chef Richard Ekkebus when he brought up the idea of taking his now-signature Hokkaido sea urchin dish off the menu. Upon hearing this possibility, I apparently jokingly threatened to start an "Occupy Amber" movement if it ever happened. Of course, I promptly forgot about my joke after I left the restaurant.
But Richard remembered, and when he decided that he would pass on the recipe for the dish to Corey Lee (so that it would be on the menu of In Situ, Corey's upcoming restaurant at SFMOMA) and finally take it off the Amber menu after 8 years, he spoke about this impending move to a few journalists and mentioned my "threat" as an anecdote. Without mentioning any names, of course... Heck, it even made it to the Wall Street Journal! O, the irony!
Having been reminded of my threat, and shocked that he's actually going to take it off the menu, I decided to follow through with my threat and "occupy Amber". But I did ask for Richard's permission first, and he was more than willing to let me show him what I've got.
So that's one of the reasons why I'm here today. The other reason is that my friend had read my post about the game menu I had last month, and really wanted to have some of those dishes. So the two of us showed up for my first Occupy session, although my friend was blissfully unaware...
Having eaten quite a lot lately, I decided I wanted a light lunch... and was going to order only 2 dishes. However I encouraged my friend to order whatever he fancied, as it seems it's been a while since he was last here.
Our welcome drink today was mushroom tea, which came with a mushroom custard at the bottom of the cup, and what seemed to be wakame (若布) seaweed in the "tea". I just love the fragrant mushroom flavor coming out of the cup.
The wooden box contained two nibbles: beer batter beignet of autumn mushrooms with blackcurrant on pine sprigs, which were nice and soft inside; and an autumn leaf made of pumpkin purée which was first dried then fried, with green yuzu peel.
Our amuse bouche was something I've had several times. there were hazelnuts and chunks of Jerusalem artichokes on the bottom, with cep foam topped with Jerusalem artichoke chips. This tastes of the fall and I just love it
Wild duck colvert: foie gras and Sicilian pistachio pâté en croute with spiced mango chutney - one of the two dishes I came for... the pâté en croûte. Each winter when game season rolls around, chefs with roots in traditional French cuisine would make a version of this dish - baking the mosaic of pâté inside the pastry. This year the kitchen used wild colvert duck meat along with duck foie gras, with a layer of duck consommé gelée and some Sicilian pistachio. It was suggested that we take it with the mango chutney, and I think they paired pretty well. Very, very happy.
I was surprised when cutlery was laid out before me as I wasn't meant to have anything coming at this point of the meal. It turns out that Richard decided to send us an extra course.
Delicatesse potatoes: slightly smoked and served as a salad with green olives, salicornia, sour cream and warm dauphine potatoes on the side - these potatoes were very nice... at least to someone who doesn't eat a lot of potatoes. I loved the sour cream, the salicornia and the green olives.
These dauphine potatoes were so fluffy and delicious...
And then another dish arrived from the kitchen... I was getting a little frustrated. On the one hand one should not be ungrateful when one of the best chefs around sends you free food, but on the other hand I really did want to have a lighter lunch...
Normandy scallops: confit in clarified butter on a parsley and spinach coulis, slow cooked veal shank, grenobloise condiments - a beautiful scallop sitting on a tasty pool of coulis. The sauce grenobloise on top - made with lemon, capers, and shallots - provided some acidity and tartness. We were surprised to find shredded veal shank at the bottom of the dish, buried in the coulis.
Hokkaido sea urchin: in a lobster jell-O with cauliflower, caviar, and crispy seaweed waffles - finally, the other dish I had come for... and the raison d'être of Occupy Amber. This beautiful creation was just about perfect. The whole thing was soft and creamy - from the caviar to the lobster gelée, to the sea urchin underneath, and finally the cauliflower cream at the bottom. In terms of flavor there was a nice balance between the sweetness coming from the cauliflower and the sea urchin, to the umami of the lobster, and finally the stronger flavors of the caviar. The different layers just seem to meld together seamlessly and effortlessly.
Crispy seaweed waffles
No dessert for us today, because I had already consumed more calories than I had planned... and my friend had at least 50% more food than I did! But there is always a little room for some petits fours...
Well, this was a pretty good outing for me and my silly #OccupyAmber campaign. I'm pretty sure I won't succeed in persuading Richard to keep his signature dish on the menu, but I'll be back...
P.S. for those of you who don't know, the Hokkaido sea urchin dish is due to come off the menu in May 2016. After that date it will only be available at In Situ in San Francisco.
It's been a while since I last caught up with a couple of friends, and they asked me whether there were any new restaurants I wanted to try out. Normally I keep the list of new openings buried in the back of my mind, as I would only visit months after opening - when things have hopefully worked themselves out. This time I threw out two names, and my friends chose Mercedes me.
When I first heard about this place, my immediate reaction was basically: "WTF?!" A few luxury brands have opened up eateries in town, but I've never had any interest in visiting them because, rightly or wrongly, I see them essentially as places where you pay for the decor and branding - and where the food is of secondary concern. But Mercedes have chosen Maximal Concepts as their partner, and these guys generally run joints where the food is pretty decent.
Then I saw my friend e_ting post a couple of pics on social media from her invitation meal, and that really piqued my interest. Why not pop over to nibble on the food and get a chance to check out some cars at the same time? It is, after all, a Mercedes store...
We were led to a booth upon arrival, which was a little too cozy for the 4 of us. The place was very hip(ster), with a dark atmosphere, spot lights in all the strategic places, lively music, and waitstaff with body ink. Thankfully each and every table seemed well-lit, so I wouldn't have any trouble with food pics tonight.
The menu looks a little compact at first glance, as it's all on two pages, but it does cover just under 30 items in all. We started with a few cold items, then ordered another round of mostly hot dishes.
Sea urchin, fig, nori cracker, oyster leaf, ponzu - this was one of the dishes I had read about, so expectations were high. I could smell the ponzu (ポン酢) when the dish arrived. I ate this in one bite, so I didn't pay too much attention to the flavors of the individual ingredients... kinda like Pigsy (豬八戒) in Journey to the West (西遊記) when he swallowed peaches whole and didn't really know what they tasted like. Anyway, my mouthful tasted pretty good, as all the ingredients seemed to meld together, but I wasn't particularly blown away as I had expected. Maybe I need another bite...
Sustainable blue fin tuna, cucumber, ponzu-sesame sauce - I normally don't touch blue fin tuna as it's not sustainable, but here it's labeled "sustainable"... so I figured what the heck. Came with avocado, orange, red onions, and sesame. Unfortunately the sauce was too salty for me.
Organic 100% grass fed steak tartare, pickled egg yolk, 15 secret ingredients - "organic" and "grass-fed" are two buzzwords that are likely to push people's buttons, so I promptly ordered it up. Unfortunately I found the flavors to be a little bland... as in the beef itself. The combination of 15 secret ingredients also produced a lighter result.
Crispy salmon skin, cured salmon roe, whipped horseradish - deep-fried fish skin is always a good idea, and these were no exception. So satisfyingly crunchy...
The horseradish was very, very light - both in terms of the kick and also the airy texture. Loved the idea of incorporating salmon roe.
Italian beef heart tomato, avocado, coriander, lime - this was alright and nothing special.
Fresh burrata, tomato, cherry, black sesame, lavender - this was very, very creamy. pretty nice.
Chicken empanada, spicy pico de gallo - it's been a while since I last had empanadas, and these were very fluffy and crunchy on the outside. Pretty yummy, with what seemed to be soy beans giving some crunchy texture.
Spanish octopus, puffed pork skin, potato foam, smoked paprika - the octopus was nice and smoky, with yummy potato foam on the bottom. What seemed to be rice crispies on top were actually bits of puffed pork rind. Very, very good.
Baked angel hair pasta, seaweed, roasted garlic aioli, cooked in prawn jus - another dish that was highly anticipated. I had had something similar at On Lot 10 a while ago, and loved the way these things are done. What's not to love about some noodles soaking up tons of umami flavors from prawn jus? The aioli always matches well, and love the seaweed.
Lamb short ribs, romesco, padron green peppers - I really, really loved these lamb short ribs. The flavors were very lamby, and they were dry and crispy. Really satisfying both in terms of flavors and texture. The romesco sauce was nice, too. They ran out of padrón peppers today, hence we were seeing red.
One complaint I had was that when the dish arrived, one of the pieces fell off the plate onto the table. I was surprised that our waitress didn't bother doing anything about it, so I pointed it out to my friends. At this point the waitress came back, picked it up and took it away. We fully expected to be made whole by the kitchen, but a replacement never came.
Ginger sorbet, white chocolate and yogurt ganache, passion fruit - I thought this was a pretty pleasant dessert, and certainly very floral in terms of flavors.
Caramelized Catalan cream foam, vanilla ice cream, orange, honeycomb - I really did love this dessert, since I love crema catalana. This has the added benefit of citrus fragrance and the crunch of honeycomb bits.
We took it easy and only brought two bottles tonight...
2003 Penfolds Yattarna - buttery, a little vanilla, oaky, and lemon notes. Acidity was a little higher than expected. Needs time to open up.
2006 Liger-Belair Vosne-Romanée Clos du Château - really sweet and fruity nose, wow! Amazing! So sweet it was like overripe honeydew melon, with floral notes like rose. Some dried herbs, too. Palate was a little thin and acidic.
Well, overall I think the food tonight surprised on the upside. A few of the dishes were really delicious, so I couldn't be justified in pooh-poohing the food. In terms of pricing it was about what I expected - priced at a slight premium, but not so high that I'd scream highway robbery. Price performance was certainly better than a lot of the restaurants in a 500m radius...
Hello Kitty was meeting a very good friend who was in town, and we discussed where to take him for dinner. Fish School seemed to offer the best opportunity to sample things not available from New York City, so I dutifully hauled my ass over for the second time this week. First World problems, I know...
We took a pretty early seating, so The Man in the White T-Shirt wasn't in the house yet. A couple of the staff now know me by sight, given it's my third visit in three weeks. I let the others do the ordering, and foolishly passed up a special fish available tonight...
Salted garoupa / clams / potato brandade - had this just a few days ago, and tonight the deep-fried fish skin was even better. Love the chewy texture of the salted garoupa.
Charcoal grilled seasonal shrimps - pretty interesting. We were encouraged to eat the shrimps "in their entirety", and so I did. Nice smoky flavors from the charcoal grilling.
Mantis shrimp popcorn / cured duck yolk - this was pretty good, although I still wasn't able to pick out the flavors of cured duck yolk...
Grilled water bamboo / cashew praline / chestnut / apple - water bamboo (茭白筍) is one of my favorite vegetables since childhood, and I was really happy to have it tonight. I just love its clean, sweet flavors. The praline sauce was pretty interesting, and the wafer-thin slices of apple and chestnut provided a nice twist.
Australian wagyu bavette - it's the first dish that I've had here that wasn't seafood, and I gotta say... even though I didn't get to this until it went cold, it was still very, very tender and tasty.
Wild eel - this is always a good call here, and the wild eel was done a little like the Japanese kabayaki (蒲焼). Garnished with thin wafers as well as chunks of red and yellow beetroot, along with some smoked herring.
We finished our first two rounds of orders, and were wondering if we should take in more food. The Man in the White T-Shirt had arrived by now, so I asked him if there was anything special...
Live abalone - the boss showed me this live abalone, which was huge and fat compared to its thin shell. It was, of course, still moving and wiggling, and I probably should have taken a video of it. Apparently this came from the Pratas Islands (東沙群島) in the South China Sea, and had been pretty rare in the last few years thanks to the ongoing conflict between China and the Philippines.
Abalone / lobster coral emulsion - OMG. The abalone, which was sautéed in brown butter, was incredibly tender. In fact, it was probably the most tender I've had in recent memory. The lobster coral emulsion was pretty interesting.
Pumpkin ice cream / persimmon / melon - nice to have this again, since it was full of flavors of fall. Still love the soft persimmon and the crunchy, pickled melon.
Chartogne-Taillet Rosé - full of strawberries on the nose, with good acidity.
We adjourned to ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge for a few drinks...
2009 Sarget de Gruaud Larose - nose of cedar, a little smoke, a hint of earth, a little nutty, maybe? Good balance between acidity and tannins here.
A while ago I got a ping from The Man in the White T-Shirt, asking whether I'd like to join him for a special lunch. Apparently Godenya (ごでんや) is doing a guest chef/pop-up featuring Japanese eel, and knowing how much I love Japanese eel, he thought I'd be game for it. Well, the timing was a little awkward, and it would mean not having a regularly scheduled lunch and dinner, but as I've turned down a number of his invitations lately, I figured I'd better accept this particular one.
I've never been to Godenya even though a number of friends have told me about it. The place is pretty much a hole-in-the wall... One needs to walk down a back alley and enter through an unmarked back entrance of an old building, and besides the street number - which was not visible anywhere - the only hint that there was a Japanese restaurant was the presence of white noren (暖簾) above what turned out to be a wooden sliding door.
Upon entering the restaurant, I took my seat at one end of the wooden counter - not surprisingly made of one long piece of wood. The counter only seats 6, and there was a table of two set up behind us. Until their private room is ready, this is it in terms of seats. No wonder that the place is fully booked until next February...
Today's meal is a one-day pop-up by Ryo (翏), a restaurant specializing in eel in Naka-meguro (中目黒), Tokyo. The young chef and the lady who "kinda feels like a wife" from the restaurant were in charge of the kitchen, while master of the house Goshima Shinya (五嶋慎也) took care of the sake pairings.
The eels are wild, and comes from Hachirogata (八郎潟) in Akita Prefecture (秋田県). The ones today weight around 1.2kg. This is the best season for eel as they are at their fattest, and soon they will swim out to the ocean in winter and disappear.
Minshuku Tono White Label Doburoku (民宿とおの 白ラベル どぶろく), 2015 - our welcome drink. With the lees and rice still in the bottle so it was very lumpy... Still bubbling and fermenting. Can taste the alcohol and it was a little bitter on the palate. Made by a bed-and-breakfast (民宿) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県) from rice grown with no chemicals or pesticides.
Eel yam somen (鰻 長芋そうめん) - a beautifully presented first course.
We mixed up the ingredients before digging in. The grilled eel was accompanied by maitake (舞茸) mushrooms that have been dried for a long time, and sits on a bed of thin "somen (そうめん)" made of Japanese nagaimo (長芋). Garnished with grated wasabi (山葵), ginger, and a sprinkle of perilla (紫蘇) flowers. Beautiful, delicate flavors worked in harmony.
Sougen Junmai Hattannishiki Unfiltered Namagenshu (宗玄 純米八反錦 無濾過生原酒), 2015 - served at 20°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 65%. Round on the palate, a little viscous. Slighty dry and spicy (辛口) but overall more on the sweet side (甘口), smooth but with a kick on the finish. Good depth of flavors. Nose has a hint of fermented beans.
Eel and eggplant Prosciutto roll (鰻と茄子 生ハム巻き) - this was real interesting. I jokingly asked if there was actually any eel on the plate... underneath that pile of scallion sprouts (芽ねぎ).
Picking out the sprouts revealed the different layers: thin slices of Prosciutto on top, followed by eggplant, and finally the eel at the bottom. We were told that the orange sauce has peanuts inside, which I was able to distinguish, but... would the chef get offended if I said that the sauce reminds me of Thousand Island dressing?!
Ryu Bizen Omachi Tokubetsu Junmai Nama (隆 備前雄町 特別純米 生), 2015 - served at 21°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 60%. Bigger on the palate, more acidity up front, but a little spicier on the palate. Alcohol was sharper and a little piercing up the nostril. Very fragrant, almost wood-like.
Eel filet, liver, bone (鰻 ひれ巻き 肝焼き 骨煎餅) - such beautiful simplicity. The fragrance spread from the kitchen long before our plates arrived. The skewer of grilled eel filet was covered with a layer of shaved white truffle. We joked about the term "eel filet" and wondered which part of the eel does not qualify as filet... This was very nice and tasty. The liver was very tasty, but a little too salty for me. The deep-fried bones? Simply amazing. I wanted to take 2 bowls of these and just munch on them. Just sake and eel bones... that's all I need.
Kotorinosaezuri Junmai Ginjo (小鳥のさえずり 純米吟醸), 2006 - served at 47°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 50%. Can definitely feel the alcohol as the sake goes down due to the warm temperature. Sweet on the attack but spicy mid-palate, then with a bitter finish followed by a sweet aftertaste.
Eel orange liqueur grill (鰻のオレンジリキュール焼き) - we joked about the "chocolate powder" on top of the eel, but in fact it was a powder made with Hatcho miso (八丁味噌) and mirin (味醂), dried for over 5 hours. Sprinkled over the eel, the chef jokingly called it "tiramiso". Wonderfully rich flavors, but I couldn't taste any trace of orange liqueur in the eel thanks to the overpowering miso. Served with sweet sea urchin on top of persimmon slices, as well as ribbons of Manganji pepper (万願寺唐辛子).
Taketsuru Omachi Junmai Nigori Sanmiitai (竹鶴 雄町純米にごり 酸味一体), 2012 - served at 21°C. Seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 70%. Definitely some acidity here, with a long finish that has some spiciness. Reminds me a little of Calpis (カルピス) or soursop...
Eel kabayaki (鰻の蒲焼) - the classic preparation of grilled eel with sauce. So simple, with just enough sauce so that it wouldn't cover up the natural flavors. I could taste the natural sweetness of the eel, and a tiny dab of wasabi helped neutralize the hint of muddy flavors inherent in the eel. Beautiful.
Yorokobigaijin Yamahai Shikomi Junmaishu Unfiltered Nama Akaiwa Omachi (悦凱陣 山廃仕込純米酒 無濾過生 赤磐雄町), 2015 - served at 50°C. Seimaibuai of 68%. Very mild taste. Slightly on the acidic side, but very smooth and very pleasant. Easy to drink.
Wild eel simple grill (天然鰻の白焼) - the other classic preparation of steaming followed by grilling without the sauce, typical of the Kanto (関東) region. Taken simply with a dab of wasabi to enhance the natural flavors of the eel.
Akishika Junmai Koshu (秋鹿 純米古酒), 2000 - served at 48°C. Seimaibuai of 55%. Salty and mineral, but without the sweetness of Shaoxing wine (紹興酒). Love the oxidation. Lovely golden color.
Eel tuna beef (鰻 鮪 牛) - once again I wondered where the eel was, since all I saw were two slices of raw Miyazaki (宮崎) beef...
Lifting up the layer of beef revealed the two layers underneath - bluefin tuna from Oma (大間), and grilled eel at the bottom. It's amazing how all three ingredients just melded together in terms of their flavors, and I could just barely pick out the tuna.
Tenyurin Tokubetsu Junmaishu (天遊琳 特別純米酒), 2003 - served at 47°C. Seimaibuai of 55%. Also oxidized and showing salty plum on the nose, but sweeter on the nose and palate.
Wild eel soup (天然鰻のスープ) - made with the head of the eel, along with eel bones, kelp (昆布), sake, and a little Armagnac.
This was a pretty unique experience. I love Japanese eel, and I'd never had it so good. Seeing a young chef applying his creativity using high quality ingredients, and delivering dish after dish full of harmonious flavors on the palate... I can't begin to describe the satisfaction I felt today. It looks like I'll have to pay Ryo a visit on my next trip to Tokyo.
P.S. The beautiful pottery used in Godenya are the work of Watanabe Aiko (渡辺愛子) - a friend of Goshima-san - while this beautiful white porcelain pitcher is the work of Kato Tsubusa (加藤委). So much beauty and class inside the hole-in-the-wall with its barren, unfinished walls...
Yet another friend requested that I take her to lunch at my favorite roast goose joint, so we made the short trek from our office building and presented ourselves at the door of Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝). Fortunately, we arrived early enough and didn't have to wait in line.
I must not have been coming enough lately, because I was actually denied a roast goose drumstick when I asked the staff... and neither the boss nor the boss lady was close enough to overrule the staff. Boo...
So I made do with just the rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose (馳名脆皮燒鵝瀨粉), which was fine. A drumstick would have been a little more satisfying. I haven't been feeling well over the last 12 hours, so I decided to drink a lot more of the MSG-laden soup than I normally would. Needed that warm liquid in my stomach...
We also took some blanched choy sum (菜心, 全走) to add to our daily veg intake.
I was so out of it today that I even forgot to take pictures... but hey, it's not like I don't already have about 100 of them...
After a few years' absence, once again I was able to attend the annual tasting put on by Altaya Wines. We are friends with the boss, and some of the best wines I've drunk have been with him... and very often brought by him... so I do try to come and support him when I can. For the first time this year, I was invited to the trade tasting session instead of the one for the general public - and this caused the boss to raise an eyebrow when he saw me...
There's always a good range of wines from across the world at Altaya's tastings, and each year some of the winemakers and proprietors make the trip over to attend. I always try to stop by the booth if I know a principle is there, but I didn't make it to see Patrick Maroteaux from Branaire-Ducru or Stephane Ogier. I did taste through the range of Pol Roger that Hubert de Billy poured for me, though... and made sure to stop by and see Rolf Binder himself and Rick Burge from Burge Family.
I started with the whites and Champagnes, and waited to get to the reds. Unfortunately there was just too little time, and I didn't go through the wines quickly enough, so I missed out on a lot of great reds...
2012 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet - a hint of toast, a bit flinty, with lemon.
2012 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet - nose was more open, with more toast, more lemon, and more flint. Sharper nose, with more acidity here but reasonably round on the palate.
2012 Vincent Girardin Meursault - more flint here, a little pungent. Leaner on the palate, with good acidity balance.
2012 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret - nose was more open and beautiful, with more butter, vanilla, and ripeness.
2012 Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne - more sweetness and ripeness, beautiful! Bigger nose of toast.
2012 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Uchizy - fruitier, more tropical, with flint. Slightly lean on the grippy finish.
2012 Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine - more pungent with lots of oak, slightly rounder on the palate.
2012 Comte Lafon Meursault 1er Cru Charmes - nice nose of lemon citrus, a bit of toast and flint. Kinda lean on the palate.
2013 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc - very sweet and tropical nose of peach and lychees, with some minerals. A little ripe on the palate.
2012 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc - bigger nose, more pungent, less fruit but still with lychee and stone fruit notes. Rounder and sweeter on the palate.
2012 Les Hauts de Smith Blanc - lemon, pipi de chat, muscat grapes, minerals, and flinty. First whiff was pungent, then suddenly very perfumed. Light and lovely on the palate.
2012 Smith-Haut-Lafitte Blanc - nose was more open and elegant, with lemon, muscat grape, and a bit of pipi de chat but less pungent. Nice and buttery.
2014 Rolf Binder Chardonnay Selection - very oaky, with lots of vanilla and toast, very ripe and sweet, and very tropical nose.
2014 Burge Family Semillon Olive Hill - a little sharp, some plastic notes, a bit metallic, crisp with good acidity balance.
2010 Burge Family Semillon Olive Hill - much bigger nose of plastic and wax, a little flinty. Really good balance on the palate.
2014 Peter Michael L'Après-Midi - still very new, nose was not quite balanced and a little out of joint. Oaky with vanilla notes.
2013 Peter Michael La Carrière - sweet nose with tropical stone fruits, mineral. A little bitter finish.
2013 Peter Michael Ma Belle-Fille - toasty, buttery, very ripe. Nice and sweet on the palate.
2002 Salon - nose was nice and sweet, and caramelized, with nice toast.
2008 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs - nice mousse, with caramelized nose and nice toast. Sweeter than expected for a blanc de blancs.
2004 Pol Roger Brut - lots of toast, nutty, caramelized with notes of Chinese licorice, nice and mineral, almost salty plum. Drinking beautifully now.
2006 Pol Roger Rosé - moussy. This was OK.
Pol Roger Rich - a demi-sec. Definitely richer and sweeter on the palate.
2011 BOND St. Eden - a little young. Oaky, a little bit of smoke, sweet. Lovely.
2011 BOND Quella - softer, more fragrant, oaky, and sweet.
2011 BOND Vecina - oaky, sweet and ripe on the palate.
2011 Peter Michael Les Pavots - served from decanter. Very fragrant, with smoky and leather notes.
2010 Troplong Mondot - very fragrant with cedar notes.
2006 Climens - nice and grapey, with plenty of honey and marmalade.
It's great to see so many wineries showcasing their wines - a testament to the success of Altaya Wines. Hopefully next year I will taste a little faster...
While lunching together last week, The Man in the White T-Shirt asked whether I'd be interested in joining him for lunch at the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Apparently one of the chefs from La Bouitte - the newest three-star from the Guide Michelin 2015 for France - would be in town. Since I am unlikely to travel to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville anytime soon, I figured it'd be a good idea to join this lunch.
As I was due to bring a few bottles of wine for dinner tonight, I decided that it would be prudent not to take the suggested wine pairing and stay sober. I think it turned out to be a good idea...
Our amuse bouche was huître Gillardeau, voile d'eau de mer, perle yu yuzu, croustillant à la noisette. We were instructed to take the thin hazelnut crisp first, then move on to the Gillardeau oyster - taking care to pop the yuzu (柚子) pearl in order to release the flavors. Gotta say that the oyster was incredibly sweet and tasty. A very good start, and my mouth was amused, indeed...
Caviar Alverta impérial, neige de petits pois, noisettes fraîches - the white sturgeon caviar from California sat on top of a mound of "snow" from petits pois peas, with pea shoots as garnish.
But there's more to this than meets the eye, with more caviar at the bottom of the mound, and a layer of sour cream in between. Bits of crunchy hazelnuts, too.
Very interesting combination of the salinity from the caviar, the sweetness of peas, and the acidity from sour cream.
Filet de bar pané d'une fine feuille de pain croustillante, cœur de salade, vinaigrette - the sea bass came pan-fried not with a layer of crispy skin but a thin layer of crispy bread. Served with an egg yolk vinaigrette that came with a flower petal. The salad of lettuce heart came with a dressing which included very finely diced cubes of beef.
Pigeonneau rôti, ragoût sur toast, champignons, coulis de pousses d'épinards - O-M-G. This alone was worth making to trek all the way to Shatin. The squab was less than 20 days' old. The breast sat on top of some potatoes, with a layer of spinach coulis in between. A thin filet sat on top of the breast.
The execution was rosé - as it should have been - and was so, so, so, so tender... It may, in fact, be better than what I feel is the best pigeon in Hong Kong. How unfortunate it was that due to the young age of the bird, the size of its breast could not be any bigger... And I was left lamentin I can't have it more often.
The ragoût made of the rest of the bird - including liver and some mushrooms - sat on top of a piece of "toast". Then they put a thin layer of foie gras on top. When the staff tell us that some of their customers preferred this part of the dish over the squab breast, it's not difficult to understand why.
I was left lamenting the fact that I would not be able to have this beautiful dish on a regular basis... Sniff...
Lait dans tous ses états: coulis, meringue, sorbet, biscuits... - so we've got milk... and milk... and milk... made into various forms. There's a sorbet, then a soft meringue/foam, then a layer of milk biscuit, topped with small meringues. No surprise that this was very creamy... The interesting thing was that Hello Kitty - who doesn't normally like desserts - liked it so much that she gobbled this up. Very yummy.
Rissoles au safran des Hurtières - this traditional Savoie puff pastry shell was filled with saffron-flavored cream. Pretty interesting... and it's been a while since I've had something with such strong saffron flavor.
This was such a perfect lunch for me... delicious enough to make me yearn for more, but not too much food so I can still be mobile and productive for the rest of the afternoon. More importantly, I don't need to spend the next few hours trying to sober up for dinner!
A fellow foodie from Taiwan was in town, eating her way through restaurants gaining stars in the latest edition of the Guide Michelin. She had been invited to dine at Serge et le Phoque and was told that she could bring a friend. I was very grateful that I was chosen as the "plus one", and happily tagged along.
The menu had recently changed to an à la carte format, featuring a good number of choices. We decided to let the kitchen work its magic and send us surprises, and waited with anticipation for the food to arrive.
Crosnes tempura - the French always seem to love crosnes (寶塔菜) during the fall and winter, and here they've lightly battered them and put them in a fryer, then provided some grated radish (大根おろし) and dashi (出汁) like the Japanese.
Fugu skin: with karashi miso - it's my second time having this dish here, and although I love this standard Japanese izakaya (居酒屋) fare, I'm still scratching my head a little as to why I would be eating this here...
Mussels: snacked mussels with tandoori massala - never had mussels served quite this way... like sticks of yakitori (焼き鳥). Kinda interesting with the spicy masala along with the kick from the mustard.
Japanese cockles: with cauliflower and Manzanilla mariniere - served with wafer-thin slices of cauliflower, an acidic, creamy foam made with Manzanilla Sherry, and topped with flying fish roe (とびこ), puffed rice (ぶぶあられ), and diced spring onions. Pretty good.
Frog legs: with tamarind paste and guindillas - the frog legs themselves weren't that interesting, but the acidic tamarind paste was not something you see everyday. The pickled guindilla peppers were nice.
Scallops: pan fried with Cantabria anchovies and yuzu kosho - I recently had the same deep-fried garlic leeks at Ronin, and here they delivered the same deliciousness for the dish. The overall combination was interesting, especially when you dab some yuzu kosho (柚子胡椒) that has been smeared on the edge of the plate.
Beetroot: baked in salt, balsamic and peas - no surprise that I wasn't a fan of this dish, given that beetroot ain't one of my favorite ingredients.
Mackerel: grilled with lardo di Colonnata, eringi and grapes - mackerel is a pretty tasty fish by itself, but when you drape a layer of lardo on top... OOOOHH MAN! The ribbons of radish once again show the Japanese influence.
Grilled rack of baby lamb - I looooooooved this! I love lamb, and baby lamb most of all thanks to the abundance of fat. These were simply beautiful... with a crispy layer on top protecting the yummy, lamby fat underneath. In addition to salt and pepper, the dish was served with harissa.
Baby Ratte potatoes: with chimichurri - a little dry for my taste. Curiously sprinkled with Japanese puffed rice.
Eringi and oyster mushroom: josper grilled with soy - these were OK.
Baba au rhum: with chantilly cream and orange - very nice, and plenty of rum here!
Dacquoise: almond biscuit, vanilla cream and nougatine - one of the signatures here.
Chocolate: tart with umeboshi salt - another signature dessert, and I do like the use of Japanese plum powder in lieu of the more common fleur de sel.
I offered to bring a few bottles and asked my friend for any suggestions. When she replied and said anything is OK, I jokingly threatened to bring something that cost 5 Euros...
2005 Remirez de Ganuza Erre Punto Blanco - definitely mature and over the hill... no longer as enjoyable as when I first drank it at the winery in 2006. A little flinty and kinda floral. Palate was very soft and flat now. Oh and this wine did cost me 5 Euros back in 2006... and I was forced to buy a 6-pack of it and carried a few bottles back from Spain...
1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - good amount of toast and grilled corn on the nose, with a bit of lemon. Very round on the palate without much acidity at first, although the acidity balance got better as the wine opened up more. A little disappointed here.
2002 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds - nice and fruity nose, with a little leather.
A pretty good meal, and more than enough food for the three of us. The Japanese bent on the menu that I first saw on my last visit about a year ago seems to have continued. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose...
But I do have some complaints about the service, especially since these guys have now gotten themselves a little macaron. My friend and I are of the opinion that when you're a little casual bistro, you can have a casual attitude about service, but once you've been upgraded to star-status, people's expectations will naturally go up. And tonight they fell a little short on two fronts.
First was the pacing of the dishes. Maybe it was because we started relatively late - at their request - and the kitchen wanted to knock off a little early. We were flooded with dishes from the kitchen which, normally, is something we would really appreciate. But sending 4 dishes in quick succession to a table of 3 is not something I would appreciate, especially when two of us have to snap a pic or two. The third or fourth dish would start to get cold before we even get to it, and that's not exactly how you want to showcase your food to people who are gonna write about it...
The other issue relates to the wine service, which was otherwise very accommodating and fine. After pouring the first glass of the Coche, we discovered that one of the glasses had a chip on the rim. So we asked for a new glass, and the old glass - with wine inside - was taken away. We had all thought that they would simply pour the wine from the chipped glass into a new, undamaged glass... but the replacement glass was empty when it came back.
While I appreciate that I had used one of my "wine condoms" to cover up the bottle and mask the identity of the Coche, that was still no way to treat the customer's wine. The fault lies with the glass, not the wine. What if I had brought a bottle of Coche's Corton-Charlemagne or DRC Montrachet? The amount of wine in that glass would have cost a pretty penny!
Thankfully we did get the old glass of wine back after a while, and stopped the manager from pouring the "old" wine into the new glass with the "new" wine. The manager seemed a little flustered by our very particular demands (read: pain-in-the-ass), but this is a pet peeve with a lot of us winos... When we drink wines that we like, many of us like to see how the wine evolves over time, so we never like to pour fresh wine into a glass containing "old" wine that has gone through aeration in glass. When you're a small, casual bistro in Paris, maybe your clientele won't care. When you start to attract more well-heeled customers - and I'm not trying to say that I am one - some of these people who bring nice wines may care about wine service a little more.
Anyway, enough ranting for now. I still had a very enjoyable meal, and would like to thank the restaurant and their PR for the nice treat.
I caught a lot of flak last month when I paid a visit to my favorite private dining facility without a few of my friends. Lots of hands immediately went up, and the likes of Your Highness demanded that I take them to drink some more of that wonderful snake soup. So, being the good friend that I am, I dutifully booked us a table and asked the chef to prepare the dishes requested by the gang.
As Cathy from HaoKouFu (好口福) happened to be in town - and has been eating her way through places that got promoted by the Rubberman - I figured she shouldn't miss the chance to try out my current favorite Cantonese kitchen in town. I was pretty glad she could come along.
Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - always tasty. None of that overly sweet glaze on that outside - which I actually do like... Rich flavors from the soy sauce, with just enough sweetness. Wonderful balance between the delicious fat and the chewier lean meat. This disappeared quickly.
Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - I could smell the wok hei (鑊氣) as soon as the dish came, but it's a shame that the lot of us took a little too long to take pictures. By the time the waiter served us our individual portions, the temperature was no longer as piping hot as it should have been. Still very yummy, though... I can't get enough of the springy, bouncy texture of the pig's stomach as I bite down on it. And still love the Indian almonds (欖仁).
Braised Buddha jumps over the wall (紅炆佛跳牆) - most of the gang hadn't tried this, and this was amazing enough that I wanted it on the menu despite the higher price tag. I could hear the oohs and aahs as this was put on the lazy Susan and everyone got a good look.
Once plated, everyone got an abalone, a spiny sea cucumber, a piece of fish maw, and a goose web. The other ingredients were pig's tendons, pork belly, and bamboo shoots. I made sure I got plenty of sauce, because we ordered a whole lotta rice to go with the dish. That sauce... full of collagen it made your lips stick together. All the ladies seemed to enjoy it immensely, and no surprise that ILove Lubutin's famous finger once again made an appearance...
You know what comes next when these condiments make an appearance... Earlier in the day I had come across an article on Bloomberg about winter being the season for snake soup, and the reporter visited two well-known shops specializing in the delicacy. A bunch of us had found factual errors in the article - written by a financial reporter who clearly didn't know much about food - and had been cracking jokes about it. Kaffir lime leaves had become "lemongrass", and the crispy fritters (薄脆, or wonton skin) had become "wontons". The article then goes on to say that "it looks (and tastes) like a regular hot and sour soup" and "snake tastes like chicken". Sigh...
Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - and here we have it, my favorite snake soup in Hong Kong... well, my favorite anywhere. I'm so happy to be having it again.
This is just an incredible bowl of snake soup. The knife work alone makes it stand out above most versions out there. Then the flavors hit you... Nobody bothers to add any white pepper, because that would ruin the delicate balance. I make it a point to drink some of the soup without any kaffir lime leaves, chrysanthemum, or coriander. The viscosity here comes not from any added starch, but from ingredients such as fish maw. Any bowls leftover and taken home - there were none tonight - would become jello-like in the fridge.
After two bowls of this nectar, plus some rice I took in with the sauce of the previous dish, I found myself more than halfway full. My body had also warmed up significantly, and I asked the waiter to make the air conditioning a little stronger.
Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - this was a little more than 2 catties, and the execution was slightly better than average tonight... meaning that flesh the back of the fish wasn't too overcooked.
Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - I was already pretty full so I only nibbled on a couple of pieces... and I took some of the gizzard. I still think his other chicken dishes are better.
Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - ILove Lubutin did something tonight that I will never let her live down... For years she's been re-telling the story of how I "stole" food from a little girl who was not yet two, but from now on I will re-tell the story of how she stole a bowl from Your Highness - when she asked for a second bowl after inhaling her first - before he had a chance to get the rice. It's a testament to how delicious this rice was. And yes, I should have ordered this as "XL"...
Pea shoots stir-fried in chicken fat (雞油炒豆苗) - 'tis the season for tender pea shoots, and what's not to like when it's stir-fried in chicken fat?!
Before we get to our regular dessert, ILL shared with us two sweets she carried back from her recent trip to Kyoto. I ignored the Japanese cheesecake and instead took a slice of kyokanze with chestnut (栗京観世) from Tsuruya Yoshinobu (鶴屋吉信). These rolls made with azuki beans were inspired by the kanzemizu (観世水) patterns from kimono.
Double-boiled ginkgo nuts and lotus seeds (銀杏燉湘蓮) - always good... I love desserts with jujube.
Our wine consumption tonight was pretty tame... so I didn't get rid of more inventory.
2004 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs - yeasty nose, and slightly acidic on the palate. Very easy to drink.
2008 Roses de Jeanne Côte de Béchalin, dégorgée à avril 2015 - surprisingly a little floral on the nose. Palate was surprisingly soft, and not much acidity.
2006 Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Auslese* - initially a little pungent with plastic and flinty notes, then a little more richness came out with marmalade notes.
After the success of pairing sweet wines with Buddha jumps over the wall, I made the mistake of thinking that this wine - which is very sweet for an auslese - would work well. It didn't. The plastic and flinty notes didn't work well with the rich seafood flavors, and you really need a real rich and sweet wine with botrytis... like a Sauternes or maybe eiswein.
Suehiro Kaeikura Daiginjo (末廣 嘉永藏 大吟醸) - seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%. a little sweet and round on the attack, but spicy mid-palate with a spicy finish.
1990 Camille-Giroud Pommard 1er Clos Les Epeneaux, en magnum - decanted for about 2 hours before serving, which was probably too long. Notes of leather, plum, earthy, and coffee. The waiter poured a lot of the sediment into the decanter, so the palate wasn't as elegant as it should have been...
I think everyone was stuffed and happy. I know of at least one person who kept leaving back - as I did - in order to stretch the stomach out... BURP!
I was in Causeway Bay running an errand, and looked around for a place where I could have a quick bite. Thanks to ever-soaring rents over the last few years, a number of my go-to restaurants in the area have closed because of rent. So as I circled around and considered my options, I decided to hit an old favorite of mine.
Ho Hung Kee Wantun Noodles Shop (何洪記) has always been popular long before I even got to Hong Kong, with customers flowing in at all hours of the day to enjoy their simple yet delicious noodles and congee. I've always been a big fan of theirs, especially as I lived near the original Tasty Congee and Noodle Wantun Shop (正斗) outlet for a numbers of years. Then came the ridiculous decision by Michelin to give them a star, followed by their decision to move into the brand-spanking-new space in Hysan Place... and the place was never the same again.
Although I didn't arrive at peak hour for dinner, I was surprised that the restaurant wasn't full as it usually was. I guess the drop in Mainland Chinese tourist arrivals have hit them, too... as the price hikes over the last couple of years have priced some of the locals out.
Instead of going for the old favorite stir-fried noodles, I decided to go for a couple of dim sum items I used to enjoy at Tasty. This is one of the limited number of places where one can enjoy a few dim sum items at all hours of the day.
Rice noodle rolls filled with twisted cruller (香油條腸粉) - it's been a while since I last had this at Tasty. What I had tonight was alright... the crullers in the middle weren't soggy, but they weren't as crunchy as I remembered from Tasty. I poured some soy sauce on top and dipped them into the plum and sesame sauces on the side. Still pretty yum.
Roast pork bun with saucy filling (蜜汁叉燒包) - it's also been a while since I last had these at Tasty.
I have always liked the char siu bao from Tasty, because the filling actually didn't only consist of pork fat - like some of the cheaper versions elsewhere. They've actually got some decent barbecued pork here.
The two dishes were enough to fill my stomach for dinner, and I walked out of the restaurant with a reasonable bill of damage. Happy to have scratched a couple of itches...