It's been almost exactly 3 months since my friend Uwe Opocensky left his position as Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong to pursue other interests. A few of us were lucky enough to be in the Krug Room for his last service, but I haven't seen him since then. As has been reported in a couple of local media outlets, he's gone over to "flip burgers" for a local restaurant group. While I was invited to taste some of his new creations earlier, I wanted to wait till Uwe was off the wagon again before catching up with him.
So we agreed to meet up at the new Beef and Liberty in Lan Kwai Fong. I had read a few posts about the new bar snacks that he had put together for the joint, but the main event was the new burger. As usual, I was responsible for fishing out a bottle from my cellar, and this wouldn't be the first time that I sat down to have a burger over a nice bottle of wine.
No sooner had I sat down and pour ourselves some wine than the food started to arrive...
Chicken liver parfait - chicken liver paste with crispy shallots on top, maple syrup, spread over toasted sourdough. Can't say no to liver spread...
Crispy olives - these Nocellara olives were stuffed with pistachio, Parmesan, herbs, and deep-fried in Japanese panko (パン粉). I didn't have the heart to tell Uwe that I don't actually like olives... but I ate them anyway. Pretty decent for olives.
Vegetable crudités - seasonal vegetables in garlic aioli and smoked paprika. This is basically a shrunk-down version of the garden pot salad that Uwe used to serve at the Mandarin.
Sausage roll - pork mince and fennel compote in puff pastry. I looooove sausage rolls, and I've eaten a couple hundred of these things from SSUX SBUX over the last few years. This was certainly a more refined version, but the flavors were a little too restrained for my taste. I really loved the little pickles on the side, though.
Lambo - this was it. The pièce de résistance. The burger that I had come to taste. The lamb shoulder has been slow-roasted for 8 hours, before being shredded and pan-fried to add the crispy texture. Seasoned with plenty of cumin - which I think is an unbeatable combination. Dressed in hummus, with a cumin, mint, and parsley coleslaw, and garnished with pickled breakfast radish and jalapeño.
I.FUCKING.LOVED.THIS. I love lamb, and as I said earlier, once you put enough cumin on roasted lamb - with that crispy texture - I would just be chomping down hard. The hummus also seemed to work well with the lamb - not too surprising, I guess. The only thing that threw me off a little was the kick from the jalapeño, but I didn't mind it too much.
Damn. I want another one.
Sweet potato fries - I can't resist sweet potato fries, and I ended up taking down most of this...
I was also treated to another burger that was still in development, and was asked not to write about it. It was delicious, but the flavors were a little bold. Thankfully I shared it with Uwe, because I don't think I could have had two burgers by myself!
I asked Uwe to think about what wines he wanted to drink, and I was a little surprised that he came back asking for Super Tuscans. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I just happened to have a couple of these babies within (relatively) easy reach in my overstuffed cellar...
1997 Ornellaia - double-decanted 30 minutes prior to serving. Very ripe but not jammy, more like a little stewed prunes. Minty and a little eucalyptus, sweet fruit, a little smoky and woody. Still plenty of concentration on the palate. Drinking beautifully right now.
2000 Sassicaia - decanted immediately prior to serving. Ripe but not at the same level as the Ornellaia. Smoky notes. A little more tannic (probably a decanting error), but acidity on the palate was significantly higher.
This was a pretty good evening. I had brought the Sassicaia as a backup in case the Ornellaia turned out corked, and when we finished the first bottle, I asked Uwe whether he'd like to drink the second one anyway. Well... this was the night before Typhoon Haima hit, and we both knew that tomorrow would be a day off for us. So... 2 bottles between the two of us, over a simple meal of burgers, turned out to be perfect. Many thanks to Uwe for the treat.
There's another globe-trotting foodie coming to town, who's on a world tour and eating very, very well. As he was coming in around lunch time, I figured that I'd introduce him to my favorite roast goose around my office. Little did I know that he's already familiar with Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) - having visited on a previous trip to Hong Kong. Well... that makes it all the easier!
Since we were in the middle of lunch hour, I wasn't the least bit surprised by the line outside the restaurant. Luckily we didn't have to wait long at all before being seated at the very first table by the door, next to the boss lady.
Roast goose, lower quarter (燒鵝下庄) - this is always the smart choice when there's two of us. The skin today wasn't as amazing as what I had 2 weeks ago, but the flavors of this goose never fails me. My foodie friend seemed happy with it, too.
Rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉) - ordered this as usual for the carb quota.
In all my years of coming here - and I've been coming for more than 10 years now - I've never tried to order their soup dumplings (餃子)... in fact I never even knew that was on the menu. But my friend seems to have enjoyed them. Maybe I'll give them a try sometime...
I met up with my globe-trotting foodie friend for a second day in a row, but in a much, much nicer setting today. When I got in touch with him a few weeks ago and inquired about his plans for eating around Hong Kong, I wasn't the least bit surprised to hear that the only reservation that he made was at Lung King Heen (龍景軒). Naturally he invited me to join him there for lunch.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I could see that my friend was already chatting with Chef Chan Yan Tak (陳恩德). Knowing my friend's history with the restaurant and the hotel, I had no doubt that we would be well taken care of today. Sure enough, restaurant manager Simpson Yeung came to greet us shortly, and asked whether we'd like to have Chef Chan do something special for us. We set some broad parameters but left the rest up to the chef. We would start with a few dim sum items - and a few of them would appear to be off-menu (hence the generic descriptions here).
I mentioned that I'd perhaps like a glass of Champagne, and moments later sommelier Billy Yeung came over with the Champagne trolley. He very generously offered each of us a glass of 2003 Tarlant La Matinale - a brut nature with zero dosage. That much was obvious, given the noticeable acidity on the palate. The nose was nice and toasty, and a little yeasty. Full-bodied with a nice and long finish. A lovely wine for us to start our meal with.
Steamed lobster and water chestnut dumpling in fermented bean sauce (豉汁龍蝦馬蹄餃) - you can tell this is a very luxe item by the gold foil they put on top... and of course the fact that the filling includes lobster. Nice flavors here, and the inclusion of diced cucumber and water chestnut definitely provided a much crunchier texture.
Steamed assorted mushroom dumplings with goji berries (百合杞子雜菌餃) - I liked this a lot. Very curious to see wolfberries - otherwise known as goji (枸杞) berries - and lily bulbs here... both provided noticeable sweetness while the latter lent a crunchy as well as starchy texture. Additional crunch came with the celery.
Steamed crab meat dumpling (蒸蟹肉餃) - this was pretty decent, and no real crunchy bits inside so the texture was pretty uniformly soft.
Baked taro puff (芋角) - these types of taro puffs are among my favorite items to order when having dim sum, so I'm real happy that I got to have one. How surprising that unlike most versions I have had, this was devoid of any meat whatsoever. Other than the taro mash, I could only find shiitake mushrooms inside. But I loooove the flaky shell as always. And the best thing? There's not even a hint of the taste of baking soda, which is sometimes prominent in the ones found elsewhere.
Baked barbecued pork buns with pine nuts (崧子叉燒菠蘿包) - it's been so long since I've come here for dim sum that I totally forgot they add pine nuts inside, and actually quite a lot. This is a nice touch, because it adds both fragrance and some extra crunch. Otherwise the char siu (叉燒) inside was enveloped in thick sauce that was a little sweeter than I remembered.
Spring rolls (春卷) - we were told that this was a spring roll with vegetables, and indeed it wasn't obvious that there was any meat or seafood inside.
Marinated fragrant chicken in soy sauce (玫瑰豉油雞) - actually pretty tasty... especially the soy-marinated skin, and thankfully we got a pretty small serving.
Barbecued pork with honey sauce (蜜汁燒叉燒) - these were two very, very satisfying chunks of soft and delicious pork. The tender and flavorful fat is clear to the eye, but the supposed lean parts were also very tender. This is the kind of stuff where I'd be happy just ordering up a whole plate of, along with a bowl of steamed rice, and have myself a simple yet incredibly gratifying meal.
Xiaolongbao with hairy crab roe (蟹粉小籠包) - it's hairy crab season once again, so when we thought we needed more dim sum, Simpson suggested that we take one of these. I was surprised by the size, as it was actually bigger than even the ones at Jia Jia Tang Bao (佳家湯包) in Shanghai. While the filling was still a mix of ground pork and hairy crab meat/roe, I have to admit that the mixture was so silky and smooth that I had to do a visual check to confirm that there really was ground pork in there. Pretty nice. While the wrapper was very thin and fine, it seemed a little dry by the time I got around to eating it after a couple of minutes.
Wok-fried prawns with organic black garlic and dried chilli (有機黑蒜爆大千蝦球) - this was an unexpected dish, sent out by the chef as it appears to be a signature dish. Unfortunately, this also turned out to be my least favorite dish of the day. I know that Chinese chefs often treat their prawns with baking soda to give them a crunchy texture, but I think something went wrong here... The prawns were rather translucent, and the crunchy texture just didn't seem very natural. The flavors were completely fine, though, and I really liked the black garlic, black beans and red shallots, and managed to endure the spicy kick from the chili peppers.
Lung King Heen roast chicken (龍景脆皮雞) - my friend is a huge fan of the crispy roast chicken, so the two of us shared half a chicken. Chef Chan made sure to tell us that they only use live chickens at the Four Seasons - which were slaughtered the same morning - even for their banquets.
The paper-thin chicken skin really is nice, and there was just the tiniest bit of fat under the skin. The top side of the meat - closest to the skin - had some seasoning, but there were pieces where the meat was incredibly salty as it came into contact with the bones. This was a little puzzling but overall this was still very good. But the slices of deep-fried lotus root seemed to have been coated with an armor of salt...
Petits fours - the baked cream custard puff (楓葉奶黃酥) and the osmanthus and wolfberry jelly (枸杞桂花糕) are both as expected. A nice way to finish off a delicious lunch.
We were fawned over pretty much the entire time while we were in the restaurant - from Chef Chan checking up on us both before and after our meal, to the free bubbly from the sommelier, to the very attentive service... and even the manager of the hotel - who is a friend of my friend - stopped by to say hello.
Service has always been one of the highlights here, and the restaurant remains the only one that I have been to where they take care to arrange the order in which they send out dim sum items in ascending order of flavor - starting with steamed items, then baked ones, and finally the deep-fried selections. Everyone else seems to just take whatever comes out of the kitchen and dumps them on the table. That alone makes these guys stand head and shoulders above the rest, so in spite of my misgivings about some of the food here, the experience is always a pleasant one.
A few weeks ago I was browsing on Facebook when a promoted ad caught my eye. The Shangri-La Hotel group invites guest chefs to do pop-up events at their hotels around the world, and I know from reading about them in the past that these have included some of the world's celebrated chefs. I got a little curious and clicked on the ad, and soon I found myself rounding up a few friends to have lunch at a restaurant I haven't stepped foot in a long time.
Petrus at the Island Shangri-La is hosting Frédéric Anton, who has been with Le Pré Catelan for nearly 20 years and helped it acquire three of those coveted Michelin stars. I've long heard the name but never had the opportunity to visit, so this would be my chance to get a sense of what it might be like to dine there.
We had a choice for each of the three (or four) courses, but I really wish that I could have taken every single one of them, since they all sounded really delicious. Indeed, the courses I ended up not choosing all looked really good.
L'aubergine, préparée en caviar, huile au parfum de curry, oignons frits, caviar de France - the eggplant caviar seasoned with curry oil was very, very delicious. But the strong flavors from the curry completely overpowered the French caviar until the salinity became the only detectable trace from the eggs. The deep-fried onion chips added a nice touch, though... both in terms of texture and flavors. A nice start to my lunch.
Les perles du Japon, risotto, crème au Parmesan et jus gras - probably the weakest dish today. The thin disc of custard on top was supposed to be made with foie gras, but I kinda tasted mushrooms... Still pretty tasty, though.
L'agneau, rôti, au poivre de Timut, salade de céleri aux agrumes - this was some really good shit. I looooove lamb, and these lamb chops were exactly what I needed today. There was a good amount of tasty lamb fat, and the chops were cooked nicely so that they were still very tender. I could taste the presence of timur but the chef seemed to have been rather restrained here.
Le Paris-Brest, compotée de figues, crème légère 'pralinée et pécan' - the Great One complained that the Paris-Brest is supposed to look circular, but I didn't mind having this arrive like a cross between an éclair and a profiterole. I absolutely loved the soft hazelnut cream with candied pecans embedded, and the fig compote made things even more interesting. It was, though, a little rich at the end of this lunch.
One of our dining companions generously brought a bottle of 2007 Louis Roederer Cristal. The first pour was not as cold, which delivered noticeable acidity. After cooling down in an ice bucket, there was a little more of the toasty notes on the nose.
I wasn't really feeling like drinking much at lunch, so I didn't take the sommelier's offer of 2004 Petrus by the glass (which was offered at a decent price, TBH), nor sharing in the bottle of red Burg that the others at the table shared.
This was a very good and relaxing Friday lunch, and I was pretty stuffed by the end. Perhaps I'd have the opportunity to take in the beautiful views and the cuisine at Le Pré Catelan... soon.
P.S. Many thanks to the sommelier for waiving corkage for our bubbly.
A group of old friends - all of whom have known each other for 15-20 years - got together for one of several annual birthday gatherings tonight. The dinner was fixed about a month ago, and I was looking forward to catching up with the boys (and girl) over some delicious yakitori.
Then the Great One pinged me and told me that our friend Gaggan Anand is in town, and he'd like to go out for a Cantonese dinner tonight. Since a proper Cantonese meal - unlike some of those single-portion tasting menus offered by certain hotel restaurants - require more than a couple of mouths around the table, I decided to bail on my old friends on less than twelve hours' notice to accommodate Gaggan. I was out of town and missed the opportunity to join the party when Gaggan came to town last, and I didn't want to miss it a second time. Besides, I figured (perhaps it is presumptuous of me) that my old friends would forgive me for ditching them...
Coming up with an interesting venue for Cantonese food on same-day notice is tough, especially when it's Friday night. None of our favorite high-end private kitchen could be secured on short notice, especially when there were so few of us. We tossed out another couple of popular options, and I suggested Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房). The food there can be interesting, especially with off-menu items that we won't find on many of the high-end restaurants in town. So the Great One arranged a table with the boss.
I was the last person to arrive at dinner, and I could see that owner Lau Kin-wai (劉健威) was already seated at our table, sipping from a wine glass. I greeted our guest of honor, plopped my bottle of wine on the table, and waited for our food to arrive.
Barbecued pork with honey glaze (蜜汁叉燒) - these were really, really good. Mr. Lau is proud of the fact that, unlike many other restaurants in town, they use neither red food coloring nor any tenderizers to treat their pork. They also use the tips of the pork shoulder (脢尖) - where the marbling naturally makes for a very tender texture.
Deep-fried custard with hairy crab roe (蟹粉戈渣) - these custards are normally made simply with corn starch, eggs, and chicken stock. But there was a special seasonal ingredient added tonight...
Hairy crab roe is clearly visible here. Of course this immediately upped the game in terms of flavor, while still maintaining the soft, wobbly texture of the deep-fried custard - with a nice and crisp exterior.
Crispy fried Osbeck's grenadier anchovies (酥炸鳳尾魚) - Hello Kitty just about jumped for joy when this arrived at our table. This is a childhood favorite for both her and myself, even though we were in different countries. So glad to be able to have these fresh, and it's really tough to beat crispy, deep-fried little fishies. I made sure that Hello Kitty got a little bit more than her share...
Pea shoot soup with crab meat (蟹肉豆苗羹) - we were told by chef and owner Lau Chun (劉晉) that the pea shoots were frozen to -20°C before being puréed with a Pacojet. The result is a smooth and incredibly flavorful liquid.
Salt-baked chicken with ganbajun mushrooms (乾巴菌鹽焗雞) - this is one of the signature dishes of the restaurant, and the exotic fragrance of the mushrooms hit me seconds after the dish arrived. Gaggan seemed very intrigued by these mushrooms from China, and checked out the raw ingredient. I do have to say that the chicken was as tasty as I remembered from a couple of months ago, and tonight I made sure to have more than a couple of pieces. The accompanying gizzard and liver were also pretty good.
Stir-fried spinyhead croaker with Chinese lettuce hearts (生菜膽炒獅頭魚) - another dish that made Hello Kitty very happy. Fillets of a fish that is deemed unworthy of banquet tables or finer establishments. The presence of aged mandarin peel (陳皮) is immediately apparent, and yellowed chives also add their distinctive flavors to the mix.
Braised winter melon with bird's eye chili (野山椒炆冬瓜) - this dish has got some kick! Along with chunky slices of winter melon and termite mushrooms (雞㙡菌), there was also Chiuchow-style preserved olive mustard leaf (潮州欖菜), as well as pickled wild mountain peppers. Pretty tasty, but not good for a wine-tasting palate.
Steamed wild-caught Japanese eel (清蒸海白鱔) - this is wild-caught from the ocean and not farmed eel, so the texture was unlike what we would normally see at other Cantonese restaurants around town. Indeed the texture was incredibly springy and bouncy, with a certain level of crispness. Normally I dread the thought of having Japanese eel at Chinese restaurants, because inevitably I would be faced with the taste of mud on my tongue. Not tonight. There wasn't the slightest trace of that unpleasant taste whatsoever, and of course the presence of preserved mandarin peel also helped. Very nice, and one of the best plates of this I have ever had.
Steamed mustard green stems with preserved leafy mustard (梅菜蒸芥膽) - this was an interesting dish because it featured essentially the same vegetable with two different parts and preparations. The lower part of the stem of mustard green was kept fresh, while the leafy portion was diced and preserved. The preserved mustard greens (梅菜) was rather crunchy compared to what other restaurants tend to use.
Stir-fried rice flour noodles with beef (干炒牛河) - Gaggan mentioned that this is his favorite dish in Cantonese cuisine, and he would order it multiple times whenever he's in Hong Kong. So of course the kitchen immediately whipped up a plate for us.
Yellow croaker and preserved leafy mustard noodle (雪菜黃魚麵) - this is actually not Cantonese but a Shanghainese dish. Yellow croaker is one of my favorites since childhood, and pairing it with preserved leafy mustard (雪菜) just works perfectly. Gaggan inquired about the milky broth for the noodles, and was surprised to hear that it's simply the result of cooking fish for an extended period of time. Very yum, but we really didn't need TWO noodle dishes at the end...
We declined the generous offer of dessert, although I saw Gaggan try out the coconut milk jelly (椰汁糕) brought out as mignardises.
The Kat and I each brought a bottle of wine to dinner, which was a pretty relaxed evening for us...
Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine Blanc de Noirs, vintage unknown - very smooth and slightly sweet on the palate.
1996 Dugat-Py Charmes-Chambertin - opened 1 hour prior to serving, not decanted. Very smooth on the palate. Fragrant with cedar notes, a little sweet fruit, almost a little vanilla. Pretty good but was kinda expecting a little more.
It was a lot of fun catching up with Gaggan. He seems to be chock full of stories so it's no surprise that he's often the life of the party. Looking forward to catching up with him in Bangkok again soon!
A few days ago, Hello Kitty informed me that she had booked us a couple of night's stay at the Peninsula Hong Kong. Unlike some of my friends, I'm the type of cheapskate who never splurges money on staycations, so this was a really nice surprise. So we packed our bags and checked in to the venerable Pen - the grande dame of Hong Kong hotels.
We asked for a lunch table at Spring Moon (嘉麟樓) upon check-in, and this being Sunday and all, they were only able to squeeze us in shortly before the time for last order. We didn't mind a late lunch, so we showed up around 2pm when quite a few tables had already cleared out. We would pick a few dim sum items as well as a few classics.
Having been here only once in the last 15 years or so, I had forgotten about the customized chopstick rest. Such a cute little detail.
We were kinda hungry by now, so we nibbled on the candied walnuts while we waited for the food to arrive. Always a nice start.
Baked wagyu beef buns (酥皮和牛飽) - these were Hello Kitty's request, and came as "Mexico buns (墨西哥包) / conchas"...
The filling turned out to be pretty spicy from lots of black pepper. Hello Kitty thought that the taste reminded her of Taiwanese pepper buns (胡椒餅).
Sliced barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - these were pretty nice, and the left side was definitely very tender with a good amount of tasty fat. Hello Kitty was more critical, and thought that some pieces on the right side were a little on the tough side. She also complained that the pork didn't have as much flavor. As for me... I'm happy as long as I can taste the pork fat.
We asked for some X.O. sauce to go with our dim sum, but mostly I just ended up eating it on its own. There's a lot of kick here...
Baked crab meat with cream sauce in shell (白汁焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - this is one of the classic dishes that I enjoy trying in different restaurants. There were two different types of sauce available, and I opted for the "white sauce".
There was a reasonable amount of crab meat here, along with plenty of onions providing sweetness. Not bad, but I think I still prefer what I get at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門)... especially the layer of crispy breadcrumbs on top.
Golden fried crab claw with hairy crab coral and shrimp mousse (蟹粉炸釀蟹拑) - another dish I was curious about, for comparison with other restaurants like Lung King Heen (龍景軒).
I hadn't been reading the menu very carefully, because I only realized that there was hairy crab coral inside after I took a bite. There wasn't a lot of it, but it was enough to change the flavors and make it a little more interesting than the "normal" version on the menu. The actual crab claw itself was modest in size - which wasn't unexpected - and covered with a layer of shrimp mousse. Pretty decent.
Steamed minced pork dumpling with hairy crab coral (蟹粉小籠包) - how can I not try their version of hairy crab coral xiaolongbao?!
This wasn't bad, but unfortunately seriously paled in comparison to the one I had at Lung King Heen just 4 days ago. For a 10% premium I could get a significantly bigger dumpling with a more refined filling that is much more tasty and satisfying - at the place with 3 Michelin stars.
Steamed Sicilian shrimp and minced pork dumpling (紅蝦小籠包) - I had never seen anyone make XLB with red prawns, so of course I had to satisfy my curiosity.
O-M-G. This was damn good. No, this was FUCKING good. For the same price as the one with hairy crab coral, I'd choose this 10 times out of 10. The soup inside was basically shellfish bisque, and I absolutely love any kind of shrimp head essence or shellfish soup. If we weren't so full (and if we hadn't passed the time for last orders) I'd ask for another 2 of these!
Poached leafy amaranth with salted eggs and century eggs (金銀蛋莧菜) - there was a confusion with the waiter about which preparation of leafy amaranth I wanted, but I wasn't too fussed about it when this came. But we were already pretty full, so we ended up leaving half the dish. I do like the combination of the two types of eggs, though...
We were too stuffed and couldn't handle any dessert. Besides, we were about to meet some friends for the famous Peninsula Afternoon Tea in 1½ hours...
Less than two hours after finishing lunch, we sat down again at another one of the Peninsula Hong Kong's F and B outlets. Knowing that we wouldn't be able to put any more food into our stomachs, we called for reinforcements for our afternoon tea session at the Lobby.
As we exited the elevator on the lobby level, we saw a very long line of people waiting for a table, and found our friends at the very back of that line. We quickly pulled them away and marched towards the front of the line. After all, we were in-house guests who have a confirmed booking... so there was absolutely no need to line up.
After being seated, we proposed that our friends take the Peninsula in Pink Afternoon Tea for two. This was a special version of the classic afternoon tea set, but designed in pink to raise awareness for breast cancer as the entire hotel runs the Peninsula in Pink campaign.
The highlights seemed to be the top plate of pink-colored sweets such as macarons.
The finger sandwiches and savory tarts seemed alright...
Hello Kitty and I just ordered drinks without any additional food, although we did share one of the scones from our friends' tea set.
I must confess that it's been more than a decade - perhaps more than 15 years, even - since I last sat down to afternoon tea here. Dare I say that nowadays I would prefer the scones served by Smith and Hsu in Taipei, over the one I just had here today?
I ordered some Moroccan mint tea in the hopes of aiding my digestion. I hadn't realized that I have been spoiled by the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong over the last few years, as they have been serving me Moroccan mint leaves - which are very, very nice. The tea that came out of my pot certainly contained more than just mint and tea leaves, as the scent of rosemary and other herbs was pretty strong. Unfortunately rosemary is one of my least-favorite herbs, and I found my tea unpalatable.
Thankfully the staff were more than happy to let me switch to something I prefer, and offered to bring me a pot with just mint leaves. That went down much, much better.
I think our reinforcements - who are visiting from North America - were pretty happy to have gotten to opportunity to do afternoon tea at the Pen. We were glad that they were able to join us this afternoon for a short gathering. Thankfully Hello Kitty and I didn't have to eat much, because dinner was coming out in another couple of hours...
When I arrived in Hong Kong in the middle of 1995, I was taken almost immediately to Felix at the Peninsula Hong Kong by my architect friends. It was new, and designed by Philippe Starck - of whom my friends and I were big fans. The place had an incredibly cool vibe, and would remain my go-to bar to take visiting friends for that million dollar view of Hong Kong.
But in the 21 years since my very first visit, I have never eaten at Felix. The reputation of the place has always been as a place for drinks, and no one I know ever raved about its food. Since there are plenty of places in Hong Kong serving great food, I always chose to dine elsewhere.
That all changed tonight. As part of our staycation, we booked ourselves a table at Felix for dinner. None of the tables by the window were available, but that didn't matter much to me. We ended up at a table on the stage behind the white sheer curtains, which offered me marginally better light for photography.
We decided to go for "The Felix Experience", as a quick glance through the menu didn't yield anything that particularly stood out. But there were some pleasant surprises coming our way...
Skipjack tataki and poached eggplant with miso dressing, purple shiso and spring onion salad - this didn't look like a very promising start to dinner, especially when the toppings on one of the skipjack slices fell off before the dish got to me. Not surprisingly, the ponzu (ポン酢) jelly on the side worked well with the skipjack tataki (タタキ), but the slices of eggplant underneath didn't seem to jive with the rest. Lots of raw Japanese leeks on top of the skipjack, which gave a certain amount of kick that kinda overwhelmed the saffron chips on top. The puffed rice on the side was on the sweet side, and the baby red perilla leaves and perilla flowers added some nice fragrance to the dish.
Pan-seared scallop and poached mussels with Malabar pepper, red cabbage consommé, poached quail egg and scallop cracker - this was much, much better than our first course. The red cabbage consommé turned out nicely with some kick from the pepper, and the mussels were fine. I thought there were even slices of cuttlefish at first, but the texture told me that they were likely just konjac (蒟蒻).
The Hokkaido scallop was seared to mi-cuit. Very nicely done.
The scallop cracker was pretty interesting, although it was starting to absorb the moisture in the air. There was a poached quail egg on top with spicy and sour dressing and a little bit of nori (のり) seaweed. This part of the dish was pretty nice, too.
White wine braised pork belly with tomato-garlic sautéed squid, deep-fried mushroom ravioli and grilled mutsutake - it's hard for me not to like pork belly, and this one was alright. The diced squid sautéed with tomato and garlic was alright, but the deep-fried squid ink pasta on top offered little more than a crunchy texture.
The wrapper of the deep-fried raviolo reminded me of deep-fried wontons.
But the fundamental question remains: how are the pork belly, squid, deep-fried squid ink noodles, and the mushroom raviolo all supposed to come together? They might taste fine individually, but what exactly do they have to do with each other?
Baked Pacific cutlassfish and shrimp cake with white wine sauce, sautéed baby spinach - this looked rather unassuming at first, although the prawns were actually very tasty - nicely seasoned with good texture.
The "cake" was made with shrimp mousse and covered in cutlassfish. The surprise was the hollow center, and liquid white wine sauce ooozed out as I cut into it. Not bad.
Coconut brûlèe and pear with pear sherbert, yuzu-saffron marinated pear, almond chip - I really liked this dessert. The anjou pear was baked with the coconut brûlèe inside. The pear sorbet on the side was pretty tasty, but the surprise came as the pear slices seemed to be marinated in alcohol. The slice of almond chip wasn't bad, either.
Lavender chocolate - the flavors from the lavender were very strong.
Palmiers and coffee cookies - the palmiers were nicely done, and for some reason the coffee cookies reminded me of the ones from Jenny Bakery...
Chocolate madeleines and blueberry vanilla tarts - going with the Halloween theme here, today being October 30th and all...
I took a glass of wine during dinner, and chose the 2012 Château Brown Blanc which was initially served too cold. A little ripe, and kinda round on the palate, with some sweetness here.
We adjourned to the American Bar inside Felix, and I took another one of my famous girlie drinks...
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rich - VCP created Rich to be made into cocktails, and this was classified as Doux with a whoping 60g/L of sugar... That's even higher than Moët's Ice Imperial, which has 45g/L...
I chose the cocktail made with grapefruit twist, and it was nice with lots of citrus notes. We were surprised to find that after adding ice and the grapefruit, the drink wasn't as sweet as we thought it would be.
Well, I finally dined at Felix. The food wasn't terrible, but neither did it offer enough excitement to warrant a return visit in the foreseeable future...
A staycation at the Pen wouldn't be complete without dining at the grande dame of French restaurants in this town, so a mere three weeks after our last visit, we were back at Gaddi's for dinner.
As luck would have it, Kung Fu Panda was also in the house tonight. She's a regular here and seems to know everyone. But as she was dining with her mom and her mom's friends, we kept to ourselves and only exchanged a few words when she came over.
As I had already gone through the tasting menu earlier in the month, I decided to give it a pass tonight. It's also a little early in terms of white truffle season, so I also passed up the white truffle tasting menu or any of the truffle dishes. There was a certain itch I needed to scratch tonight, and I was determined to get it done. So à la carte it was, then.
Once again, our amuse bouche was a cube of confit chicken with ham in parsley cream sauce, topped with a wafer of Parmesan.
Le tourteau des côtes bretonnes assaisonné d'une crème de chou-fleur, gelée de homard surmontée de caviar impérial de France - this was it. This was the itch I had come to scratch. Xavier's variation of the famous creation from Joël Robuchon. All the key ingredients are here: lobster jelly, cauliflower cream, crab meat, caviar, and of course gold foil... along with a couple of extras like salmon roe and the buckwheat tuile colored with seaweed.
It was delicious, but I didn't love it. It was so full of the flavors of the sea, and plenty of umami from the lobster jelly, but it lacked the right balance. There should have been more cauliflower cream to provide the counterbalancing sweetness. Instead, the dish was skewed towards salt, and the Kaviari Kristal caviar tasted one-dimensional.
Tonight's the 5-month anniversary of the last time Richard Ekkebus' iconic sea urchin dish was served at Amber, and I found myself missing its perfect harmony dearly.
Les langoustines poêlées dans une émulsion de coco et de poudre de citron vert à la coriandre - this was Hello Kitty's first course, and I was lucky enough to get a bite of it. OK, I got more than a bite... I practically ate more than half of her langoustine in one BIG bite. Thankfully she was a pretty good sport. The langoustine was very, very nicely done, and earned high praised from my dining companion - making my big bite all the more shameful. Apparently the accompanying raviolo was also delicious.
Le canard de Challans rôti aux figues fraïches et jeunes navets, sauce aux vieux porto et épices douces - it's difficult for me to choose between duck and pigeon, but duck became my default choice tonight.
There seemed to be some miscommunication between myself and the kitchen. Normally I'd order my birds "rosé", or "pink", but for some reason I asked for "rare". I figured that in this town, even French chefs would cook their birds a little more when Asian diners ask for "rare".
I was wrong. What came out was more than rosé. It was "bleu". I was a little taken aback, but as it was cooked according to my instructions, I decided not to send it back to the kitchen. It was pretty raw, and still tasted pretty damn good.
I smiled when the bowl of potato mash was brought to the table. He did take a thing or two away from his time with Oncle Joël... although this mash definitely had a lot less butter.
Le suprême de pigeon vendéen rôti au sucre Muscovado, sa cuisse farcie et racines glacées - Hello Kitty stared at her main course for quite a while when it came. The menu said "root vegetables", and what came was an abundance of beetroot, with beetroot coulis. And we both dislike beetroot intensely
Thankfully, beetroot wasn't in everything, and the pigeon was still very, very delicious.
Crêpes Suzette - there was never any question about which dessert I wanted to order. I had to check out their table side service, and that meant getting this classic dish.
The finished product. Very, very delicious. Very good depth of flavors here, and definitely something I'd order again.
Grand Marnier soufflé - with a scoop of mandarin sorbet added on top. The texture was perfectly light and fluffy. Another winner.
Madeleine - curiously devoid of any orange flavor.
Passion fruit chocolate
Although I brought along a bottle of wine, we decided to start with a glass of Champagne.
Jacquesson Cuvée n° 738 - surprisingly ripe on the palate, with prominent yeasty notes. Very vibrant yet elegant bubbles.
1983 Jaboulet La Chapelle, ex-domaine - for the second time in a row, our waiter was overly aggressive when it comes to decanting my wine, which meant that some sediment ended up at the bottom of the decanter... and subsequently poured into my glass.
The wine was filtered while decanting due to a broken cork, then the decanter was stoppered. Pretty sweet fruit in the nose, with plenty of leather and toasty notes. Showing beautifully after 40 minutes, with stewed prunes and cedar, but acidity on the palate was a little high. Almost 2 hours on, the wine turned pretty sweet on the nose, and acidity was more prominent, while some tannins and a hint of sharp alcohol showed up at the end.
Tonight we sat a little closer to the live band in the house, and once again I took note of the singers' repertoire - keeping in mind that half of the audience was above the age of 60. So we went through Fly Me to the Moon, Barbara Streisand's The Way We Were and Evergreen, the Temptations'My Girl, Teresa Teng's 甜蜜蜜 and The Moon Represents My Heart (月亮代表我的心). There were a few more contemporary numbers, thankfully... such as Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On, John Legend's All of Me, and Ellie Goulding's Love Me Like You Do. Hello Kitty ended up putting in two requests, and the drummer performed Sam Smith's Stay with Me. But somehow Sade's Smooth Operator never came...
We adjourned for a nightcap at The Bar, and we were led to the back room that was completely empty. After asking for recommendations, we ordered a glass of red wine as well as their signature cocktail.
When the drinks arrived, the waiter made the classic mistake of switching our drinks - as he plonked them down without even checking which one of us was having which drink. The long-running joke between Hello Kitty and I is that waiters ALWAYS get our drinks mixed up. She is the one who always gets the beer or the dry cocktails, and I'm the guy who gets either a fruity "girlie drink" or a soft drink. Well, tonight the gave put the wine in front of me and gave Hello Kitty the cocktail. Le Sigh...
Well, I did like the Rolls-Royce. The fragrance of citrus and juniper berries from the Tanqueray 10 Gin really showed. A very nice nightcap before turning in. If only it didn't take more than 20 minutes for our waiter to decide to come check on us when we wanted the bill...
I had heard the Great One raved about Tasting Court (天一閣) some time ago. Then I heard about it from the Man in White T-Shirt, who also mentioned the background of the owners. A few chances have come up for me to try the cuisine here, both before and after its closure - which turned out to be a relocation. But for one reason or another, I have never managed to make it here.
So when I was asked by a friend to fill in on a feast that has been organized, I hesitated for a while but grudgingly agreed to join them. The reason I say "grudgingly" has no reflection on the company nor the cuisine. My feeding schedule had simply been too full lately and I badly needed a break. And that was before I even found out about the last-minute staycation at the Peninsula Hong Kong - where I stuffed myself with 7 meals over 2 days...
I rolled in to the room with my suitcase - having just checked out of the hotel this morning - and found myself a seat next to the organizer who put the menu together. He would proceed to tell the story of the dishes throughout the evening for our benefit.
When I agreed to join the party, I was somewhat alarmed by the length of the menu - which featured 15 courses. But it would seem that I was dining with a bunch of greedy piggies, and nobody thought it would be too much food. I figured I'll just restrain myself and nibble...
Pickled ginger with century egg (子薑皮蛋) - very young pickled ginger.
Crispy enoki mushroom (酥炸金針菇) - how can one go wrong with deep-fried shrooms?
Deep-fried pork fat stuffed with prawn (金錢蝦餅) - these prawn cakes are wrapped in caul fat (網油), and were definitely very tasty. Much softer than expected, and kinda sticky on the teeth. Very old school. Nice fragrance from the kaffir lime leaves inside.
Chinese grilled pork chop with soybean (西班牙黑毛豬叉燒) - the Iberico pork wasn't prepared the way it's commonly done nowadays. Instead a combination including Chinese black olives (欖角), black beans (豆豉), and aged mandarin peel (陳皮) were used to marinate the pork. Pretty interesting.
Slow-cooked chicken wrapped pigeon with Shaoxing wine (狀元紅燉鳳吞雞) - the soup was made with some 42(?) different herbs, along with Huadiao (花雕) wine. A very delicious bowl of soup with lots of flavors, and the herbs weren't overpowering at all.
This being chicken soup and all, naturally the chicken was fished out from the pot and plated separately...
Look, Ma! There's a pigeon inside the chicken! And some lil' eggs, too!
Slow-cooked meat ball in chicken soup (葵花斬肉) - the meatball is apparently made from meat around the ribs mixed with some brisket, then chopped until all the fibers are broken down.
This, together with an appropriate ratio of fat, made the meatball very, very tender. Almost melt-in-your-mouth tender. Of course, as a version of the traditional lion's head (獅子頭), it's cooked together with napa cabbage. Perfect match.
Steamed fresh flowery crab with aged Shaoxing wine served with rice noodle (香醉紅蟳) - this was a dish everyone was waiting for. A perennial favorite at The Chairman (大班樓), this was cooked with 25-year Huadiao wine. There were 3 crabs in all for the table.
There weren't any of the usual rice noodles (陳村粉) tonight, so we made do with steamed rice and used it to soak up that yummy, Huadiao-flavored sauce. There was also a plate of Cantonese egg noodles made without the use of alkali. These were pretty awesome.
Deep-fried crab ball (百花釀蟹鉗) - well, these were actually NOT crab claws as the Chinese description indicated... What you see sticking out of the balls are actually the tips of crab legs.
Instead, it's crab meat mixed inside shrimp mousse. The texture was very bouncy, and once again the use of kaffir lime leaves left a nice fragrance in my mouth.
Traditional slow-cooked boneless short ribs (古法慢燉澳洲牛肋骨) - very tender, cooked with onions and herbs.
Baked tiger prawn with peppercorn (胡椒焗大虎蝦) - these were some pretty darn big prawns with their shells on, and the heads have been butterflied. Cooked with a pile of three different types of peppercorns, including 貢椒 from Hanyuan (漢源) in Sichuan (四川) Province as well as timur (藤椒). Pretty awesome kick from those peppercorns!
Baked chicken pickled with sea salt (海鹽焗雞) - the salt-baked chicken wasn't cooked the old school way under a pile of rock salt, but inside a salt-laced meringue.
Cutting away the top of the puff revealed the chicken underneath.
After further "processing", the chickenwas finally served to us, with a generous topping of marinated spring onions. There was also an excellent sauce made with ginger and spring onions on the side.
Baby pigeon smoked with osmanthus and Longjing tea (茶燻雛鴿) - these were awesome. Lots of smoky flavors, and the baby pigeon was nice and tender.
Stir-fried cellophane noodle with crab meat and egg (炒桂花祥遠) - a very, very awesome dish, cooked the old school way using a pair of chopsticks to break up the egg. Lots of wok hei (鑊氣) thanks to the high heat used. Planty of flavors from the crab meat and the egg, and a nice variety of textures.
Slow cooked huge black mushroom with ducks essence (鴨汁扣巨花菰) - these look HUGE. Or should I say YUGE? Just three mushrooms for the whole table, because of their size.
This kinda gives an idea of how thick the shrooms were. Soooo tender and tasty, thanks to the duck sauce.
This was the size of the dried shrooms. Imagine soaking it in water for a day or two.
Prawn roe stirred noodle with prawn and shallot essence oil (蝦子蝦油蔥油撈麵) - another noodle dish, I wasn't gonna complain. Using the same alkali-free noodles, the flavors were provided by prawn oil, prawn roe, spring onion oil, and spring onions. Soooooo good.
Blended jujube coconut juice pudding (椰汁棗茸糕) - the layer of coconut in between the jujube was a nice surprise. I could have used another one or two of these, despite my near-exploding stomach.
We also had this jujube drink to finish, with a jujube floating on top.
We brought a few bottles with us, as we weren't being charged corkage tonight...
2006 Agrapart Minéral - ripe on the palate but acidity was on the high side thanks to the low dosage. Nice depth of flavor here.
2008 DuMOL Chardonnay Chloe - very ripe on the nose, very sweet with vanilla oak. Really ripe on the palate, too.
Huadiao, more than 20 years old - lots of salty plum (話梅), very smooth. Dry on the attack with a sweet finish.
2006 Albino Rocca Barbaresco Vigneto Brich Ronchi - nose of exotic spices, forest pine, leather, and grilled meats. Starting to be a little like mulled wine.
2005 Feather Cabernet Sauvignon - very smoky, ripe and fruity. Still kinda tannic.
2000 Barnett Cabernet Sauvignon Rattlesnake Hill - ripe fruit, minty, and cedar notes. Still tannins here, but acidity was higher than expected.
1970 Dujac Marc de Bourgogne - for the birthday boy.
A very, very good dinner tonight. No fails, and more than a few outstanding dishes. I'm glad I finally made it here, and look forward to coming back soon.
After our wonderful dinner with wild Canadian lobsters last year, we decided to place another order as they come into season again. Our first attempt for the feast last month fell through at the last minute, when Hurricane Matthew disrupted the flights coming out of the Eastern Seaboard... and the lobsters got stuck. It took us a month to reschedule, and the day finally arrived.
I opened up the large styrofoam box, and found my 12 babies inside. They've travelled a long way from home, and have been kept docile with the use of ice packs in the box, but I could see that they were all still alive, and hear the bubbling noises as they breathe.
After giving away 2 of the babies to the Great One, I took the rest of them to Hello Kitty's place. We had invited a few people to join us in our lobster fest, and the four of us should be able to polish off 10 of these 1-pounders, right?!
To prepare the lobsters, we first poke them in the tail to release any urine still left in the body. Then each lobster is killed by piercing its head with the sharp tip of the knife, so that death is as quick as possible.
We decided to put them in a pot and steam them with white wine. For our first batch, I had a half bottle of 1999 Coche-Dury Meursault leftover from a few months ago, so we dumped that into the pot. I was then told to run down to the neighborhood supermarket to get any ol' cheap white wine so that we could steam the rest of the lobster, and decided to get just about the cheapest wine possible - Carlo Rossi California White - because the supermarket didn't carry my favorite cooking plonk - Everyday White. This turned out to be a mistake, because Hello Kitty complained that the Carlo Rossi "smelled like battery acid"...
After a few minutes of steaming on low heat, the lobsters were deemed ready and plated. It was time to dig in! While Hello Kitty took the tail, I focused my attention on the lobster's head. It's not difficult to guess why...
These wild-trapped lobsters have a ton of tomalley, which are a grayish green. Given that these lobsters were caught in the cold North Atlantic, I don't have any worries about devouring this stuff... From our experience last year, we found that stabbing the lobsters' heads before cooking would yield tomalley that is a little more paste-like in consistency.
With our second round, I decided to take a whole tail for myself to make a lobster roll. Half of a Hong Kong-style butter loaf (港式排包) from a neighborhood bakery was browned in a flat pan with some butter, and some mayo was spread on the inside before placing the lobster tail in the middle.
The result was fantastic. Browning the butter loaf caramelized the sugar in the bread, and it tasted better than any regular butter roll. Biting into a whole lobster tail was clearly a lot more satisfying than your average lobster roll where the lobster meat had been chopped up. Now if only I were proficient enough to extract the two lobster claws and have them stay intact... Anyway, I was soooo damn happy by now, even though the bread was clearly pretty filling.
One of our friends decided to bring his pressure cooking along with some rice to make his Chiuchow-style congee, using all the leftover lobster shells. It didn't turn out the way we had hoped, but hey, I added a crusher claw along with some tomalley, and I still enjoyed it.
We had a few bottles over the course of the evening:
2003 Françoise Bedel L'Âme de la Terre, dégorgée Août 2012 - nice and caramelized nose, a little yeasty.
Soto Junmai Daiginjo - very one dimensional and flat. Sweet mid-palate but actually somewhat dry and spicy on the finish.
Moriizou Kyokujo (森伊蔵 極上) - I don't drink much shochu (焼酎), and found this a little off. There was clearly some acetone notes, but I couldn't figure out what the nose reminded me of.
I was pretty surprised that we had difficulty finishing the lobsters. In fact, the four of us only took down 7 of them! So we ended up giving away another pair to Kung Fu Panda, who picked them up on her way back from another dinner at Gaddi's...
P.S. We used our last lobster to make a second lobster roll for lunch the next day, using the tail as well as both claws. This time we chopped up the meat, added some chopped celery and mixed with some mayo and lemon juice. This was AWESOME. Too bad I had to share this with Hello Kitty...
The boss is in town for a quick trip, and took the opportunity to have a couple of meals with the team. I figured we should take him for some non-Chinese cuisine, so we got ourselves a table at CIAK - In the Kitchen for lunch.
While the others went for the lunch set, I decided to order up one of their very delicious pizzas.
Norcina | homemade sausage, mushroom and mozzarella - this was really, really good. I love a good Italian sausage, and the mushrooms were very fragrant. The mozzarella melts and becomes very, very stretchy. Definitely my favorite pizza on the menu.
The Great One was out of town on her birthday, so we had to wait until she got back to do a belated celebration with her. Surprisingly, she wanted to try out my new favorite Shanghainese/Huaiyang restaurant - Jiang Su (江蘇薈).
I left the ordering up to Kung Fu Panda and Da Jam, as I didn't want to keep ordering the same dishes whenever I'm here, but Hello Kitty did want to make sure she got her usual dose of veggies...
Marinated celtuce stem with spring onions (香蔥萵筍) - Hello Kitty can't get enough of the cool and refreshing crunch, but I think most of the dish was devoured by the two of us.
Marinated organic radish (天水有機醬蘿蔔) - I think everyone was impressed by how delicious these were, probably given their low expectations from pickles.
Phoenix tofu in claypot (鳳凰豆腐煲) - I'm glad the Great One liked this, and the more concentrated, lightly roasted flavors of the soy beans were definitely a nice change from the usual bland stuff. I'm happy with the slices of pork belly, too... and the soy beans. But for some reason - maybe the kitchen just got lazy - the tofu came in huge square chunks tonight. Would have been better with thinner slices...
Nostalgic old school tea-smoked duck (懷舊地道樟茶鴨) - we had a hard time tasting much smokiness from this duck, so in that respect it kinda failed. The skin is also not the right texture, as normally it is very similar to duck confit. Not very interesting.
Slow-cooked veal (炆火小牛肉) - as it has been on previous visits, this was very, very fatty and tender. But in terms of flavors, this was a little heavy... both pretty sweet and pretty savory.
Steamed pork dumplings with soup (鮮肉小湯包) - these were damn good! The wrappers were thin and delicate, although perhaps they were a little too delicate... as a couple of them broke despite our careful efforts to extract them from the steamer. Plenty of delicious, fatty pork broth inside.
Braised pork knuckle (沈萬山大元蹄) - not bad. Fatty and tender, as expected, but I'm not sure that this was more outstanding than other versions found around town.
Shredded tofu with hairy crab roe (蟹粉撈干絲) - as Kung Fu Panda was looking for a noodle dish to complete our birthday dinner, I suggested this as an alternative. I really liked it the first time I had it, and it did not disappoint tonight. The tofu strands were just as tasty as the squares we had earlier, and of course the hairy crab roe and meat didn't hurt. I thought it was a pretty good substitute.
Eight-layered jujube cake (八層棗泥糕) - this was pretty damn good, thanks to the jujube paste in between all those layers.
Eight treasure rice (發財八寳飯) - I'm glad we ordered this again, because this was the most delicate version of this dessert I've ever had. Dried apricots, candied pineapple, raisins, jujube, lotus seeds, red bean paste, sunflower seeds, and that one cherry on top right in the middle of the pineapple ring. This wasn't sickly sweet, and there was just the right amount of red bean paste to add a moderate amount of sweetness The osmanthus sauce also added to the elegance.
I figured we should pop open a couple of bottles for a birthday dinner, so I brought along some whites:
2005 Vincent Girardin Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Folatieres - very ripe, with apricot and acetone notes.
1995 Joh.Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese - lots of petrol, polyurethane, and marmalade. Good amount of sweetness on the palate, balanced by some acidity.
As we were getting ready to leave, I made the spur-of-the-moment suggestion that we hit Cafe Malacca for some of our favorite desserts. We were, after all, only 2 stops away on the subway...
Musang King durian pudding - very, very good as usual. Love the thick and creamy texture, and that flavor! I just looooove durian.
I had scheduled lunch with a friend today long before receiving an invitation to attend a feast tonight. Thankfully we had picked Mercato as our lunch venue, and I figured we could go easy and have a light lunch.
It's been more than a decade since I last stepped foot in a restaurant under Jean-Georges Vongerichten - when Vong occupied the top floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. I haven't spent as much time in New York in the last decade as I would have liked, and for one reason or another have prioritized other restaurants on my visits, so I never found myself at a table at Jean-Georges in New York. And since I usually focus on Shanghainese food in Shanghai, I've also never given any business to Jean-Georges in that city, either...
So I was kinda looking forward to lunch today. I even did some homework and checked out Hong Kong Tatler Dining's review, which led me to salivate over the pictures...
Burrata with lemon jam and basil - OK, so my friend laughed at me for ordering this after announcing that I wanted a light lunch, but to be honest not too many of the starters really piqued my interest. I was curious to see how good the burrata would be.
Well, it wasn't as liquid as I had hoped, but still pretty decent. Nice and creamy. But the real star was the lemon jam - which turned out to be more on the tart side with a nice amount of bitterness. This was a very nice way to balance the richness from the cheese. The toast sticks were good, too.
Black truffle, three cheeses and farm egg pizza - I wanted to try this after seeing the picture from Tatler's review, and I was imagining the combination of black truffle shavings, cheese, and runny egg yolk. So I kinda did a double-take when this arrived at our table...
Where was the black truffle?? OK, I realize that for HKD 278, I probably wasn't gonna get the same amount of black truffle shaved on top of my pizza as Da Jam had gotten on his... but come on!!! What we got was some black dust on top, and maybe the kitchen used some truffle oil or maybe a small amount of truffle paste. No truffle that I could see. For the price I was charged, I expected better. I'll stick to the delicious pizzas at CIAK - In the Kitchen from now on - which taste better AND cost me less money.
Well, in the end the lunch wasn't bad, and I found my hunger satiated without stuffing myself. I'll be attending a very special dinner in a few hours, and it was time to go home and dress up...
Tonight I had the privilege of attending the first gala dinner organized by the Michelin Guide and Robert Parker Wine Advocate for the launch of the 2017 Hong Kong Macau Red Guide. Word came two months ago that a dinner had been organized to feature 7 chefs - 6 of them with a collective 20 Michelin stars at their restaurants - with decent wine pairing to boot (now that RPWA is in partnership with Michelin Guides).
The price of MOP 5,750, while not exactly eye-popping, was certain to make people think twice - at least for mere mortals like myself. It wasn't the most expensive dinner I've ever attended and paid for, but it certainly came in at above average. I considered the concept of a dinner where each chef only contributes one dish - one chance to impress the diners - then the fact that each chef would be serving a large quantity of the dish at the same time, and decided that the cost (together with the time required to travel to/from Macau) was above my comfort level. The chance of not performing up to my (admittedly high) expectations was too great. So I was happy to sit this one out.
Then I received an unexpected email from the PR team at City of Dreams, with an invitation to attend the gala dinner at Studio City. I would have to leave the office early and take the ferry across to Macau, but this wasn't an invitation one turns down lightly. So I happy accepted their kind invitation, took Friday afternoon off, went home to change into my penguin outfit, and boarded the ferry.
I arrived at the Grand Ballroom at the start of the cocktail hour, took the opportunity to thank the people at the City of Dreams, and also met up with friends doing PR for the event. They very kindly asked if I wanted to interview any of the chefs, but I told them that "I'm just here to eat." The chefs were already being hounded by the media for photos and interviews just before dinner, and I wasn't important enough to make further impositions on them.
We were told that there were upwards of 600 guests coming for dinner tonight. I was glad to see a few familiar faces, but we were all toning down our expectations for the food, given that each chef would have to churn out some 600 servings of his dish... and none of these chefs - with the possible exception of Chef Tam from Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) - would have the experience to do something like that. Some of these chefs would serve less than 1/10 of the covers in one evening at his restaurant.
Each table had this little guy as the centerpiece, holding up a table number. So I would spending the next 4 hours staring at the golden ass...
The evening started with the introduction of the first "Friend of Michelin" award, which was given to celebrity-turned-chef Nicholas Tse (謝霆峰). A video presentation was shown about the dish he was serving us, which culminated in him walking up on stage with dish in hand, and walking us through on the proper way of eating it...
Senses of Fall, by Nicholas Tse - it would appear that my twig (which was not edible) had fallen off its original position. We were instructed to use the twig to break up the brown leaf and push it into the cup of gazpacho.
The maple leaf-shaped tuiles were inspired by the autumn leaves of Nicholas Tse's native Canada, and rolled until they were 0.3mm thick. They were meant to come in the four flavors commonly mentioned in the Chinese saying about life - sour, sweet, bitter, spicy (酸甜苦辣). The sour tuile was made with lemon, the sweet tuile was... just a little sweet. I couldn't taste anything really bitter, but then I remembered that Nicholas' cookies - which come in the same flavors - used dark chocolate to represent bitterness... even though the brown leaves were more sweet than bitter. Finally, spicy leaves were made with cheese and bird's eye chili peppers, and I did get a hint of that kick.
The gazpacho itself was a combination of sour, sweet, savory, and spicy.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut - a little sweet on the palate.
Otoro fatty tuna belly, sea urchin, and Hokkaido ikura, by Shinji Kanesaka - with four stars awarded to four of his restaurants spanning across Tokyo, Singapore, and Macau - and having dined at two of them myself - I had high expectations for Kanesaka-san. Unfortunately, this dish failed. While I was very intrigued by the very prominent flavors of bonito (鰹) in the dashi (出汁) enveloping the salmon roe, the salmon roe itself was a complete failure. A number of the eggs had shriveled, and a great many of them had pretty tough membranes that required quite a bit of force to pop. I believe that marinating in soy sauce would turn the roe from sujiko (筋子) to ikura (イクラ) and in the process soften up the membrane, so I was a little curious to find a combination of both shrunken and tough membranes in my bowl...
Some of my friends at the dinner who know of my dietary preferences wondered whether I would eat the tuna, and the answer is YES. I ate the fatty tuna belly (大トロ), because I wasn't gonna ask the hosts to change the ingredient for me if a change wasn't offered. But I did find the shreds of yellow pickled radish (沢庵) - wrapped inside a slice of what I thought was plain tuna back (赤身) - curious.
Perrier-Jouët Blason Rosé - yeasty with a nice mousse, with more red fruits in the nose.
Alaskan snow crab salad with laksa foam, by Guillaume Galliot - I had seen pictures of rows of snow crabs that Guillaume had posted on social media, and given his wife's Singaporean heritage, I was expecting his laksa to deliver fairly authentic flavors.
I was pretty happy with the result, as was my Malaysian friend next to me. The laksa foam covering the sweet crab meat was very thick and rich - even without the yolk on top. The spices and flavors were pretty on point, although I found it a little too mild in terms of the chili kick... which didn't really hit me until the very end. The other slight disappointment was that the yolk wasn't liquid and runny, although it was far from being hard-boiled. Well, that's the thing with serving 600 portions in one go... you just can't get the timing right on every single portion. So that's an execution issue that we can all forgive. I thought the roasted nuts provided an interesting touch both in terms of texture and flavors.
2013 Rémi Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières - fragrant, almost floral nose, with very little of the typical toasty notes from a Meursault. Second glass showed a little more flint and minerals. Some ripeness on the palate but dry on the finish. Pairing with the laksa crab really brought out the dry and spicy finish from the alcohol.
Seared Hokkaido scallop, by Björn Frantzén - having never been to Stockholm myself, I have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Frantzén's Kitchen in Hong Kong later this month. This would provide me with a small taste of what's to come... and the results weren't too surprising.
The contents of the bowl were tepid. Now, serving temperature could easily be a common problem when you bang out 600 portions, but in reality the dish probably wouldn't be piping hot in a Frantzén restaurant, anyway... My limited exposure to Nordic cuisine told me that the food most likely 1) wouldn't be hot, 2) would have a lot of acidity, and 3) would contain elements of Nordic woods. Check on all three. The finger lime caviar delivered sharp acidity to the palate, which was offset slightly by the umami coming from the powdered dried scallop roe. The fragrance from the spruce shoots were pretty prominent. The Hokkaido scallops themselves, though, were executed pretty well - just slightly more cooked than mi-cuit, and still very tender.
Osmanthus-smoked baked Racan pigeon, by Tam Kwok Fung - someone who shall remain nameless remarked to me that this looked like the packaging for food that is often served on a plane in cattle class... which got a chuckle out of me, but neither of us should be surprised to see Chef Tam presenting something wrapped in gold-colored foil.
Unwrapping the foil revealed the pigeon smothered in osmanthus sauce, whose floral fragrance was front and center. It was also surprisingly a little sour.
While the pigeon was still pink in the middle, unfortunately the texture was still a little off... and just didn't deliver the "wow" that I would have expected from a perfectly-cooked Racan pigeon. But hey, we had already dialled down our expectations. Besides the leeks, the surprise for me was that big ass chestnut on the side. Because of its flat shape, I thought it was a giant broad bean... until I realized that it was the middle piece inside the burr.
2006 Latour à Pomerol - very ripe and minty, slightly earthy nose. Surprisingly silky on the palate. Sweet fruit on the nose but not too sweet on the palate.
2006 La Fleur-Pétrus - a bit more earthy, with eucalyptus and a little hint of savory notes. Also showing some ripe fruit but kinda dry on the palate.
Soft-poached Ise lobster, shiitake mushrooms, and layered seaweed, by Hideaki Matsuo - with five stars from his restaurants in Osaka and Hong Kong, this was the other chef whose cuisine to which I had no prior exposure. The presentation certainly looked very interesting.
A box of seaweed and wafers came on the side, which we were supposed to add to our bowls.
The lobster was, not surprisingly, overcooked and disintegrated into mushy chunks and strands... but the flavors were still very lovely. The turnip had a weird flavor profile... I thought it was a little sour but wasn't sure why - was it simmered in some sort of alcohol? The wafers from the box were very interesting... besides nori (のり) seaweed, we had a piece of dried tofu skin (湯葉) that was a little on the chewy side, a dried prawn wafer, a wafer made of dried fish like bonito - it tasted like bonito flakes shaved from katsuoboshi (鰹節), and one last piece that looked like it was made from some sort of seaweed.
2004 Pol Roger Brut - rich on the palate, kinda sweet with a good acidity balance.
The Demon X-treme beef, by Alvin Leung - having dined at Alvin's restaurant since 2004, one thing I can count on from him is his inconsistency. It's often hit-or-miss at Bo Innovation, and we were all wondering whether it would be a miss... We were pleasantly surprised to find that this was one of the winners tonight.
I was talking with my friend Maxime when the dish was served to me, although the server very kindly left the glass cloche covering the dish and left me the small pitcher containing the broth on the side. It would be quite some time before I finally sat down and got to the dish, and although the temperature had cooled, I must say that the marbled beef was cooked perfectly. The beef tendon was pretty good, too. While the broth was on the salty side for my taste, the spices used turned out to be a real interesting combination with the slices of white truffle shaved on top. To be honest, was the white truffle really necessary for the dish, or was it there just to make it seem more luxe? Well... you're looking at somebody who would buy a whole white truffle at a restaurant and go crazy by shaving it over just about everything, so... SHAVE AWAY, BABY!!!
2006 Hosanna - good amount of ripeness here, and showing a little bit of tannins.
2006 Trotanoy - pretty fragrant nose, with a little hint of pencil lead. More tannic than the other 06s.
Sensation of Infiniment Chocolat Pure Origine Brésil, Plantation Paineiras, by Pierre Hermé - Pierre Hermé has no Michelin stars, but it doesn't make him any less of a rockstar to many of us. I finally had the chance to make his acquaintance, after having been a fan for quite a long time.
Before our chocolate sphere was served, a few of us were jokingly predicting that this would be the best dish of the evening. We weren't wrong. This was the only dish that could be served "at temperature" for 600 guests without any problems, and the hot chocolate sauce melted away the top of the shell. This was, of course, much more complex than just a chocolate ball. Inside was a scoop of chocolate ice cream, as well as bits of chocolate-covered nuts and salty crunch. Sweet but with savory counterbalance; silky and soft with crunch for textural contrast. Yum.
1888 Quinta do Vallado ABF Old Tawny Port - very sweet, very concentrated on the palate, with plenty of nutty flavors as well as raisins, along with a little preserved tangerine peel (陳皮).
OF COURSE we couldn't leave without some macarons from the macaron god himself!
And some chocolates, too!
This was a pretty fun evening, in spite of the food underperforming somewhat - which was as we had expected. The wines all showed very well, and I could appreciate the extraordinary effort that went into organizing this event. Many thanks, again, to the team at City of Dreams for this wonderful invitation!
As we reach the middle of the last quarter of the year, we are now in the season where, traditionally, 3 MNSC dinners get crammed into the span of 2 months. Tonight it was once again Lord Rayas' turn to play host, and he took a page out of Pineapple's playbook by rounding us up at the Hong Kong Club.
Our host deliberately kept the menu simple tonight, but we weren't about to complain when we saw our first course...
Scrambled Italian farm eggs with Alba white truffle - we had a choice of pan-fried or scrambled eggs, and I opted for the scrambled version for its vibrant color. A beautiful golden hue, and absolutely delicious - with a small square of toast underneath. It's pretty tough to beat white truffle shaved over scrambled eggs...
Tomato, avocado, buffalo Mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil - the Mozzarella was pretty nice and soft, and the flavors of the basil were really strong.
Whole poached ocean trout, ginger, shiitake, spring onions, soy sauce, white rice, oriental greens - this has become de rigeur for our dinners at the Hong Kong Club. A big fish from the ocean, cooked Cantonese-style with spring onions, ginger, and dressed with soy sauce. Tonight our fish was "only" 3.6kg, but that would be more than enough to feed the 6 of us!
The trout was perfectly cooked, and serving it with steamed rice and soy sauce was simply perfect. The loofah, shiitake mushroom, and Shanghainese cabbage (青江菜) all matched well. I couldn't resist having a second helping of the trout...
The others shared a couple of soufflés, but I resisted the temptation. I didn't need the extra calories.
Lord Rayas truly showed his generosity tonight, as he showcased some of our favorite wines... including a few from my birth year. In fact, he looked through this very blog for past notes on these wines...
1996 Tattinger Comte de Champagne - very nutty and toasty, a little ripe on the nose, with a good acidity finish. Absolutely fragrant and beautiful right now.
First flight: served 30 minutes after opening.
1970 Guigal La Mouline - very fragrant, sweet fruit on the nose. Slightly dry on the palate. Later on some coffee and mocha notes. A really beautiful wine. 97 points.
1970 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve - a little more savory, slightly more exotic on the nose. Some fruit, a little leather, slightly oxidized and caramelized. Very soft and slightly sweeter on the palate. 93 points.
1970 Latour - very fragrant and beautiful, savory, slightly smoky, slightly earthy, with some fruit here. 96 points.
Second flight: served 2½ hours after opening.
1975 Jaboulet La Chapelle - fragrant and clean nose, with ripe fruit, floral, minty, toasty, and cedar notes. 95 points.
1975 L'Evangile - a little smoky, a little toasty. 92 points.
Third flight: served 4 hours after opening.
1982 Guigal La Mouline - sweet, floral and fragrant, slightly restrained nose. Later a little leather and cedar, with some toasty notes. Acidity a little high on the palate after a while. Very nice. 95 points.
1982 Dunn Howell Mountain - a little pencil lead, some burnt rubber, chalky and dusty. Second pour showed lots of sweet and tropical banana. Kinda tannic and still concentrated. 92 points.
1982 Mouton-Rothschild - a little green pepper, sweet grass, with a little toast. Corked.
A fantastic evening of wonderful food and wines. I look forward to the next edition, which will come up in a few weeks...
Tonight I was invited to attend an event entitled "A Tribute to Pigs". Held at La Paloma, it was a battle of eight different restaurants - each presenting a different dish using pork as its main ingredient. The organizer has had some experience putting together a few of these "battles", and I was curious to see what it would be like, so I accepted the invitation to be a "judge".
We were given a score sheet and asked to grade each dish on presentation, taste, juiciness, and creativity. The group of us - who took up almost half of the restaurant's space - sat right outside the open kitchen... and I gotta say that the smell of good food covered us the entire time...
Crispy "nose to tail" terrine, pigs ear bacon and 'nduja’, by Linguini Fini - this was a winner, right off the bat. Brined for 6 days before braising for 6 hours, with roasted garlic and oregano, then breaded and fried till crispy. Served with Brussels sprouts which have been charred to deliver more flavor. The dressing at the bottom was ranch dressing flavored with 'nduja.
There were small chunks of bacon made from pigs ear, which had been brined and braised like the rest of the terrine, before being smoked and then pressed. The smoky flavors definitely stood out, as did the crunch from the cartilage. The small sunny side up quail egg was meant to complete the "bacon and egg" presentation.
This dish was AWESOME. Aside from the satisfaction of eating something that's covered with a layer of crispy breading, the contents were very, very tender. Shredded pork jowl has plenty of collagen, so it scored high on juiciness. A lot of work went into the making of the pigs ear bacon, and I loved it. The dressing and the Brussels sprouts also worked very well. Basically, it was tough to find fault with this dish. It was practically perfect.
Shredded Iberico pork pluma with homemade liver pate, kimchi jam and spring onion sauce on baguette toast, by Hilda Leung - everyone next to me seemed to know Hilda, which leaves me the odd one out - since I don't watch Hong Kong TV and so would have no idea who these 'celebrity' TV chefs are...
There's a layer of pork liver pâté spread onto the slice of baguette, on top of which is shredded ibérico pluma. Then there's some kimchi and pear jam, and Cantonese minced ginger and spring onion (薑蓉).
I wasn't very impressed with this, and the fact that this was served right after the terrine from Linguini Fini really highlighted the difference in level. The bitterness of the liver came through, and while we knew there was kimchi here, it was so mild that the ginger practically covered it up. The biggest surprise, however, was the pluma. It was the main ingredient, and certainly the most pricy given it's pluma - and from ibérico pork, no less! Yet aside from the tenderness, there was nothing memorable about the pork itself.
Iberico pork belly karaage, by Okra - this was ibérico pork belly that was marinated in jalapeño miso, breaded and fried to deliver a crispy exterior. Sliced and served with ume (梅) ketchup - made with salted plum and olive oil. Our two servings came from drastically different cuts - the first had a lot of fat, which was at times a little chewy.
The other serving looked more like the classic five-layered pork (五花肉). A lot less fat here, but still tender.
While this was reasonably tasty thanks to the fat and the crispy exterior, it kinda reminded me of the Taiwanese dish of pork with red lees (紅糟肉)... which made this feel somewhat less of a creative dish. The more usual element of the dish came in the form of the side salad, which was made with mizuna (水菜), celery, and daikon (大根) radish... and came with a spicy dressing.
Okinawa pork knuckle, by Ura - I've been a HUGE fan of pork knuckle since childhood, and it's one of my favorite dishes from mom. This, however, just didn't do it for me. Yes, it was tender... but it's not difficult to cook this till the skin and collagen becomes soft. The problem here is that there's no richness of flavor - which is what I look for in this dish. The broth was too light, and I didn't get the use of pineapple in the dish at all. The chiffonade of the chili pepper was a nice touch and provided a hint of a kick, but it was all too subtle. Finally, we all know that sea grapes (海ぶどう) feature prominently in Okinawan cuisine, but these look like they've been cooked to death. The individual grapes should be popping in the mouth under pressure from the tongue or teeth, but these were already shrunken. And flavor-wise, they added nothing to the dish.
Stir fry local black pork in golden nest (琉璃金盞), by Tak Lung (得龍大飯店) - I was really, really looking forward to the dish from Tak Lung, given its reputation for various pork dishes. But this really underwhelmed. The crispy nest carried some stir-fried fatty minced pork, with spring onions, chili, and yellow soybeans which looked like they came off sprouts. Juicy and tender, for sure, but hardly creative.
The steamed bun on the side held a chunk of honey-glazed barbecued pork, but this char siu (叉燒) was slightly dry and on the chewy side - despite the fat. Totally disappointing.
Pork 'merguez' sausage, bread and onions, by The Fat Pig by Tom Aikens - the sausage was made with almost equal portions of pork shoulder, pork belly, and lamb, mixed with some toasted cumin and other spices. Served on a slice of delicious sourdough, with roasted onions and peppers.
I love the texture of the sausage, which was tender but firm as a merguez would be. It was nice and spicy, with plenty of heat. The peppers were delicious, and delivered their own dose of heat. Delicious and satisfying.
Porchetta sandwich, by NOM - thin slices of porchetta, served on top of thick focaccia with celery root mayo, Gorgonzola, and pickled cauliflower. Another dish where a no-brainer disappointed. What's with the thin slices? Porchetta would be so much more satisfying if I got to bite into thick chunks of it. As it stands the ratio of pork to bread was totally wrong. The other problem was that while I like Gorgonzola, it is far too strong to accompany most ingredients. In this case, the pork couldn't stand up to the cheese - which wasn't really what I wanted out of this.
Curiously we were also served these potato chips on the side. They seemed to have been seasoned with little other than seaweed and shrimp powder. Very mild flavors, but I could still taste the umami.
Cochinillo con papas arrugadas y mojo picon, by La Paloma - marinated overnight with cumin, lemon, and coriander, then cooked sous vide at 60°C for 8 hours. After de-boning, the suckling pig was placed back into the bag and then flattened. After 20 minutes in the oven, the crunchy crackling was achieved by pan-frying on the grill. The two different sauces on the plate were beetroot with vinegar and mojo picon.
Suckling pig is something I find irresistible, and I have to say that the "sandwich" was very, very good. The meat was tender and the crackling had the requisite crunch. This was the kind that dish that delivered satisfaction.
What were my top three dishes of the night? I have to say that the terrine from Linguini Fini never got knocked off the top spot the whole night. The cochinillo from La Paloma got close, but no cigar. The merguez from The Fat Pig by Tom Aikens also made me very, very happy.
But the crowd disagreed with me, although not by much. The consensus put La Paloma in the top spot, followed very closely by Linguini Fini, and Okra took third. Our little table was surprised to find that the crowd had voted Tak Lung into fourth place, while pretty much all five of us relegated it to the bottom on our list. Oh well...
We're told that these dishes will be available in the respective restaurants from November 16-23, and three other participating restaurants - 22 Ships, Catalunya, and Rhoda - will also serve a special dish during this period. I might just have to run up to Linguini Fini during lunch one of these days and order up another terrine!
Many thanks to the Forks and Spoons for this kind invitation.
This dinner has been two months in the making. At our last gathering, for some reason our conversation touched on my birthday dinner at Spaghetti House. I decided that I would organize a dinner there, seeing that the others haven't paid a visit to this Hong Kong institution for quite a while - more than a decade for two of them, in fact...
Things got a little more exciting when, as I browsed the restaurant chain's menu online, I realized that they had introduced a whole new menu featuring fondue. Not just any fondue, but fondue supposedly made with 24-month Comté. Now THIS I gotta try! The recipe was supposed to have been put together by a certain chef named Stanley Wong. I, of course, have no clue who he is, but my dining companions have. Whatever.
I debated about booking ourselves a table, but got laughed at by the others when I realized that I hadn't done it. In retrospect, I should have. Even though there was plenty of space at the restaurant, there was a limited number of booths... and they never seemed to be available while we were there. Gotta remember that next time!
Premium gold cheese fondue - as the song from Calvin Harris says... THIS IS WHAT WE CAME FOR. The staff laid it all out on the table, and we came to the realization that this was how much food HKD 398 buys us...
There was, of course, the pot of melted cheese. This was a mix of Mozzarella, Parmesan, Emmental, and Comté that had been aged for 24 months.
Then a plate of cold appetizers, with cubes of melon, prosciutto, Scottish smoked salmon, and cubes of 24-month Comté.
Except... these weren't cubes of 24-month Comté. No siree Bob! The four guys at this table have probably tasted more aged Comté than a small village in France, and I would swear on my life that this ain't no fuckin' Comté. Judging from the soft texture, it hadn't been aged for anywhere near 24 months. The flavors were also too sweet and mild to be Comté. Taking the above into consideration, and looking at the holes in those cubes, could lead to only one conclusion - we had been cheated and given cubes of Emmental instead!
The main platter had a ton of goodies. These included grilled sweet corn, cherry tomatoes, cubes of baguette, hot link sausages, grilled button mushrooms, French fries, spinach tagliatelle, and more!
We started by dipping the French fries into the pot of cheese. These turned out to be pretty damn good! That mixture of cheese was very tasty!
There was also some "sashimi-grade" Hokkaido scallops... which were tasty and, of course, we dipped them into cheese...
... and New Zealand beef meatballs, which were nice and tender.
Then there was a whole plate of thinly-sliced New Zealand premium rib eye...
... which we dipped into the bubbling cheese to cook.
We were also given three different types of sauce to add to our pot of cheese, which were called "RGB magic mix". These were "red pesto sauce", "green pesto sauce", and "bell pepper rouille". We didn't find it necessary, but as we were finishing up and dumped the spinach tagliatelle into the pot, we figured we might as well dump the pesto in, too!
Now, this was a good start to our dinner, but we needed more food to fill our stomachs, so we made a second round of orders.
Chicken wings in black pepper and honey sauce with olive oil salad - these were a little softer than I had expected, but I wasn't gonna complain too much. While some at the table decided to dip these wings into the cheese, I chose to taste the original flavors as the kitchen had intended.
Kung soldier - I really, really enjoyed this at my birthday dinner a few months ago, and was eager to share the joy with the others. The flavors are based on kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁), and as I kept saying to people, these guys have heart! They actually bothered to present chicken two ways - both stir-fried as well as popcorn chicken. The spaghetti was actually cooked rather al dente, to the surprise of my companions. The sauce was rather sweet with soy sauce as the base, but there was plenty of Sichuan peppercorns to deliver that tongue-numbing sensation. Green bell peppers, red chili peppers, and a sprinkle of pine nuts with raw spring onions complete the dish. Yes, I still love this pasta. A LOT.
Homemade lasagna - this was actually not bad at all. No complaints here.
By the time we were finished with the pasta dishes, the pot of cheese had been cooked down to the very bottom. We actually started to use our forks and spoons to scrape the cheese off the bottom of the cocotte. Yes, boys and girls... We liked it THAT much.
Following tradition - well... the tradition I established a few months ago, anyway - we brought our own wines to dinner. Corkage is only HKD 50 and the glassware here isn't ridiculous. And we actually coordinated on our choice of wines the day before.
1997 Remoissenet Montrachet - the second I poured the wine into glass I knew we were in trouble. The color was simply too dark - hinting at advanced oxidation. And indeed it was very flat on the palate at first, although it wasn't corked. Chilling it down and further aeration improved the experience, but it was still over-ripe, with some sweetness and toasty oak on the nose. Soooo disappointing. Especially considering that this time, I finally brought a bottle that cost 20X my plate of pasta...
Moriizou (森伊蔵) - sharp alcohol, kinda like paint thinner... I know lots of people love this shochu (焼酎), but I don't think it's my cup of tea...
We wanted to finish with some dessert, so we put in a third round of orders...
Chocolate pancake with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream - methinks there is a mix-up in nomenclature here... These weren't pancakes... at least, not American pancakes... but rather crêpes. But they tasted OK.
Homemade honey apple pie with Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream - there were raisins in the apple filling, which made things a little interesting. However, the pie crust was a TOTAL FAIL. Not only was it too soft/sticky and too powdery, it also tasted a little bitter and foul - as if something went wrong with the butter or shortening. Blegh!
As we were eating "Italian food", of course we would have to have some Italian wine! So we had an Italian dessert wine at the end...
2003 Felsina Vin Santo - nice and very raisiny nose, a little nutty, very fragrant with honeydew and marmalade notes. Very sweet on the palate.
In spite of the minor hiccups, we all had a roaring good time tonight. The fondue performed above and beyond our expectations, and there were no fails (in my book, at least...) other than the apple pie. I couldn't believe that I managed to drag these guys - including one of Hong Kong's best-known food critics - to have dinner here. Now I'm eagerly looking forward to our next gathering... at yet another surprising venue.
I'm back in Singapore for a few days, this time tagging along with Hello Kitty on her business trip. We are staying for a couple of extra days to see friends and, of course, to eat. It's a trip that both of us are kinda looking forward to.
But the trip started off badly. Some idiot (that would be yours truly) decided to leave behind a big care package destined for three of my friends. After having boarded the plane, I realized that the bag was nowhere to be found. Naturally we weren't allowed to get off the plane to look for it, although CX ground staff did help - including looking for it in the lounge, and notified us while we were in the air that the package could not be located.
I was pissed. There were valuable goodies that I had spent time, effort, and money to gather. Now I would have to tell three different friends about their impending disappointment... and my stupidity.
Anyway... We arrived at the Oasia Downtown Hotel and checked in without a hitch. We had a little time before dinner, so Hello Kitty checked out the Red Dot Design Museum. It's been 6 months since my last visit, and I think they managed to change about 95% of the exhibit - which is pretty cool.
Dinner time rolled around, and I went to meet my friend Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife S. Thankfully, this time he was in good enough shape to see me. I had suggested a few places that I wanted to check out, and we settled on Whitegrass. I had heard positive feedback from a couple of friends, and I was curious about it after seeing some very pretty pictures.
I was kinda starving since I didn't eat much on my flight. So I dug in to the goodies on the table right away...
I love it when a restaurant gives you lardo. This was perfect with the sourdough bread.
The butter was pretty good, too... and came in ceramic containers that looked like mushrooms.
After getting an explanation regarding the two options available, S graciously agreed to join the rest of us for the larger, 8-course "discovery menu". This was gonna be fun...
Chef Sam Aisbett started us off with some nibbles...
Cheese bicsuits with fresh goat's curd and fennel
Smoked hamachi with charcoal cracker, avruga caviar, and bottarga - I hate to repeat myself, but avruga isn't fucking caviar.
Fried Japanese river crabs with XO sauce - I love these little crabs, and they were a little spicy thanks to the sauce.
"Bibimbap" - a little extra from the chef, who confessed that this was really more Japanese. On top of the konbu (昆布) cream at the bottom sat piles of dashi (出汁) jelly, Japanese cucumber, Japanese radish, chrysanthemum petals, puffed rice, cured trout roe, and Korean nori (のり). Interesting combination of textures.
Native Australian fresh water marron, yuzu koshu, pomelo, citrus marmalade, nasturtium, boiling cold tea - the "boiling cold tea" was poured into our bowls, and the bowls were enveloped in mist for a short while. The marron was really delicious, and the lemon purée and frozen pomelo pulp worked with the homemade yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) to bring refreshing citrus flavors - while adding a nice little kick from the chili pepper.
White cut organic chicken, violet artichokes, pickled jellyfish, fresh and roasted hazelnuts, sesame, ginger vinegar - in a tribute to Hainanese chicken rice, the chef poached the chicken so that it was tender and succulent, while adding Jerusalem artichokes, violet artichokes, and Chinese artichokes. Fresh and roasted hazelnuts were added on top to add crunch and fragrance, with shimeji (しめじ) mushrooms, sesame, salted egg yolk, and snake gourd flowers.
Knowing that we share a common distate for mushy chicken, I asked Hello Kitty what she thought of the dish. Her response was "雞冇雞味" - meaning that chicken is too bland and doesn't actually taste of chicken. I find that this has become the prevalent taste in Singapore... which turns me off of all those supposedly famous Haianese chicken joints in town.
Having said that, the flavors here - in addition to the chicken, that is - are pretty interesting... and certainly texture-wise was very complex.
Geoduck clam, steamed shitake custard, fermented celeriac, white hen of the woods mushrooms, umami stock - thin slices of geoduck, with mushrooms, dots of young garlic purée, and some crisps at the top. The shiitke and "umami stock" certainly delivered.
Lobster custard with umami pearls - another little extra from the chef. Umami stock, sago pearls, chives, sesame.
Australian jade tiger abalone with three treasures - the Jade Tiger abalone is so named because of the green hue in its shell as well as the black tiger stripes on the inside lip of its shell. The abalone was salt-baked with kelp (昆布), then served between slices of shiitake mushrooms and Japanese white eggplant. The green peppercorns in the stock is the third treasure, which delivered a real vibrant kick. The stock was treated by adding agar agar to give it a viscous, gel-like texture. Very Chinese, and very bling thanks to the huge gold leaf on top.
Roasted Mangalica pork jowl, scallop silk, white turnip cream, cabbage stem, black moss, aromatic pork broth - this was undoubtedly the best dish of the evening. The turnip cream sat at the bottom of the bowl, topped by very thin and crunchy sheets of radish, along with small chunks of radish on the side. In addition to the soft and smooth tofu, there were also ribbons of scallop processed, I suspect, not unlike the way André Chiang does it at his eponymous restaurant.
This was all very nice, but the pièce de résistance was the pork jowl - which was oh-so-melt-in-your-mouth thanks to the collagen and fat. What made it even more amazing was the black hair moss (髮菜) wrapped around it, which was pan-fried to make it crispy. So as one bites into the pork, the sensation delivered was a crispy and aromatic exterior with a soft and fatty center. How awesome was that?!
Roasted Anjou pigeon, slow roasted young beetroots, milk skin, fresh currants, mountain pepper, sour leaves - the final savory course seemed to be an anticlimax for me. I LOOOOVE pigeon, and love it when it's done rosé, but when you extract the breast and serve it to me without any of that crispy, browned skin... then my enjoyment has just been cut by more than 50%. Wrapping the pigeon leg meat in milk skin was a nice touch, as was serving the pigeon heart and putting diced pigeon liver on top... but it's all just trying to claw back from the major disappointing blow you've just dealt me.
Add to this the fact that there were chunks of beetroot on the side, and it's easy to see why neither Hello Kitty nor I cared for the dish...
Japanese Niitaka pear, amazake milk jelly, shiso leaf ice cream - each "pearl" was made with a different ingredient, which included pear, pear juice granita, perilla (紫蘇) leaf ice cream, yuzu (柚子), and amazake (甘酒) milk jelly. The pear was a little on the sour side, and there was acidity from the yuzu. I liked the sweet and alcoholic milk jelly, but didn't manage to detect any hint of perilla. Still, a nice and refreshing dessert.
Feijoa, pineapple, lime - with feijoa ice cream, almond cake, pineapple and lime curd, lime and koshu (古酒)? cream frozen and crushed before sprinkling on top, along with dots of pineapple, apple, and lime gel as well as some dried milk.
There were just so many different textures here... from the frozen powder on top, to crunchy bits, to soft gel, to a chewy and almost gummy center. The flavor profile was mostly sweet, with a little acidity.
I didn't know what feijoa was, so I asked to see the raw fruit. As it turns out, the texture was not dissimilar to a soft guava, although it was certainly more acidic, with green and floral notes.
Then came the petits fours:
Marshmallow chocolate royale - with a raspberry marshmallow at the bottom and chocolate brownie on top.
Cookie sandwich with dulce de leche and maja blanca.
Even though I didn't manage to bring the goodies that my friends requested, at least I didn't show up empty-handed... The two bottles of wine that I had in my check-in luggage didn't get lost.
Jacques Selosse Version Originale, dégorgée le 20 Decembre 2012 - nose was very nice and yeasty, with lots of minerals. As the wine was a little warm at first, the acidity was a little high, but this improved with further chilling. I loooove Champagnes with oxidation, as the nose showed some salted plums (話梅).
2001 Sine Qua Non Albino - a blend of 46% Chardonnay, 40% Roussanne, and 14% Viognier. This had a huge toasty nose, with lots of roasted corn, with a little ripeness and a little sweet grass. After an hour the nose became very buttery. This was soooo fragrant and beautiful.
This was a lot of fun tonight. I got a chance to try out a new restaurant with a chef who used a lot of Asian ingredients and created dishes inspired by Asian cuisine, and I got to drink some decent wines while catching up with friends. This trip to Singapore was beginning to look better...
Visiting Singapore usually means meeting up with Mr. and Mrs. Ho, as long as they're in town. After a disastrous dinner on my last visit, Mrs. Ho took the initiative to suggest that we go back to Candlenut - the place where we have shared a number of happy meals together. They've recently gotten themselves a shiny Michelin macaron, and have also managed to move into new digs - much to my dismay.
As usual I started the evening by visiting the kids, and Mr. Ho again generously opened up a bottle of his favorite white wine at home. Unfortunately, this particular bottle of 2006 Beaucastel Blanc Rousanne Vielles Vignes was too advanced and oxidized. Nose showed marzipan and acetone, and the palate was a little flat and short. It wasn't corked, but it has aged far beyond the other bottles in the same case. Oh well...
Candlenut's new digs in Dempsey were certainly spacious, and the high ceilings with soft and diffused lighting were certainly comforting. The move would have cost a pretty penny, and it appears to have been reflected in the new pricing.
Thankfully they are no longer forcing everyone to take the "ahmakase menu" at dinner and we can cherry pick à la carte, but it would seem to have had a lasting effect... as the portion sizes are now significantly smaller than before.
We were surprised to see our favorite dish absent from the menu, so we checked with the staff. We were told that the menus now change daily - and in fact from lunch to dinner - depending on the available ingredients that day. If an ingredient isn't deemed good enough, then certain dishes are taken off the menu. So... while we were a little disappointed that we weren't able to have the choking sotong, you gotta respect Chef Malcolm Lee for his principles.
Didn't ask what type of crackers these were, but we were all hungry and these disappeared in no time.
Crispy beancurd skin ngoh hiang, minced pork, prawns, water chestnut - always good to start with ngoh hiang, and these were sure tender and tasty thanks to the fat and the crunchy water chestnut.
Crispy pork belly, pickled mustard greens, chincalok - how can I say 'no' to pork belly? These were very, very tasty. While the pork belly itself wasn't exactly Peranakan, the chincalok certainly added that local flavor.
Quail satay - we were recommended to order this since this was "only available tonight". Well, these were tasty for sure, and the flavors were pretty heavy - spicy and smoky. The minced meat was very tender. But something was missing here... and it was the gamey flavors of the quail itself.
Wing bean salad, baby radish, lemongrass, cashew nuts, prawns, calamansi lime dressing - a little bit of green veg for us, with shallots and ikan bilis.
King tiger prawn, gula melaka coconut sauce, lemongrass, Thai basil - I'm a gula melaka addict, so when you tell me that you're adding it to a savory dish, imma try it out for sho! Well... this was a little disappointing to say the least. We were warned that there were only two prawns per portion, but I only wanted to have a taste of the sauce. Hello Kitty thought the prawns were overcooked, but the real shame was that there wasn't much more beside the sweetness in the thick, creamy coconut sauce.
Chap chye, braised cabbage, black mushroom, lily bulb, black fungus, vermicelli - Hello Kitty wanted veg, so we ordered this classic dish. Tons of umami here from the mushroom. Turns out the flavors were too heavy for her, and the Cantonese girl in her preferred dishes where she could taste the flavors of the veggies - which isn't the case here after extended braising.
Blue swimmer crab curry, turmeric, galangal, kaffir lime leaf - I haven't had this since my very first visit 3 years ago, because I felt it was a lot like David Thompson's crab curry. This time, though, it was a little more interesting with plenty of acidity (perhaps from calamansi?), and the spicy kick was a lot more prominent.
Rangers Valley wagyu beef short rib rendang, serunding, turmeric leaf - by far the best savory dish of the evening. Flavors remain very layered and complex, and we're glad we continued to order the rendang on every single visit. The only issue is that the portion size has clearly shrunk - judging from my visit 6 months ago.
Rangers Valley wagyu beef short ribs, buah keluak stew - Mr. Ho's favorite dish, and it was still pretty good. The heavy flavors were once again a little much for Hello Kitty, and she found it a little one-dimensional - which isn't an unfair criticism. But anyone who loves tender beef and strong flavors would find this appealing.
With the savory portion of the meal over, it was now time for dessert. They had taken one of my favorite items off the menu, which was just as well since I could only take two desserts...
Chendol cream - how is this not the perfect version of chendol?! That soft and fluffy coconut panna cotta sitting at the bottom... that alone would have been satisfying enough for me. Add in the savory pandan jelly, and the rich gula melaka, and I instantly turn into the Cookie Chendol Monster! I was so so so so so happy! This is something I could eat everyday.
Durian soup - can't come to Singapore without having some durian dessert, and certainly can't leave Candlenut without this! As good as always, and adding the crêpe dentelle and feuilletine gave it a textural contrast. Hello Kitty, of course, wasn't very happy about me having this...
Mr. Ho very generously brought along a couple of bottles of German Rieslings, whose sweetness would be perfect for spicy Peranakan food...
2014 Markus Molitor Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Spätlese -very floral nose with lychee notes. Nice minerality here.
2011 Markus Molitor Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese*** - very sweet. A little more mineral and plastic, with a little more flint, honey and pineapple. Very round on the palate.
We had a pretty good time, and happy that Malcolm has been recognized for his efforts. He certainly has a lot of heart and I wish him continued success. But based on our experience tonight, I do wonder whether the recent changes will be good for him... or at least, for my future dining experiences at his restaurant.