As someone who really enjoys fine dining, I was spending a lot of time looking into options at the higher end in Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of fine dining options when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, and I certainly wasn't gonna waste precious stomach space and money to have French food in Vietnam. Most people who write about their food experiences in HCMC seem to focus on the cheap and cheerful stuff, which was a little disappointing for me.
Very few people who write about food seem to have been to Xu Restaurant and Lounge. It looked interesting and the menus seemed to have been well thought out, presenting traditional Vietnamese flavors with modern ingredients - the kind of stuff that I really dig. I was having trouble finding meaningful reviews of this place - especially since I can't read Vietnamese - until Hello Kitty pointed me to TripAdvisor. Normally I stay away from crowd-sourced review sites when it comes to restaurants, but in this case TripAdvisor gave me enough info, both positive and negative. Fearing the experience to be a disappointment, I asked our hotel concierge to book us for lunch instead of dinner.
We should have come for dinner.
We got ourselves a table in the lounge downstairs, which was almost empty. Cigar smoke lingered in the room, which was just as well since it covered some of the unpleasant smell of the space.
We asked for the password to the restaurant's wifi network, and we were told that it was "porkbelly". This was obviously cheeky, and instantly earned brownie points with us.
We decided to order one set lunch plus a couple of dishes à la carte and share everything. This worked out reasonably well for us. I had asked the staff if we could have the dinner tasting menus at lunch, but unfortunately this was not possible.
Gỏi cuốn cá chẽm - the fresh seabass spring roll was stuffed with rice vermicelli, coriander, and other herbs, and served with sweet and sour nước mắm.
I wanted something a little out of the ordinary, and the soft shell crab version would have come deep-fried and maybe felt a little greasy. This had cleaner flavors, perhaps some would even argue that it was bland, but the herbs, sesame, and nước mắm would have made up for any shortfall in flavor from the seabass.
Bún bò thăn bò úc - after this morning's experience, Hello Kitty wanted some more bún bò Huế... and couldn't resist when there's an upscale version with ribeye. The thoughtful staff at the restaurant even took time to split it into two bowls for us...
Yup, the beef in this bowl was definitely much better than what we had this morning...
...and of course this came with the usual selection of herbs, including shredded banana blossom, bean sprouts, spring onions, perilla leaves, chili, lime... etc.
For the set lunch, I started with gỏi vịt bắp cải. This duck salad came with cabbage, pickles, shallot, peanuts, and a ginger fish sauce. Slightly on the sweet side. The duck was a little dry, but tasted fine together with the rest of the ingredients.
Cá chẽm nướng xả - the seabass came with a lemongrass skewer, with fish sauce-flavored crispy skin on top. Served with a tiny bit of kaffir lime leaf scented coconut milk, on a base of haricot verts, onion, and wood ear. While the fish itself was not dry, I think it would have been more interesting if there was more of the coconut milk sauce to lend a more Southeast Asian flavor. It was just too light for my taste.
Thịt ba rọi rim nước dừa - this coconut braised pork belly was AWESOME. It was just so, so, so tasty!!! We were very, very happy to have had a taste of this... Soooo much fatty goodness! The "sauerkraut" at the bottom was made with red cabbage, daikon, and coriander. It was only a little sour, with just enough acidity to help balance the richness of the pork.
Finally, the Xu dessert taste at the end of the set lunch menu. A trio of chè bột báng nước cốt dừa (coconut chè), bánh xoài sữa và trứng (mango mousse), and bánh sô cô la sữa và tắc (chocolate kumquat truffle).
This was a pretty good meal, which made me deeply regret not following through with my original plan of having dinner here. Now I'm really curious about the tasting menus for dinner, with the chef presenting dishes from different regions of the country. As we left the restaurant with smiles on our faces, we told ourselves that we will definitely be back on our next trip to Ho Chi Minh City.
We hung out for a little while in the afternoon, as the weather had turned a little and there was some drizzle. We finally ventured out of our hotel when the rain stopped, and walked over one block to check out a couple of sights featuring colonial architecture.
The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most popular sights in the city. It was built at the end of the 19th Century when Vietnam was a French colony, and is painted in typical pastel yellow like so many other colonial government buildings in Vietnam. Beautiful design by Marie-Alfred Foulhoux.
Most of the people we saw inside the building were tourists. Of course there were a few who actually were there to do their business... and a few tourists were there to send postcards to themselves back home.
A few of the old telephone booths have been converted, and now house ATMs...
As we had come a little early and I wanted to snap a few pics just after sunset, we decided to park ourselves at Café de la Poste on the grounds, with views of the main building. The corresponding building on the other side of the post office houses McDonald's...
I, of course, order myself a cà phê sữa đá... and while away the next hour.
Sunset was at 5:35 p.m., and I figured I'd wait another 15 minutes or so for the sky to go dark... to get that beautiful hue of blue for my background. Well, I kinda got the blue I wanted while photographing Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saigon, but the rest of the cathedral was a little dark.
Meanwhile, the lights outside the post office just refused to turn on. I guess they're on a timer and government workers weren't about to adjust it to go with seasonality in sunset...
We took a detour to see the bookshops along Nguyễn Văn Bình, just next to the post office. When we doubled back and started walking to our dinner destination, we realized that by 6:15 p.m., the decorative lights outside the cathedral had been turned on. Whoa!
We showed up to dinner at Cung Dinh Restaurant in the Rex Hotel Saigon about half an hour early, and were welcomed by the sharp dressed manager. The restaurant was mostly empty on this Monday night, but all the other customers seemed fairly well-to-do...
Vả trộn xúc bánh đa - this fig salad with shrimp and pork was pretty decent, but for the life of me I couldn't figure out where the figs were... There was, however, plenty of something that was marinated and soft which was neither shrimp nor pork.
Chả cá Hà Nội - this is about the only dish I remember from my trip to Hanoi 15 years ago, having been sent to Cha Ca La Vong by Lonely Planet... where half the people in the restaurant were tourists armed with the same copy of LP that I was holding...
So I guess this was a more refined version, where diners didn't need to cook the turmeric-marinated fish themselves. I still love the liberal use of dill and green parts of spring onions, and I mixed in the basil together with the rice vermicelli. The taste was about what I had expected, and I happily slurp it down.
Gà chiên sốt bưởi - this fried chicken with pomelo sauce was my call, and when it arrived, I was silently uttering a few WTFs... Hello Kitty commented that it was as if "Korean fried chicken and tonkatsu (とんかつ) had a baby together". Basically, it's like the Chinese lemon chicken - just with a different citrus in the starch-laden sauce.
Canh cua đồng rau đay - when the English description says "vegetables soup with scum of crabmeat", I just had to order it out of curiosity. What the hell is "scum of crabmeat", anyway?!
Well... this turned out to be like the soup I had at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort, even though this used jute instead of Malabar spinach, but the intense earthy flavors were the same. Do Vietnamese people really like their veggies to be this earthy?! Anyway, the strong earthy flavors - together with the liberal use of white pepper - went some ways to mask the heavy, pungent flavors of the "crab scum". I still don't know what crab scum is, but I suspect it's what comes out of the crab when one steams them... you know, the pale, fatty stuff what congeals outside.
This was a pretty decent dinner, but it's a shame that there were only two of us and the number of dishes we could try were limited.
Since we started our dinner early, I figured we could go for a walk and have a drink. So we went to the EON Heli Bar on the 52nd floor of Bitexco Financial Tower. While tourists can pay VND 200,000 to go up to the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor, the better deal is always gonna be paying for a drink or two 3 floors up instead of the admission charge.
The bar is actually located on the same level as the building's helipad, and in fact there's a exit next to where the bartenders are which gets one onto the helipad, but it's closed when the bar is in operation. There were no longer any tables by the window by the time we arrived, so we found ourselves sitting in front of the staircase which connects the bar on the 52nd floor with the restaurant on the 51st floor - still with good views of the western side of Ho Chi Minh City.
I ordered myself a mojito and took in the views.
We took a casual stroll back to our hotel, and made a short detour at the very end to see if the flood lights in front of the post office had been turned on - and indeed they have! So I got a few night shots in...
It's our last day in Vietnam, and our last chance this trip to hit all of my planned stops in terms of sights and eats. And yes, we woke up early once again... without the need for an alarm clock. So we got up and went out for breakfast. Since she didn't get her phở fix yesterday, Hello Kitty insisted that we pass up the bún chả I had planned for us.
So we hopped in a taxi and headed to Phở Lệ on Nguyễn Trãi. The place is pretty easy to spot, and was doing business at 9 a.m. Downstairs was already full so we were told to go upstairs... which was also pretty full.
First thing we noticed was that every table had a big plate of herbs. Those are, of course, essential for a good bowl of phở. Plus the requisite chili and hoisin sauces.
The owners and some staff speak Cantonese, and immediately pointed us towards the most expensive bowl, saying that it has four different types of beef. Well, since we're tourists and dunno when we'll be in town next... why not?!
Phở thập cẩm - the all-in-one, which has rare steak, well done flank, beef meatballs, and tendon. The broth was beautiful. Light yet flavorful, without much MSG that I could taste. The two of us were such happy campers, after slurping down a big bowl of this.
With our bellies full, we headed back to our hotel. After a short break, Hello Kitty had the idea of checking out a French bakery and try out their croissants, so we walked to Pat' a Chou nearby. We passed by the place yesterday and thought it looked really cute. And it was!
We were happy that even though the whole place looked very French, they did in fact offer cà phê sữa nóng to go with our viennoiserie.
The croissant was actually pretty good - nice and flaky...
...and nicely done on the inside. Not too wet and doughy, with enough air inside.
The pain au chocolat was pretty good, too. But I wish they had given us a little more chocolate...
After checking out of the hotel, we decided to go hit a couple of museums before our late lunch. The Ho Chi Minh Museum is only a short distance across the bridge from Bitexco Financial Tower, so we decided to take a leisurely walk over there. After all, we've got plenty of time and mucho calories to walk off.
Unfortunately, I was mislead by Google. The museum actually does take a lunch break, so when we arrived the gates were shut. So we had to make do with just a couple of exterior shots from afar...
Next stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. Thankfully they don't take lunch breaks, so we could spend some quality time here. This beautiful building was built in the 1930s as a private residence, and was taken over by the the museum about 30 years ago.
Besides the interesting local art, I absolutely loved this building itself. The central Art Nouveau staircase, along with the antique French elevator, was exquisite.
Another Art Nouveau building on the grounds houses the "ancient contemporary art"... which seems to be an oxymoron.
Once again, there was a beautiful staircase leading to the upper floors, while the antique French elevator is housed separately.
We were pretty happy to have come for a visit, but it was around 2:30 p.m. and it was time for lunch! We took a taxi to Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa for our long-awaited taste of the classic Vietnamese sandwich. They only do takeouts, and you see the boss lady - along with her staff - assembling the sandwiches quickly with their myriad of ingredients. Besides butter and the pâté, there are four different types of sliced pork used here.
Since there was nowhere for us to sit and enjoy this sandwich, we resorted to ducking into the Phuc Long Coffee and Tea House nearby and ordered a couple of drinks. We made sure to sit upstairs to be away from the eyes of the staff...
Besides the pork and butter, there were also strips of pickled radish and herbs inside the bánh mì.
O-M-G. This was hands down the best fucking bánh mì I have ever had. Not that I'm a connoisseur and have eaten this all over the planet, but man! That's some good shit! The two of us were just speechless. OK... the truth is that we were speechless because we were too busy chomping...
Very satisfied with our eats on our last day. So satisfied that we went back and bought two more bánh mì to take on the flight with us. Hell, I'd take this over airplane food any day! And since we ended up with a two-hour delay due to mechanical issues on our brand new A350-900, the fact that we had good food on the plane with us made the misery a little easier to bear...
I'm back in Hong Kong, and it was time to do a year end catch-up with Rice. We wanted to go somewhere simple where we could just open a bottle or two, and after much procrastination - with the two of us kicking the ball back and forth - I finally suggested that we try out Beefbar. The menu looked simple enough... just some meat 'n' potatoes and stuff. And I haven't yet been disappointed by the food in one of Uncle Peter's restaurants...
I didn't want to eat too much after a few days' of stuffing myself in Vietnam, so I kept things simple and "light".
Our amuse bouche tonight was veal with wakame and wasabi mayo. I didn't see any wakame, but I think the green stick may have been a salicornia?
Black Angus mini burger with bacon and lemon sauce - very nice. Tasty but at HKD 100 a pop, not the cheapest 2 bites. Served with a light salad on the side.
Australian Black Market Black Angus beef short rib - I remembered how beautiful the Black Market beef was that I had at Gaddi's a couple of months ago, so I opted for this... and 200g of beef was definitely enough for me tonight. Apparently this was slow-cooked so "medium" was recommended.
Initially I thought they had overcooked the beef, but once I transferred it onto my plate, I realized this was cooked to perfection. Beautifully charred on the outside for that smoky flavor, and the heavy marbling had been brought to their melting point. Not exactly as soft as buttah, but close enough. Happiness is... fat melting in one's mouth.
Grilled mixed vegetables - had to have my daily veg intake.
Chocolate and sesame soufflé with yuzu ice cream - maybe I was already a little toasted by the time this came, but I am struggling to recall any remembrance of sesame flavor. Nevertheless, this was pretty decent.
The yuzu ice cream on the side was decent.
I brought a couple of bottles for us to sip on tonight, and there were some surprises in store for us...
1990 Marcoux Vieilles Vignes - double-decanted 1 hour prior to serving, and finally started to open up. Nice fruit in the nose, with forest notes. Sweetness in the nose showed up after 80 minutes, along with leather and animal notes even later. A lovely wine.
1996 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Ermite Rouge - opened for 30 minutes prior to decanting and serving. Sooooo much coconut butter on the nose, very sweet, exotic, with cedar notes. Good acidity levels. Beautiful! But was this really a Chapoutier? It tasted nothing like any other Chapoutier Hermitage I've ever had, and actually came close to its 99/100-point rating... which was definitely a first for me.
Continuing with the tradition of cooking at home on Christmas Eve, we ordered another shipment of live wild Atlantic lobsters from Nova Scotia, and our lobster supplier picked them up at the airport in the wee hours this morning. We met up in Central in the middle of the day and divvied up the critters among a few friends, brought our share of the haul home and put the guys on ice.
As usual, we steamed the lobsters in a pot. These live and wild lobster are really special. They've got a wonderful firm texture when biting down, so you know these guys were lively. Really delicious, and I didn't need any seasoning or sauces whatsoever.
The best part about these lobsters is the tomalley. Just love spooning it into my mouth...
Hello Kitty also made a couple of them into lobster rolls, with the buns given to us by our lobster supplier that she baked herself. A little bit of celery, chives, and shavings from lime peel mixed with mayo. And of course the buns were toasted in a pan with plenty of butter. Mmm mmm good.
Coq au vin - Hello Kitty also prepared a huge cocotte of coq au vin with a French chapon, following an old recipe from Paul Bocuse. She wasn't happy with the end result as she found it to be overcooked.
But the meat was falling off the bone, and I was more than happy to eat it. What I wasn't happy about was the fact that as she was running out of red wine at home, she grabbed a bottle of Château Le Pin and used it as the cooking wine...
When it came to dessert, I splurged and got ourselves a bûche de Noël from Caprice at the Four Seasons Hong Kong. Nicolas Lambert is an amazing pâtissier, and I regretted not getting his bûche last Christmas. Well, I was definitely not gonna miss out this year!
I ordered it from the Festive Desk set up in the hotel lobby, and was surprised to get a call from the restaurant telling me that Chef Nicolas was going to meet me when I picked it up this morning. That was a nice surprise.
There was a gluten-free chocolate sablé at the bottom, which was surprisingly a little savory and not sweet at all. The chocolate biscuit inside was also gluten-free, covered in a very fluffy Valrhona Manjari chocolate mousse, with pecans inside. We were also given little tubs of crème anglaise made with Tahitian vanilla.
I decided that Rudolf would be my victim tonight...
Finally, we cut up the very last dragon fruit that we brought back from our trip to Vietnam. This has been fully-ripened, having gone from green to red, back to green, and back to red again. So it was pretty sweet on the inside.
A festive dinner like this wouldn't be the same without a little alcohol, but we kept it pretty civilized tonight.
1995 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne - the nose was so caramelized and sweet, yeasty, toasty, with marmalade notes. Lovely depth on the palate. Such a beautiful Champagne.
Dewazakura Daiginjo Daikoshu Sansei (出羽桜 大吟醸大古酒 三勢), BY19 - this was a special bottling to commemorate the merger of Mitsukoshi and Isetan, and released in April 2008 for the occasion. With a seimaibuai (精米歩合) of 35%, this was aged for 13 years at a temperature of -5°C. The nose showed lots of fermented rice notes, with a little banana. Very elegant. Sweet on the attack with a medium-dry finish, it was also a little viscous and rounded on the palate. Considering it's been another 6 years since its release, that means the bottle is now about 20 years old. What a beautiful sake!
A really fun evening at home, and glad to have shared some goodies with our friends.
It's Christmas Day, and that means one of MNSC's own is celebrating his birthday... and it's a big one this year. As one of us noted tonight, the eight of us are now finally all in our forties - but only for the next 4 months or so - until the big handle changes for one of us. So this is a really special time!
Following tradition, the birthday boy hosted dinner at the Hong Kong Club. The menu is kept pretty simple, and in any case the evening is all about the wines for us. The better halves were invited to join us this year, and we ended up having separate boys' and girls' tables tonight.
Roasted Australian quail, braised baby roots, pomegranate jus - this was a lot bigger and a lot more plump than I had expected. Just look at that ass! You'd think you're staring at Nicki Minaj or Kim K...
The quail itself was pretty tender and succulent, while the stuffing seemed curiously to have been made with salted eggs - with a little white pepper for kicks. In any case, this was very tasty. Except, of course, for the beet roots on the side.
Whole poached ocean trout, ginger, shiitake, spring onions, soy sauce, white rice - this is something we look forward to every Christmas - the giant fish done Cantonese-style. This one was 3.6kg.
This was perfect like all the other ones we've ever had here. This really is one of the best ways to serve fish... with the soy sauce giving a little flava, and with steamed rice soaking it all up. Yum. I tried to gobble this up, but I got such a big chunk that in the end I had to leave a little bit of the fish on the plate...
Whole roasted American Prime beef rib-eye, black pepper sauce, rösti potatoes, glazed carrots, braised Brussels sprouts and sautéed baby spinach - I wasn't expecting both the ocean trout and the prime rib tonight, but since there were 14 of us, I guess we needed a little more food.
There were, of course, varying degrees of "doneness" to the whole ribeye, but my piece was still pretty rare inside. This was a pretty thick cut, and I had serious problems putting a dent in this thing. I ended up taking down the edges, where the meat was more done and had more seasoning and flavor. Oh, and of course the fatty bits... The rösti was pretty nice, too.
Grand Mariner Soufflé - yes, boys and girls, the menu read "Grand Mariner"... But I gotta give it to them - they do know to do soufflé here. Very fluffy. Not sure why I agreed to the dollop of cream on top, because I definitely didn't need the calories...
This being a big birthday, we had expected the birthday boy would be generous and feature wines from his birth vintage. True to form, he blew all our expectations away... and was extremely generous. We got a massiiiiive '76 horizontal the whole evening.
1976 Salon - disgorged perhaps 5-6 years ago, which explains how fresh this tasted. Just beautiful. Mature nose of toast, roasted corn, some sweet grass, a little caramelized, and sugar cane notes. Good acidity on the palate. 96 points.
1976 DRC Montrachet - opened for 30 minutes prior to serving. Very mature nose, with sweet grass, caramelized sugar, and a hint of salty plum (話梅). Later on with further aeration we got some coconut, sugar cane juice like 竹蔗茅根, and honey. Just an incredibly beautiful wine, and what a privilege to have tasted it. 98 points.
1976 DRC La Tâche - opened 1 hour prior to serving, without decanting. Beautiful and floral, with plenty of sweet fruit. A little iron and a hint of leather. Acidic and light on the palate. Another 20 minutes later the wine in glass was over the hill, thinned out with more pronounced acidity. 96 points.
1976 Henri Jayer Richebourg - opened 1 hour prior to serving, without decanting. Initially showing a little wet cardboard and vegetal notes. A little earthy. 91 points.
1976 Armand Rousseau Clos St Jacques - opened 1 hour prior to serving, without decanting. A big, pruny nose, a little sharp, with leather notes and slightly acidic on the nose. A little savory on the palate. 94 points.
1976 Ausone - opened 1 hour prior to decanting and serving. Nose of lead pencil, mint, some fruit underneath. 94 points.
1976 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection - opened 1 hour prior to serving without decanting. A little burnt rubber, smoke, and some star anise in the nose. 92 points.
1976 Penfolds Grange - opened 1 hour prior to decanting and serving. A little lead pencil, sweet on the nose with a little bit of coconut. A beautiful wine. 97 points.
1976 Henri Bonneau Réserve des Célestins - opened 1 hour and decanted 30 minutes prior to serving. Nice fruit, oaky, a little savory, and a little stinky. 93 points.
1976 Guigal La Mouline - opened 1 hour prior to decanting and serving. Lovely and fragrant nose, with coffee notes, and a little savory. Just beautiful. 100 points. The only other time I've had the privilege of tasting this wine was also at a dinner hosted by our birthday boy some 9 years ago.
1976 Vega Sicilia Unico - opened 1 hour prior to decanting and serving. Awesome wine. Soooo exotic and sweet, with amazing coconut notes. 100 points.
1976 Yquem - acetone, paint thinner, honey, nutty, grapey, and honeydew melon. Great acidity here to balance out the sugars. 96 points.
What an incredible evening! Some of the wines we tasted tonight are so rare that it was truly a privilege to have tasted them. Many thanks to our generous host, and welcome to the club!
The boss is in town for a surprise visit, and while staying at the Langham Hong Kong, discovered to his surprise that there's a 3-star restaurant in the hotel. He decided to treat the team to a nice lunch as it's the end of the year. However, due to the last-minute nature of the booking, we had to wait until 2pm to get seated.
Guess who was tasked with ordering, again? But this time, the boss kinda skimmed through the Internet and suggested a couple of signature dishes that he had read about...
Steamed shrimp, crab meat and spinach dumplings (菠菜蟹肉餃) - with shrimp, crab, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach. Very tasty.
Golden-fried spring rolls stuffed with shrimps, duck, enoki mushrooms and taro (芋絲鴨春卷) - not bad, and I liked the taro.
Pan-fried rice flour rolls with hommade spicy sauce (XO醬煎腸粉) - this has always been one of my favorite dishes here, thanks to the crunchy exterior of the rolls. This wasn't bad, but I've had better. Some of the rolls didn't have enough of the XO sauce.
Stir-fried fresh lobster with spring onions, red onions and shallots (三蔥爆龍蝦) - supposedly one of the signature (and award winning?) dishes of the restaurant. Honestly, I don't get it. It's a (very slightly) fancier version of the classic lobster stir-fried with spring onions and ginger. What's so special about this?!
Stewed pea shoots with dried wolfberries in fish soup (黑杞子魚湯浸豆苗) - very simple dish, with quality pea shoots in delicate fish broth.
Baked seafood rice with cream sauce in crab shell (唐閣寳盒飯) - this was recommended to us, and was certainly rich and filling. This was like the classic Cantonese baked rice, with fried rice as the base (炒底) and a crab shell as the vessel. Pretty decent, but finishing it at the end of the meal was a little tough.
Very thankful that the boss treated us to lunch. But like the boss, I, too, failed to see much brilliance in the dishes I ordered today...
The year end holiday season brings with it lots of visitors from around the world, and among them foodies who come to see what Hong Kong has to offer in the way of dining options. As I had done last year, I decided to meet up with a group of them - actually two separate groups that we combined together - and arranged a dinner together. I also invited a couple of local foodie friends in town to join us.
Now, it's rare that we can get such a big group of visitors in town at the same time, so I figured I'd pull out all the stops by letting them experience the very old school, high-end Cantonese cooking at my favorite private dining facility. Half the visitors are of Chinese (and in fact Cantonese) ancestry, so I figured they'd have some exposure and would have a better appreciation of the dishes. The other half was coming in from Sweden, and although I had assumed they were well-travelled, I was still a little apprehensive...
Given my limited knowledge about classic Cantonese food, I was very thankful to have had KC with us tonight. Even though I had been here many times and have had all of the dishes on multiple occasions, there was still a lot of background info that KC would be better placed to deliver to the visitors.
When I received a copy of the menu from the chef about a week ago, I was ecstatic. It was pretty much a collection of my favorite dishes, and featured two of the most special items in the chef's repertoire...
Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - this is so classic that everyone needs to try this at least once... And it's always impressive when a whole plate of these show up on the table.
The skill that goes into "peeling" the prawns, and the preparation which ensures the proper color and texture of the prawns, before they go into the deep-fryer for a quick round... This was very, very good. Got the right crunchy without feeling too "artificial", and none of that awful baking powder aftertaste. Just a little bit of ham broth to season it.
Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - made with tips of the pig's stomach, and cut into diamond-shape along with Chinese celery, red capsicum, pickles, coriander, yellowed chives, and Indian almonds (欖仁). Tonight I found it a little too wet and soggy, but our waiter explained that the chef had to reheat the dish because we started dinner a little late.
Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - the first of the pièce de résistance (yes, there were two of them tonight...) Very old school, and very luxe. The chef knows me so well nowadays that when he came up with the menu, he automatically excluded shark's fin from this dish.
Everyone gets a plate with an abalone, a goose web, a piece of sea cucumber, fish maw, some pork belly, pork tendons, and bamboo shoots.
As delicious as everything is, the best part of the dish is always the sauce. The sauce that has all the collagen coming from the tendon, fish maw, sea cucumber, and goose web. Of course we need to take it all with rice!
Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - the otherpièce de résistance. The season for snake soup is short - from sometime after Mid-Autumn Festival to Lunar New Year - so every year lovers of this specialty will maximize their intake during these few months. And this, so far, is the best version I have ever had among all the high-end establishments serving it.
Yes, there really are five different types of snakes in the soup. Plus fish maw (which adds collagen), and shiitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots, and wood ear, and aged tangerine peel that adds its distinctive fragrance. The base of the soup is made not with chicken powder, nor ham, but with snake bones. It is packed with lots of flavor, but is neither salty nor heavy. This is old school, and is just fucking good. I don't even need to add the traditional condiments of chrysanthemum petals, coriander, kaffir lime leaf chiffonade, or the crispy wonton skin.
Steamed sole (清蒸海方利) - we got two of these, and as usual the chef turned them upside down to show us the bellies - and the fact that these were wild-caught and not farmed. Execution on the steaming here is hit-and-miss, but thankfully I thought the back of the fish wasn't overcooked tonight. The wings were as delicious and full of collagen as ever.
Traditional salt-baked chicken (古法鹽焗雞) - this was pretty good, and definitely not something from the "chicken Fridays" (whatever that is) in Sweden. The only let down is that the giblets were missing... thanks to the recent discovery of new avian flu cases in certain farms.
Stir-fried pea shoots with liver sausage (膶腸炒豆苗) - yes, boys and girls, this would be our veggie dish. Except, of course, that it comes covered in meat. Not just any meat, but the Cantonese liver sausage made with the fragrant Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露) - which is generally best in winter. And the pea shoots were so tender as they're right in season. Just awesome.
Fried glutinous rice with preserved meats (生炒糯米飯) - another winter-only special. While the flavors were as tasty as ever - with the combination of Cantonese preserved sausage as well as liver sausage - the execution was a little off tonight. The rice grains weren't dry and chewy enough, and ended up a little soft but not quite soggy. Oh well.
Almond cream with lotus seeds and egg white (蓮子蛋白杏仁茶) - a very good way to finish, with the fragrance of almonds along with egg whites and lotus seeds which had been cooked until soft.
This being the holiday season and all, I decided to bring out some wines to share with the gang.
2007 Leeuwin Estate Chardonnay Art Series - toasty oak, buttery, and ripe on the palate.
2001 Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese No. 9 Zwischen den Seen, from half-bottle - lots of honey, orange marmalade, really sweet, really grapey.
2003 Kongsgaard Syrah - for some reason I didn't get much out of my glass...
2004 Kongsgaard Chardonnay - nice and mature on the palate. Sweet on the nose, with marmalade, toasty oak, and butter corn.
2002 Ojai Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard - more metallic on the nose, still plenty of fruit here.
Well, I hope that our visiting foodies enjoyed dinner tonight... I know that they were appreciative of the opportunity to try out this place, but dunno what they thought of the food. Well, I'm glad my local foodie friends enjoyed it, at least...
I've never had the urge to follow in the footsteps of others to do these year-end "best of" lists, neither for restaurants, meals, nor dishes. Heck, I haven't even done a "top 10" list of my favorite restaurants since the middle of 2009. But as 2016 drew to a close, and similar lists from friends and others started popping up, I started to wonder what a "best dishes" list would look like for me.
Well, the last week of 2016 wasn't a particularly busy one in the office, so I started browsing through all my posts during the year to try to narrow down to a "reasonable" list. I knew it would take a lot of effort to narrow down to just 10 or even 15 dishes, and at the same time leave out a number of memorable experiences, so I decided not to restrict myself to an arbitrary number like that. Instead, I'd take a hard look and pick out the ones that had the most emotional impact and gave me the most pleasure - not necessarily only the most "fine dining" or "high end" dishes. Many of these dishes are ones that I'd be happy to eat an enormous quantities of... or ones that I'd be happy to eat day after day.
The following list isn't ranked, and are listed simply by chronological order.
Crab meat omelet (ไข่เจียวปู) from Raan Jay Fai (ร้านเจ๊ไฟ), Bangkok - a simple omelet slowly and meticulously cooked over charcoal by a lady wearing googles and Wellington boots. Cutting it open reveals the reason behind the seemingly ridiculous price - the amount of sweet crab meat stuffed inside.
Nymphéas from Le Moût, Taichung - one of the most elegant and balanced desserts, and incredibly refreshing in summer.
Beef, tongue, cracker from RAW, Taipei - incredibly satisfying comfort food that pushed all the right buttons for me.
Braised stuffed sea cucumber (海參鑲肉) from mom - can't not mention at least one of mom's dishes in this list. This one is from our cooking lesson at my place, and is mom's own creation. I count my blessings every time I get to eat something like this from mom.
Langoustine 'dim sum', pumpkin, passion fruit, and cacao from the Hong Kong Jockey Club's guest chef dinner with Gert de Mangeleer from Hertog Jan, Zedelgem - definitely one of my very top dishes in 2016. I have been a fan of Gert de Mangeleer since I first tasted his cuisine in 2015, and this dish is a perfect illustration.
Dry laksa from National Kitchen by Violet Oon, Singapore - this has always been one of my favorite dishes in Singapore, and it's as good as ever.
Beef hump (牛駝峰) from a restaurant in New Territories, Hong Kong - technically there wasn't any cooking involved by the restaurant as this was part of our hotpot, but this was my first time tasting the hump on the back of an Asian cow, and the marbling was simply amazing.
Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) from a private dining facility in Hong Kong - for me, there simply isn't a better snake soup elsewhere in Hong Kong or Macau. Such a privilege to be able to taste this.
Quick lunch at my favorite Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), probably my last this year.
Rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose drumstick (馳名脆皮燒鵝脾瀨粉) - this is my go-to item here, but I suffered from sticker shock today. This was never cheap, and prices have been going up ever since they started getting into the Michelin Guide. Now it costs a whopping HKD 102 for this bowl. Damn! But still very, very tasty, though...
A couple of friends and I had planned a special dinner for tonight, but due to logistics issues we had to reschedule that particular theme. So I was expecting a week of clean living as I reboot my diet... but it was not to be. RC figured that since we had set aside the date in our calendars, we might as well get together anyway.
He brought us a special gift - more than 3kg of Black Market beef from Rangers Valley, which he lugged back from a trip to Australia over the holidays. And since we're all on very, very good terms with the Man in White T-Shirt - and it's always a good idea to have a friendly chef you can call on for a favor - the bunch of us ended up at Neighborhood.
We started with some oysters from the Netherlands. Nice and crunchy, and striking a nice balance between creamy and briny.
Red sea bream crudo / orange / radish - the sea bream was pretty crunchy.
Tagliolini with white truffle - a little less white truffle than I would normally have shaved into my bowl, but damn! This was just delicious! All that butter coating the soft, fresh tagliolini...
Sea bass roe / black truffle - wow! This was seriously impressive. This whole roe sac of a 40-catty sea bass. Wrapped in caul fat and slices of black truffle before being roasted.
We were then served thick slices of it, with a little bit of mashed potatoes. This was seriously good. The eggs were very small in size, so it almost felt like eating grainy chunks of mashed potato... Yum!
Then came the main event. A huge pan full of the Black Market beef, from four different cuts - clockwise from top: bone-in ribeye, bone-in sirloin, hanging tender, and T-bone.
The ribeye was very marbled, and of course very delicious thanks to all that fat. Also the most tender in terms of texture.
The hanging tender was denser in texture, but very, very full of meaty flavor as expected. More charred and chewy exterior.
The sirloin was nicely marbled, and definitely pretty tasty and flavorful.
I didn't get a piece of the T-bone, so the gang very kindly gave me permission to grab the bone and strip it clean. Man! This was damn good! I really enjoyed gnawing it on and trying to strip it clean with my teeth...
Bone marrow risotto with black truffle - I've always loved the bone marrow risotto here, and tonight not only did it come with sinfully delicious chunks of bone marrow, there were also pieces of chestnuts. And of course, shavings of black truffle on top!
I didn't think I needed to have the dessert, but I wasn't gonna say 'no' to a couple of canelés! These were delish as always... with the crunchy shell.
We brought out a bunch of reds to go with the marbled Aussie beef, and most of us picked wines that we thought would be powerful enough to match the big, juicy cuts of beef.
For the first two reds, I covered up the labels and served them as a pair for a fun blind tasting. I've recounted the story of what Jean-Luc Thunevin did with two of his vineyards in 2000 a couple of times before, but this was the first time I've had the opportunity to taste the two Clos Badon wines side-by-side. And it was fun! It would seem that - as was the case with Valandraud - using the plastic really did make a difference.
2000 Clos Badon - opened 20 minutes before decanting, and served 20 minutes after. Nose was a little pungent and stinky with brett. After opening up a little more, showed more sweetness and some coffee notes. A little tannic with noticeable acidity. Maybe the bottle was a little off?
L'Interdit de Badon - opened 20 minutes before decanting, and served 20 minutes after. Smoky, almost coffee notes, with ripe, sweet fruit, as well as coconut and cedar notes.
1985 Troplong Mondot - decanted just prior to serving. Pretty stewed nose, fully ripe. A little sweet, and pretty unctuous on the palate.
1994 Penfolds Bin 707 - decanted perhaps 15 minutes prior to serving. Really sweet and big nose of vanilla oak, with coconut butter. Classic Aussie.
1983 Dunn Howell Mountain - decanted just prior to serving. Mature, with smoky, leather notes, and a little stinky. Opened up rather nicely.
2000 Guigal La Mouline - decanted for a while before serving. Really sweet and ripe, with a little bit of floral notes.
2006 Mollydooker Enchanted Path - opened but not decanted for 3 hours prior to serving. Really, really sweet, with lots of vanilla and cedar notes.
A very, very satisfying dinner to kick off the year. Many thanks to RC for the delicious beef, and thanks to the Man in White T-Shirt for being so accommodating!
Hello Kitty wanted to lunch at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) today, as she has been missing their fantastic roast goose. I, however, am on a diet. This means that goose is out of the question for me, so I revert back to my old habit of having steamed chicken with rice (切雞飯). The chicken here is pretty good, but as I'm on a diet, I make sure to peel off all the skin and fat of the chicken. I also don't touch the minced spring onion and ginger on the side.
We also share a plate of blanched choy sum (菜心全走).
I'm in Beijing for an annual conference, and decided to stay at the Imperial Mansion, Beijing since it is just on the block next to the Grand Hyatt Beijing. Not knowing exactly when I would arrive in the city, I didn't make plans to have dinner with anyone. I figured I'd just pop into DaDong Artistic Conception Food (大董中国意境菜), as the Wangfujing branch of the chain is in the shopping mall right next to my serviced apartment.
I was handed two large menus once I got seated. Contrary to popular belief, DaDong is not all about Peking duck. Founder Dong Zhenxiang (董振祥) has created a whole range of modern Chinese dishes, often using non-traditional ingredients and/or cooking methods. The dishes are often presented in an artistic fashion and accompanied by poetic descriptions. What's more, some of the dishes rotate according to the seasons and the availability of ingredients. I've been pretty impressed by my previous visits.
In fact, I prefer the creative dishes from the menu over the duck that first put them on the map. So I proceeded to order four dishes - which, admittedly, was waaay too much for one person - and skipped their "superlean" roast duck.
Fried osmanthus rice noodles (炒桂花粉丝) - I let out a helpless laugh when this arrived first. For all the effort Chef Dong put into creating dishes which are both tasty and artistic, and with all the modern touches added, it is unfortunate that his staff failed him at the most basic level.
In Chinese cuisine, there is a traditional order of how dishes are to be served. Vegetables and carb dishes such as rice and noodles are meant to be served last. But of course, the staff in the kitchen doesn't care. They just wanna knock out dishes when orders are sent in. And front-of-house staff either haven't been trained about this, or they also don't care about the diner's experience. So... instead of getting this dish last, it came first.
Knowing I had three other dishes coming, I took a small bowl of this and asked to pack the rest. The execution was very, very good. It's clear that this was stir-fried at very high heat, and the chunks of dried shrimp were so crunchy that I thought I bit into big chunks of sand - but these turned out to be very tasty.
Braised pork intestines in multiple flavors (九转大肠) - I love pig intestines, and these were really, really good. The thick sauce was both sweet and savory, with a spicy kick at the back end, and the finely diced coriander lent the dish a nice fragrance. Served with little domes of hawthorn paste. I love the springy texture, even if the outermost layer was a little tough and almost a little leathery.
Chef Dong's braised sea cucumber with fresh wheat (董氏新麦烧海参) - I couldn't order the signature sea cucumber dish as the serving is too big, so I settled for this. The spiny sea cucumber was about 80 grams in weight.
As I had expected, the sea cucumber was very, very tender... and very tasty. The braised leeks were a familiar touch, having absorbed the rich and tasty sauce. The barley grains were plump and crunchy, having also soaked up the sauce. The cucumber balls and coulis on the side provided a little bit of acidity for balance. Very good.
Braised abalone with risotto (意大利米溏心鲍鱼) - I was curious to see how risotto would fit in with braised abalone, and unfortunately I came a few weeks late... or I would have been able to try out the version with white truffle. The chef may have added a few flowers to make the dish look pretty, but it's too bad that the kitchen couldn't even be bothered to make sure that the risotto itself was plated properly...
I didn't bother asking about the size of the abalone, but the half I was served certainly proved plenty. It was very, very tender, and the flavors were all there. I was very happy to have had this dish, because I had initially been told that they were out of dried abalone and could only serve me fresh ones. Fresh abalone, of course, could never hope to deliver the same rich flavors are dried ones which have been rehydrated and braised.
Unfortunately the risotto failed. Yes, I prefer my risotto al dente, but this was undercooked and still raw in the middle. But it did get a nice coating of the rich and sinful abalone sauce.
This was a very good dinner, and having ordered two of the premium ingredients of Chinese cuisine, it was also not the cheapest dinner for one. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat, and I look forward to coming back and trying out more dishes from the extensive seasonal menu. DaDong is one of my favorite restaurants in China, even if I don't care for their duck!
I usually try to meet up with Mr. QLI whenever I'm in Beijing, and this time I relied once again on his knowledge of local restaurants for our dinner together. Having had Chinese food when we met for the last couple of times in Beijing, he decided it was time to introduce me to what he feels is the best "Western" restaurant in town at the moment.
The Georg is part of Georg Jensen Hus, one of the new luxury courtyard houses (四合院) that have been built along the banks of the historic canal known as Jade River (玉河). As one might infer from the name, it is owned and run by the Danish brand Georg Jensen. The space retains the charm which emanates from the classical architecture style, but the large windows and modern lighting add an unmistakable contemporary feel. Not surprisingly, the cuisine is said to have a Nordic touch.
Since Mr. QLI is a VVIP here, I left all the arrangements up to him... and we ended up having the kitchen set us up with their tasting menu.
Deep-fried oyster - with parsley cream on top. Slightly saltier than expected, but tasty nonetheless.
Salmon roe tart - with egg custard and parsley cream.
Oyster, potato, Tête de Moine - the oysters were served slightly warm, with crispy potato balls and potato chips. Served with a thin layer of flambé Tête de Moine covered with cream and leek oil. A warm and comforting dish for the cold weather.
Langoustine, almonds, cucumber - the almond encrusted langoustine was pretty tasty. The curry-pickled cucumbers, though, were a surprise. The acidity there was pungent enough that one could smell it; sharp but not overpowering on the palate. As Mr. QLI remarked, this presentation style - with the twisting cucumber slices, the dot of parsley emulsion... is just sooooo Nordic.
Foie gras, celeriac, cordycep flowers - the foie gras"dumpling" came wrapped in cabbage, with a whole chunk of foie inside. Topped with cordyceps mushrooms and served with celeriac purée along with what the chef called "meat sauce"... Sprinkled with leek powder.
The foie inside kinda liquefied after cooking, and this made cutting into the "dumpling" a little tricky... since the thing kinda wobbled under pressure from the knife. The restaurant has been testing out different suppliers for local liver, and the results are a little hit-or-miss...
Beef Wellington, smoked carrot, truffle - the truffle shaved with a Microplane was nice and fragrant, and was a welcome addition to the tender, if rather bland, beef. Of course the foie gras sauce helped, too. The smokiness in the carrots was a nice touch.
Croquetas - apparently Mr. QLI once complained that he was still hungry after a meal here, and asked the kitchen for some croquetas. So now they serve these to him every time he's here. Pretty nice and creamy, and I'm not sure the kimchi dip was even needed.
Risalamande - this Danish rice pudding with almonds is meant for the festive Christmas season, but I guess the restaurant kept it on the menu for a little longer... Came with blueberry sauce at the bottom and a caramel sauce on top. Yummy.
Gin and tonic - I haven't seen a deconstructed gin and tonic dessert since I was at Akelarre 10 years ago. This was a juniper ice cream with tonic jelly and some lemon and lime. I'm not a huge fan of the cocktail, but this definitely got all the elements!
Mr. QLI and I each brought a bottle to dinner, with me bringing a white to avoid bottle shock. But the staff very kindly treated us to a glass of bubbly first...
Devaux Grande Réserve - nice and ripe on the nose, with yeasty notes.
2008 Marcel Deiss L'Altenberg de Bergheim - big nose of petrol at first, and very sweet on the nose with honey and marmalade, along with some straw. Ripe and sweet on the palate but falls far short of a dessert wine - more like an auslese.
2008 Prieuré Roch Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru - beautiful, open nose of leather and sweet fruit. A little floral, and so sweet it was almost like cotton candy or bubblegum. Always enjoyable to drink a bottle of Prieuré Roch.
A pretty enjoyable dinner overall, and while it certainly is no comparison to the plethora of fine dining French restaurants in Hong Kong, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. And the price was certainly very, very reasonable for the quality. Certainly deserving of a repeat visit... and I definitely want to come back during daytime to check out the rest of the house!
It's been a while since the last time a whole bunch of us got together for a meal, and our organizer figured that this was long overdue - and it's been years since we've seen the kiddies. I was very surprised when our organizer suggested that we meet up at Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine (Hello Kitty中菜軒). Well, given that one of the families lives just across the street from the place, and I myself would be staying only a few blocks away this weekend, it seemed pretty perfect. And we were also bringing three kiddies with us to lunch - although they were all boys, as the only girl was now a teenager and curiously has zero interest in Hello Kitty...
I was the first to arrive and get seated at the long table spread in the private area named 林檎閣. This was my fourth time at the restaurant, and the very first time where I've had a reservation. But I guess with an original party of 12 (we were down to just 10 today) that made things easy.
As I seemed to be the one with the most experience - and most knowledgeable regarding the menu - I was tasked with ordering. Thankfully our organizer has also been to the restaurant, and I was able to discuss it with her. Always helpful to have a second opinion!
Hello Kitty bombing rice (Hello Kitty爆炸飯) - I guess I shouldn't expect this place to care about serving order... Carb dishes are meant to be served last at Chinese restaurants, but oh well... The fried rice was made with shrimp and kailan (芥蘭), and was reasonably tasty. Hello Kitty's whiskers were made with marinated kelp (昆布), and the bow was made from red capsicum. Why was this called "bombing rice", you ask? For some reason they decided to sprinkle some green pop rocks on the side...
One last thing... for some reason the restaurant served this on a plate that had clearly just come out of the fridge. It was chilled! Now, why would you serve a hot dish on a chilled plate?!
Hello Kitty barbecued pork puffs (叉燒酥) - not up to par today. I thought the puff pastry tasted a little off... like the oil or shortening used had gone off.
Hello Kitty bow puffs (蝴蝶角) - I didn't like this much the first time, so I only ordered one portion and didn't have any.
Hello Kitty stir-fried beef noodles (干炒牛河) - this has ALWAYS been the best dish here, and today was no exception. In fact, it was so good that we ordered a second plate. It would be easy to dismiss the chefs here as only catering to the girls and don't care about the food quality, but this actually had a lot of wok hei (鑊氣). You can see how the noodles were caramelized...
Hello Kitty steamed turnip cake (Hello Kitty蒸蘿蔔糕) - I've always been curious about this since they introduced it, and this was OK. There were actually strips of radish inside, and surprisingly this had a slight spicy kick on the finish.
Hello Kitty steamed prawn dumpling (蝦餃皇) - these have always been of reasonable quality.
Hello Kitty steamed pork patty with squid (Hello Kitty土魷玉蝴蝶) - this was surprisingly good. The thickness meant that it wasn't over-steamed, and the little bits of dried squid inside were pretty decent. The salted egg yolk on top wasn't too dry, either.
Hello Mimmy vegetables and shrimp dumplings (Hello Mimmy菜苗餃) - this is the only dish named after Hello Kitty's twin sister Hello Mimmy. These were actually not bad at all, with spinach mixed together with shrimp inside.
Sweet and sour pork (秘方咕嚕肉) - I was told by our organizer that this was pretty good, and it was! Even though there was a bit of starch, the sharp acidity from black vinegar was pretty nice.
The failure, though, came in the form of the apple fritters on the side. Just not very good at all... and the batter just tasted off.
Hello Kitty steamed sausage rolls (腸仔卷) - these were as good as I remembered, with baby franks instead of the Cantonese sausage that they should have come with.
Giant Hello Kitty birthday bun (百子千孫) - now THIS was the pièce de résistance! I reminded our organizer to pre-order this, as this was a special item which they only make a limited number per day. I was soooo happy that we got this! Just look at the size of that thing!
This was supposed to come with 8 little steamed buns inside, a mix of lotus seed paste buns and custard buns with egg yolk. But today they only came with lotus seed paste buns...
The lotus seed paste buns (蓮蓉包) were honestly a little subpar. Maybe because they've been sitting under the "dome" for too long and dried out from the heat...
Yes, the bun dome is edible. In fact, it was a little more moist than the buns underneath.
Hello Kitty custard buns with egg yolk (流沙包) - actually not bad, and probably as good as I remembered.
Hello Kitty steamed brown sugar sponge cake (馬拉糕) - not as good as my first time. The color looked much paler, and is kinda pale yellow instead of more brown. Maybe they used less brown sugar today.
We (the adults and the kids) were having so much fun that we ended up overstaying our welcome a little, but the manager was pretty gracious about it, so we left them a nice little tip. I'm pretty sure this won't be my last visit here...
Due to scheduling issues that are becoming more and more of a problem for us, we had to postpone one of our MNSC dinner from 2016 and push it into 2017. Juliano chose The Chin's (中華匯館), which had recently opened in the same spot that used to house the Central outlet of Sun Tung Lok (新同樂). The chef behind the new outfit is Ringo Chow (周卓雲), who was originally the chef at China Tang (唐人館) in London, so naturally expectations are high.
The Chin's appetizer platter (中華匯館拼盤) - this included four different items:
Soft-boiled egg with caviar (黑魚子流心蛋) - pretty nice, with some caviar on top to add some savory touches.
Pan-fried tofu (金磚豆腐) - somewhat crispy on the outside while still silky inside.
Kagoshima Chamiton barbecued pork (鹿兒島茶美豚叉燒) - made with pork shoulder (脢頭肉) and using a mixture of black beans, oyster sauce, and galangal instead of the more common honey glaze. Very nicely marbled and tasty.
Sea cucumber in mala sauce (麻辣海參) - definitely spicy and numbing. Not exactly good for a wine dinner.
Drunken pigeon with Huadiao wine (花雕醉乳鴿) - this was done very nicely. The pigeon was tender and tasty, and the chef didn't overdo it with the wine... so there was no bitter aftertaste.
Imperial scholar's five-snake soup (太史五蛇羹) - Chef Chow apparently used to work at the banquet hall of Hang Seng Bank (恆生銀行博愛堂) under famed chef Lee Yuk-lam (李煜霖), and therefore picked up the recipe for the famed snake soup.
This was indeed very good. All the ingredients were finely sliced, and every so often my mouthful would contain a shred of aged tangerine peel, giving off a wonderful fragrance. Flavor-wise this was neither too tame nor too salty - like what Tim's Kitchen (桃花源小廚) serves nowadays. In fact, this probably comes closest to my favorite snake soup that's served at my favorite private dining facility - and unlike the other place, this place is open to everyone.
Kung pao lobster (宮保龍蝦球) - at this point we were seriously thinking that Juliano was plotting to fuck with our palates. First the mala (麻辣) sauce with the sea cucumber, now you've got kung pao (宮保) sauce for the lobster. My tongue was back on fire.
The dish, though, did get a couple of us to reminisce about the stir-fried lobster dish at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), and lament about the decline of food quality there after the head chef's departure to Spring Moon (嘉麟樓) at the Peninsula Hong Kong.
Pigeon leg stuffed with bird's nest (燕窩釀鴿腿) - this was pretty interesting. The exterior was nicely done and very tasty. Although I don't care much for bird's nest, it didn't detract from the overall flavors. Curiously there was the distinct fragrance of Mei Kuei Lu (玫瑰露), which made me wonder if the chef had used a little bit of liver sausage in the filling.
Deep-fried wagyu beef shoulder (和牛肩肉) - after our protestations about our palates getting killed by the spicy food, Juliano asked the kitchen to take out the original mala (麻辣) sauce from this dish, but I still tasted a hint of the Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) with the numbing sensation. The beef itself was fatty and tender, but taken together with the deep-fried batter it seemed a little too fatty and greasy for me.
Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - pretty decent version of the classic dish. Nothing to complain about.
Fresh tofu skin with baby Chinese cabbage (濃湯鮮腐竹浸金娃菜) - the tofu skin was very nice, and the veg in a warm broth was a welcome change to all the very "heaty" dishes that have been served so far.
Abalone rice (原隻鮑魚中華匯飯) - pretty tasty, especially the abalone on top. I guess this wasn't meant to be one of those fried rice dishes with lots of wok hei (鑊氣) as the rice grains were a little on the soft side, but still tasty.
Walnut cookies (核桃酥)
Steamed layered sponge cake (千層糕)
Roselle jelly with azuki beans (洛神花紅豆糕) - I appreciated the acidity here, which was a nice way to finish up the meal.
Our host Juliano prepared a surprising lineup of wines for us tonight, all delicious, to be sure. But once again we kinda demonstrated our inability to come up with inspired guesses as to their identities...
2007 Coche-Dury Meursault Les Rougeots - nice and big toasty nose despite being served very cold. Showed savory and mineral notes. Beautiful.
1971 Trotanoy - opened and served 1 hour and 45 minutes later from bottle. A little minty, earthy, a little ripe and still showing nice fruit. Second pour was much sweeter, and almost a little coconut. 94 points.
1971 Rayas - opened 1 hour prior to decanting, and served 45 minutes after decanting. More ripe and oxidized, almost maderized. Cleaner on the palate, very sweet and almost jammy, but also a little savory at the same time. 93 points.
Second pair: opened 2½ hours prior to serving without decanting.
1976 Faiveley Musigny - a little alcoholic on the nose, still kinda closed. 92 points.
1989 Faiveley Musigny - showing a little fruit with some sweetness, still got some tannins here. 92 points.
Second pair: opened 1 hour prior to decanting, and served 2½ hours after decanting.
1975 Lafleur - stinky, a little savory, smoky, with some sweetness. Somewhat tannic on the palate. 94 points.
1986 Lafleur - a little metallic, minty. With new pour became very sweet with lots of ripe fruit, almost cconut. 95 points.
A mere two months after we met up in Singapore, L was back in town for another business trip. This time she again requested that the Great One and I take her to Ta Vie 旅, since Sato-san was away when she last came to town. I was only too happy to oblige, having not visited one of my favorite restaurants for the entire second half of last year... This meant that the entire current menu was new to me. Yes!!! I had seen pictures of some of the dishes on social media, and I finally got the opportunity to taste them for myself.
Kegani crab and avocado cocktail with black vinegar sauce, covered with chrysanthemum jelly - the Japanese horsehair crab (毛蟹) from Hokkaido (北海道) was served with some crunchy bits of cucumber along with black vinegar and ginger, on top of a bed of avocado. The addition of black vinegar and ginger to the crab meat really does emulate the classic flavors of dipping Shanghainese hairy crab (大閘蟹) into black vinegar that has been sweetened with brown sugar and sprinkled with finely diced ginger. Very, very delicious, and the creaminess from the avocado worked really well to tame the acidity of the black vinegar. Not sure what additional flavors the sheet of jelly on top added, but the chrysanthemum petals sure looked pretty!
Nukazuke (糠漬け) bread - ah... I missed this homemade bread. But as I am on a diet, I decided to just one one of these.
Homemade butter - always yum, although they've changed the look and it no longer comes as a square block.
Roasted "nameta" turbot with cauliflower - the ladies all got their shirako (白子) meunière, but Sato-san is well-acquainted with my distaste for fish cum, so he arranged to serve me slime flounder (滑多鰈) from Hokkaido instead. This was pretty nice, with Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cauliflower purée alongside.
Black egg custard topped with aori squid and colorful radish - one of Sato-san's signature dishes since his days at Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟). The bigfin reef squid (アオリイカ) came from Shikoku (四国), and the pieces were meticulously scored before being lightly torched. Soooo soooo tender. And I always love the acidity from the ponzu (ポン酢) that comes with the squid ink custard.
"Civet" braised abalone with abalone shell - "civet" here refers not to the civet cat, but to the traditional French method of cooking items in jars sitting inside a water bath. The abalone has been braised this way, and served with shiitake (椎茸) mushrooms, pearl onions, and an abalone liver sauce. Very, very tasty. Hearty flavors which are perfect for winter. The "shell" on top isn't a real abalone shell, but an edible cookie made to resemble the shell.
House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - an extra dish from Sato-san, who knows how much I love it. In fact, I included it in my post on "the best dishes I had in 2016". This is such a simple yet delicious dish - which fits perfectly with Sato-san's philosphy. It only took a split second for Hello Kitty to inhale this, and she then had to audacity to ask me to share some of my portion with her... Sigh... In the end I did give up one of my three tongues of sea urchin - which were soooo deliciously sweet. Yes, the sea urchin that is soaked in sea water (海水雲丹) is still the best in my book.
Pan seared Ise-lobster, braised fennel, Buddha's hand confit - the Japanese spiny lobster (伊勢海老) came from... (where else?) Ise (伊勢), of course... Very fresh and sweet while drenched in lobster butter, with diced confit of Buddha's hand to impart some wonderful fragrance. The tomatoes on the side went through a drying process which greatly enhanced their flavors... which were almost explosive inside the mouth.
"Charcoal roasted" wagyu smoked with "hoba" leaf, glazed with Arima pepper sauce - the tenderloin from Kagoshima (鹿児島) came charcoal roasted with some simmered sansho peppercorns from Arima (有馬山椒). These were not as marbled as many Kagoshima beef that one would find around town, but still very tender and delicious nevertheless. Wrapped in hoba (朴葉) - the leaf of the Japanese bigleaf magnolia - for their distinctive fragrance. Served with some grilled maitake (舞茸) mushrooms.
amazake - certainly nice and sweet, with a little bit of Japanese mikan (蜜柑).
Oriental mulled wine - I happen to see a post on Facebook by the restaurant earlier today, and it piqued my curiosity about this. Since it was still a little chilly today (or were my hands cold because of the strong aircon in the office?) I figured I could use a glass of mulled wine. Takano-san showed me the box that contained all the spices they used - rosebud, Iron Buddha tea (鐵觀音), Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, aged mandarin peel, cloves, Taiwanese mountain litsea (馬告), cinnamon, dried jujube, and luohanguo (羅漢果). In addition, fresh ginger, fresh orange peel, and honey were also used.
The spices were soaked in a mug of heated red wine for a few minutes. I must admit that the fragrance was very complex, certainly with the sweetness of oranges as well as many of the other spices. Very nice.
"Reminiscing in winter child's play": creme d'ange and mandarin sorbet under "Kamakura" snow igloo - another dish which had recently been posted on FB, as Sato-san lamented that he hadn't seen snow since he arrived in Hong Kong some 5 years ago...
Hidden under the candy shell were slices of fresh Japanese mikan (蜜柑), mikan sorbet, as well as creme d'ange made with yogurt. I did like the mix of sweetness and acidity, as well as having the creaminess contrasting with the fruit.
"Les Feuilles Mortes": fresh chestnuts Mont-Blanc with Pu'er tea ice cream - I'm glad to be having this dessert again, and the presentation has changed and edible "dead leaves" have been added. The Mont Blanc isn't very sweet but retains all the flavors from the chestnut, and the meringue underneath was also nice without too much sugar. A few of the ladies inhaled the quenelle of Pu'er ice cream without realizing that it's made from tea and therefore will have caffeine...
Pandan chiffon cake - my dear friend L hand-carried this from Singapore, and it was delicious. Slightly more dense and a lot more moist than the ones tourists keep buying from Bengawan Solo, and the best thing is that it came with a tub of gula melaka cream - which the kitchen helped us quenelle. We couldn't finish the whole cake, and we decided to share half of it with Sato-san and his team.
Matcha - for once, I decided not to have the house herbal tea...
Walnut meringue - as the petits fours are paired with one's drink, tonight I got to have these walnut meringues. My poor friend L did not want an after-dinner drink, so she got nothing...
My Favorite Cousin and I brought a few bottles for the evening...
2004 Inflorescence La Parcelle Côte de Béchalin, dégorgée en Avril 2011 - toasty and mineral. Ripe and round on the palate.
2004 Kistler Chardonnay McCrea Vineyard - buttery nose with plenty of toast. Wonderful ripeness and sweetness in the nose, and still pretty alcoholic. Finish was a little bitter when the wine warmed up.
2006 La Spinetta Barolo Vürsù Vigneto Campè - nose was very sharp and alcoholic. Lots of fruit and plenty of eucalyptus. Still very, very young.
This was a really good evening. I'm glad to have caught up with L and the other ladies, and so glad to have finally tried some of Sato-san's newer creations. After my very first dinner here, I had boldly opined that Sato-san's cuisine would earn the restaurant two Michelin stars. Well... they only got one in their first year, but were finally upgraded to two stars last year. Sato-san remembered what I wrote, and reminded me when we ran into each other towards the end of last year. Well, I think their two stars are well-deserved, and I'll need to come back more often this year!
Champagne Princess is in town, stopping by for a few days on her way to her true homeland. She wanted to get together with Rice and I at Neighborhood, so I found myself back there after a 2-week absence. I did check ahead with the Man in White T-shirt, and made sure to reserve something specific ahead of time.
Dutch Pacific oysters - pretty crunchy and briny. This particular seemed malnourished, so the kitchen sent us another one that was fatty and huge.
Heirloom tomato terrine / burrata cream - the kitchen sent us this crowd favorite, and I really do love the seven different types of heirloom tomatoes which have been compressed to make this. The basil was very, very fragrant, and the balsamic provided a nice finishing touch along with the cracked pepper.
Hokkaido scallops / caramelized sunchoke - this was pretty nice. The scallops were mi-cuit, and the Jerusalem artichokes were tastier than I thought they would be. Of course, some black truffle shavings don't hurt...
Yellow chanterelle / frittata - the kitchen clearly thought we hadn't ordered enough food, because they sent us another dish. These chanterelles were definitely very tasty, and there seemed to be no better companion than runny eggs!
Fried chicken wings - these were sooo, sooo good! The skin was still moist and had absorbed all the flavors of the marinade. Came with black truffle shavings and Chinese black olives (欖角). Definitely finger-lickin' good.
60 day dry aged "Rubia Gallega" beef ribeye - THIS was the main event. It's been a long time since I last had me some Rubia Gallega, and I'm glad we got the ribeye. I've really, really missed this beef. As was the case before, this came from an animal that had led a long life - in this case more than 16 years old.
I took two piece closer to the middle, so they were fairly rare. I loooove the flavors from these old cows, which were so much more complex than your usual beef. But this ribeye was only dry aged for 60 days, so while the process tenderized the meat and concentrated the flavors, it didn't quite get to the blue cheese-like stage that I used to love about these. Still, I was very, very happy.
The mashed potatoes, however, were a little too healthy. Just not enough butter here...
Roast giant grouper head - this was the surprise that was in store for us. I've only had the head of a giant grouper (龍躉) once before, and back then it also came from a 70-catty fish. Last time, though, there were 12 of us sharing half a head, and this time the 5 of us got ourselves a quarter...
The four of us who love this stuff dug in greedily, trimming bits and pieces here and there away from the bony head. LOTS of collagen here, and the flavors can get a little "fishy". But the sauce was simply awesome - as always. With tomato, basil, and garnished with some black olives, this was something we could not let go easily. We asked for extra portions of bread so that we could soak up as much sauce as possible.
I think Rice was happy... he took the eye of the grouper.
Baked Mont d'Or - the ladies asked for this, as it is the right season for Vacherin-Mont d'Or. Of course it's better with black truffle shavings on top! Soooo good to scoop spoonfuls of liquid, gooey cheese into the mouth...
We didn't need any dessert after the cheese, so we just had the usual canelés.
Us winos ended up opening all 5 bottles that we brought, and there were a few unusual and interesting bottles tonight.
Someone is allergic to sulfur, so a filter was brought out and used on one of the glasses of the chardonnay...
2005 Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay Ashley's Vineyard - pretty powerful nose, with some toasty notes. Ripe, hot and alcoholic on the palate. Later on I definitely noticed the pungent sulfur.
2008 Movia Lunar 8. - unfiltered and very, very cloudy. Really, really sweet nose showing very ripe honeydew melons, with a hint of pear
2007 Egly-Ouriet Cuvée des Grands Côtes Vieilles Vignes - opened for 1 hour prior to serving. Lovely nose showing floral and leather notes, with exotic spices as well as some toasty notes later. Very fragrant and elegant wine.
2011 Egly-Ouriet Cuvée des Grands Côtes Vieilles Vignes - opened for 1 hour prior to serving. Much more toasty on the nose, with sweet fruit. After 1 hour and 45 minutes, the nose really opened up and became a little softer.
2009 Bernard Van Berg Les Gamets - made from Gamay vines planted in 1957, with a production of just 269 bottles. Opened more than 2 hours prior to serving. Intense nose of toasty oak, with lots of grilled meats as well as animal notes. Pretty smooth on the palate. A very nice wine, if somewhat lacking in complexity. Reminiscent of a good Morgon.
1988 Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Pérignon - really ripe, with straw, a little savory and almost like black truffles, along with salted plum and Chinese licorice.
It was a lot of fun to get together and drink some of these "educational" bottles which were eye-opening. Too bad the Man in White T-Shirt had another, more important engagement tonight...
We were graced by another visit from the King, who is in town for a few days for an event. A few of us were around to catch up with him, and guess who got to pick the restaurant? Well... I was trying to pick something interesting without a lengthy tasting menu, since there would only be three or four of us - which pretty much ruled out Chinese. I was already visiting two of my favorite restaurants earlier in the week, so I was forced to pick something else.
As the King was staying in Wanchai, the idea of revisiting Serge et le Phoque popped into my head. I had heard that these guys were gonna close up shop, which was surprising given that they had just gotten themselves a coveted macaron back in November, but hey... what the hell do I know? It's no secret that lots of restaurants in town were having a hard time, what with ever rising rents and other costs.
So I was kinda surprised when someone actually picked up the phone when I called. The person on the line was equally surprised, upon hearing me inquire whether they were closing. Well, I guess that means they ain't going nowhere...
I do have to say, though, that I was remiss in not giving out instructions on getting there to the others. I was the only one who had visited the restaurant before, and the others all had some trouble finding the rather non-descript space, walking back and forth on the street a few times before suddenly seeing the small neon letters above the door.
The gang even left it up to me to decide whether we would order à la carte or take the chef's menu. As much as I was tempted to cherry pick exactly what I wanted to eat - and be able to take the dry-aged Galician cote de boeuf - in the end I chickened out and went back to the chef's menu.
Our amuse bouche was half a cherry sitting in a bowl of cherry juice. The acidity certainly helped whet our appetites, and the toasted buckwheat was a real nice touch.
Buchot mussels: with karashi miso - pretty decent, with a slight kick.
Tapioca: deep fried with Comté cheese and harissa - honestly didn't taste too much of the Comté, although the harissa dip on the side gave things a little kick.
Ylellow tail: cevich, avocado, raspberry - the yellowtail was pretty good, and this being a ceviche and all, it wasn't surprising that the acidity was pretty high. I guess the raspberry was meant to deliver some sweetness to balance out the acidity, while the avocado would add a little creamy smoothness in the mouth. Interesting addition, though, of the red onion and celery leaves.
Scallops: pan fried with Cantabria anchovies and yuzu kosho - a dish I remember well from my last visit. The scallops were nicely done, and the salty flavors came primarily from the Cantabrian anchovy fillet. The deep-fried garlic leek roots were delicious, and there was some additional umami coming from wafers of shiitake (椎茸) mushrooms. While the dish was delicious as is, dabbing a little of the yuzukosho (柚子胡椒) on the side of the plate got the tastebuds dancing (and flaming) a little...
Red Mullet: with octopus, squid ink - pretty decent, although I found the octopus (both tentacle as well as the head) to be a lot more interesting than the mullet itself. The squid ink with smoked garlic on the side added a slightly heavier and more interesting touch.
Cabbage: grilled with beurre noisette - I thought I tasted a slight hint of cumin. In any case, a generous serving of green veg was much appreciated.
Charlotte potatoes: crushed with salted butter - this was very, very yummy. If I weren't on a diet, I would have asked for another plate.
Lamb: milk fed from Pyrenees with cauliflower and potatoes - the lamb was absolutely delicious - especially the chop. I would have gladly taken another two of those...
I decided to go for dessert instead of cheese, and ended up with ones I have already tasted on previous visits.
Lemon cream: with capsicum jelly - always thought the use of capsicum here was interesting.
Dacquoise: almond biscuit, vanilla cream and nougatine - always a crowd favorite, and the chilled vanilla cream was very nice.
Chocolate: tart with umeboshi salt - another crowd favorite. Can't fault them on this, and the salted plum salt always adds an interesting twist.
I brought a bottle of red, and we decided to order a bottle off the list from a winery that I've been wanting to try for a long time. This meant the corkage was waived on the bottle I brought.
2013 Gauby Côtes Catalanes Blanc Vieilles Vignes - very cloudy due to extended skin contact and non-filtration. Initially it smelled like cider and a little pear. Ripe on the nose and a little honey, but also has a little pungent side to it... a little jarring and elements not integrating well. Pretty short finish.
2004 Ponsot Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes - opened for 1½ hours prior to serving. Very fragrant nose with nice fruit, very sweet. After 2 hours the sweetness in the nose intensified even further, but the palate deteriorated and was no longer pleasant.
It was good to see my old friends again, and I am glad that Serge et le Phoque is still around. Perhaps I should think about going a little more frequently than once a year...
Hello Kitty surprised me this Christmas with a present. I had briefly talked about my curiosity in drones, but didn't think that a guy who sucks big time at video games and can't handle a joystick would be able to operate one properly. I never gave it much thought. Well, I suddenly found myself with a DJI Phantom 4, and frankly I was a little overwhelmed.
But after doing extensive homework and thinking about the circumstances under which I would most likely use a drone, I decided to exchange it for the brand new DJI Mavic Pro - which can be folded down and is incredibly portable. It was backlogged and I had to pre-order it on New Year's Eve when I decided to return the Phantom 4.
This week I finally got the call I was waiting for, and picked up my drone. I was eager to take it out for a test drive, and coordinated with Fergie - who had picked up his Mavic Pro a few days earlier - so that we would go and fly our drones together.
After an unexpected delay, we finally met up at the South Entrance of Tai Tam Country Park. Fergie brought the whole family out - down to the dog. After reaching the rest/barbecue area, the two of us set up our drones and launched them into the air.
After getting it up in the air and making sure I've gotten the hang of the basic flight controls, I sent the drone over the Tai Tam Reservoir towards the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Dam and filmed the journey. I was still a little clumsy with the controls, which resulted in me spinning the drone around a little too quickly. By this time the drone was obscured by the trees around me and I no longer had line of sight, and since I started without a full battery, my remote controller started beeping when battery level dipped below a preset threshold of 30%. I hit the "return to home" button, and in a couple of minutes the drone flew back to my location and landed without a hitch.
With a fresh battery, I sent the drone up again to test out a couple of the more sophisticated flight modes. First I tried Follow-me, which for some reason wouldn't work when the drone was below an altitude of 10 meters. After I made sure there was sufficient altitude, it did kinda work, albeit a little slowly. I got the drone to follow me around as I changed directions.
Then I tried out TapFly - which is where you tap a certain point on the screen and send the drone to that point. You can also change the speed of the drone with a slider during this mode. Now, I had previously set a maximum distance of 450m as a precaution, but I had forgotten about this restriction. So I was a little frustrated when the drone automatically stopped with it reached this distance, even though I wanted it to go further and reach the Reservoir Dam.
The kiddies were getting hungry, so we packed it up and headed back towards the car. I was encouraged to take a group shot of us with the drone up in the air while we stood on one of the bridges. I guess that was a first for me... even though the Mavic Pro definitely has a Gesture mode designed for people to take selfies.
All in all, it was a pretty successful outing. The weather was beautiful and sunny, which was perfect for flying the drone. My own regret was that I was so occupied with making sure I could fly and control the drone that I forgot to control the camera and the video functions. I totally forgot to tap the screen to autofocus the camera, and I also forgot to increase the exposure to compensate for the glaring sun. Oh well, I'll do better next time!
P.S. The videos today were all shot in 4K, and when I got home I realized that the size of a 5-minute video would come to more than 2GB! I'm glad I got that 128GB microSD card, then...