Articles on this Page
- 02/21/17--10:54: _Bangkok 2017 day 4:...
- 02/21/17--22:55: _Bangkok 2017 day 5:...
- 02/22/17--07:53: _Bangkok 2017 day 5:...
- 02/19/17--00:45: _Droning Boy: above ...
- 02/22/17--22:45: _Bangkok 2017 day 6:...
- 02/23/17--07:53: _Bangkok 2017 day 6:...
- 02/11/17--22:55: _Droning Boy: island...
- 03/02/17--07:43: _A few bites of Sweden
- 03/03/17--07:18: _Cooking for mom
- 03/04/17--06:14: _Up mountain and dow...
- 03/06/17--05:35: _Canto dinner for two
- 03/07/17--07:50: _Champagne wishes an...
- 03/09/17--06:37: _Café Müller and the...
- 03/11/17--06:57: _Remembering 3/11
- 03/14/17--07:52: _Senpai's big birthday
- 03/15/17--08:28: _An Italian in the V...
- 03/17/17--08:36: _A taste of the Riviera
- 03/19/17--23:22: _First touristy lunc...
- 03/21/17--22:37: _Second touristy lun...
- 03/22/17--06:10: _Once more for nosta...
- 02/21/17--10:54: Bangkok 2017 day 4: three after parties
- 02/21/17--22:55: Bangkok 2017 day 5: I'll have what Califa had
- 02/22/17--07:53: Bangkok 2017 day 5: decoding Gaggan Anand
- 02/19/17--00:45: Droning Boy: above the lungs of Bangkok
- 02/22/17--22:45: Bangkok 2017 day 6: one last meal
- 02/23/17--07:53: Bangkok 2017 day 6: party crashing with delicious meats
- 02/11/17--22:55: Droning Boy: island of the gods
- 03/02/17--07:43: A few bites of Sweden
- 03/03/17--07:18: Cooking for mom
- 03/04/17--06:14: Up mountain and down sea, again
- 03/06/17--05:35: Canto dinner for two
- 03/07/17--07:50: Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, beluga edition
- 03/09/17--06:37: Café Müller and the Rite of Spring
- 03/11/17--06:57: Remembering 3/11
- 03/14/17--07:52: Senpai's big birthday
- 03/15/17--08:28: An Italian in the Valley
- 03/17/17--08:36: A taste of the Riviera
- 03/19/17--23:22: First touristy lunch of the week
- 03/21/17--22:37: Second touristy lunch of the week
- 03/22/17--06:10: Once more for nostalgia's sake
So... the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2017 awards are done and dusted, and it was now time to paaaaartaaaay! First stop was back in the courtyard of the House on Sathorn, where we have a ton of food and drink.
There was a ton of local food, organised by the region in Thailand where they originate - so we've got sai ua sausages from Chiang Mai, barbecued whole pork, and they even brought in the famed Thip Samai to serve their signature pad Thai and Soi Polo Fried Chicken. Of course where was also an oyster bar and a ton of meat - including a really impressive hip of Tajima wagyu that was slow-roasted.
But as good as the food looked, I really wasn't interested in most of it. So I nibbled on some of the roast pork, grabbed a few people, and headed for a "second round" at an old favorite.
A few of us snuck out of last year's after party at the House of Sathorn and skipped the after party at Gaggan (which was definitely a mistake...) to go to Raan Jay Fai (ร้านเจ๊ไฟ). We loved it so much that we went back 2 nights later. So there was no way that we'd come to Bangkok this year without hitting it at least once!
We were here to watch Sister Mole work her magic, as she stands in front of her charcoal-fired woks in full regalia - knitted cap, ski goggles, and pink wellies.
Crab meat omelet (ไข่เจียวปู) - as a certain hit from last summer says... this is what we came for. Arguably the most expensive omelet in town, but so, soooo worth it.
The party was catered by Baan Ice (บ้านไอซ์), and they gathered a bunch of street food vendors to give us a real taste of Thailand.
Occasionally we would run into Your Highness, who came to offer a taste of whatever was on his plate. I was pretty full, but a bite of that river snail curry was definitely interesting. My biggest regret, though, was missing out of the boat noodles that everyone was raving about. It was so popular that by the time I got around to it, they had long run out and were packing up to leave.
Hello Kitty was getting a little tired, so we ended up leaving the party "early" somewhere around 2:30 a.m. Word was that some people stuck around till 6ish... after the boss himself had gone home at 4 a.m. and handed the keys to his restaurant to Richard Ekkebus...
P.S. In case anyone was wondering, there werekatoys among the crowd last night. All those "ladies" dressed up in Thai costume? Uh-huh...
Paste was always going to be on my agenda for this trip, having heard good feedback from both the Great One
Lick My Toes and Haokoufu last year. Then I found out that my friend the Hungry Tourist also loves this place, so that made things even more interesting.
I preferred to be "under the radar" on my first visit to a restaurant, so I turned down the Hungry Tourist's offer to join him for lunch the day I arrived. Instead, I had Hello Kitty reserve a table in her name, and tried not to be too public about when I would be dining here. Alas, I slipped up and failed to keep things under wraps.
Our original booking for 4 eventually turned to 7, and as I called the restaurant to ask for a bigger table, the person answering the phone immediately asked me whether the Great One was coming (she was not), and proceeded to ask whether I was still coming. So we had been outed... probably by my friend the Hungry Tourist, who was obviously trying to help one of his favorite restaurants make a good impression on us.
With 7 of us - and most of us visiting for the first time - we decided to forgo the challenge of ordering from the menu, and asked for the chef to arrange everything for us - omakase (お任せ). Effectively, we did a "I'll have what he's having"... and in this case we were having what my friend was having on his visits just days before. We found out afterwards that the kitchen had been told to dial down the heat, knowing that I don't like my food really spicy.
I really liked this meal, and in fact it's probably the best Thai meal I've had across my two trips recently. I can't speak to the "authenticity" of the flavors, although it would seem that Chef Bee has done her homework and some of the recipes appear to be old school. But what's key for me is that there were no fails today across the range of dishes we had - some were even standouts. For me, this would be the fine dining Thai restaurant of my choice in Bangkok.
The only issue I had with our meal today had nothing to do with the food but with logistics. There were too many of us sharing the same dishes, and as everyone wanted to snap pictures of the beautifully presented food, it took a little time for everyone to have their turn. As a consequence, the temperature of the food wasn't ideal. It was also a little frantic and at times confusing as to who has or has not taken a photo or tasted the dish. I would imagine that a smaller party with fewer dishes would have delivered a calmer, more relaxed experience in the serene dining room.
I'll try that next time I visit Bangkok.
Having sung happy birthday to the birthday boy in front of a crowd at the unofficial after party in the wee hours of this morning, the Great One, Hello Kitty, and I are back at Gaggan. At our Gaggan x Den dinner a few nights ago, after giving him a special birthday present, Gaggan Anand very kindly invited the three of us back for dinner tonight.
When we arrived for our 6 p.m. seating, sommelier Vladimir was in the house but looking a little worn out from party last night (or should I say this morning?). Gaggan was nowhere to be found, but we all know he had a rough night after the unofficial after-party he threw after winning the top spot of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants for an unprecedented third year in a row. Thankfully he showed up soon after, and actually looked pretty together - unlike the picture he posted on social media. We were once again seated in the Lab area of the restaurant, which was deliberately kept at about half capacity in light of the staff suffering from some serious lack of sleep...
But first, a little bubbly to start...
A (spice) B (citrus) 🍋 = C (cola) - scented mist billowed out of the box carrying our enamel mugs, and we were asked to guess the content of the mug from the fragrance. Turns out this was just a combination of lemon and spices with a littl salt that turned into cola... but a savory one. So we started our dinner with 咸檸樂...
Charcoal 🌑 prawn amristsari - this time the charcoal tempura (天ぷら) shell - made by mixing burnt eggplant skin into rice batter - served as a coating for the minced lamb inside. The filling was a little fatty and had curry leaves inside. Loved it.
What an amazing bite.
Akami 🌮 tartar - after the fatty tuna belly, it was now time to taste the leaner flesh from the tuna's back. The akami (赤身) was chopped into tartare and became the filling of tiny tacos made from khakhra (ખાખરા). Nice kick here...
Tomato 🍵 matcha - once again, Gaggan served us his matcha (抹茶) made not with tea but with tomato... although no solids this time. Tomato consommé was poured on top of freeze-dried tomato powder in our bowls, then whisked to create the foam. Love the spicy kick from chill.
Pork vindaloo 🍖 cutlet - the first of five curries tonight. This tonkatsu (とんかつ) was made with pata negra Iberico suckling pig, crunchy outside with a soft and juicy center, with onions and a little bit of spice from Japanese mustard.
2015 William Downie Pinot Noir Yarra Valley - a little forest and leather notes. Higher acidity.
Totally awesome. Mind blown. How can this pile of ingredients - cold to the touch - taste like the best curry I've ever had?! When people talk about food being "emotional" or having an "emotional moment" while dining, surely this is one of those moments.
Quail 🐥 chettinad - curry #3, made with tamarind, black pepper, and other herbs - no tomatoes or green chilis. Roasted in a tandoor (but, as Gaggan stressed, not done tandoori-style). Yum. Never met a quail I didn't like.
Cedar wood 🐟 paturi - Gaggan started by taking a torch gun to our food, setting it on fire and letting it burn for a while...
What we got was Thai sea bass done as a Bengali mustard curry, wrapped in a layer of cedar paper inside a banana leaf. So while the banana leaf burned, the cedar was heated to give off a wonderful fragrance.
Crab curry 🦀 chawanmushi - #5 and the last curry of the meal. This was essentially the same as the "raw curry", but done at a hot temperature and replacing scallop with crab. Crab curry chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) with basmati rice inside. Very, very delish... but the curry rice from the Gaggan x Den dinner simply cannot be topped...
Strawberry 🍓 ghewar - the ghewar was filled with pastry cream and topped with a half of Japanese strawberry from Shizuoka (静岡), a layer of elderflower jelly, and a dab of gold foil. This was sooooo sooooo delicious... like an Indian version of the ubiquitous Japanese strawberry shortcake. I could have easily eaten three more of these, but I wanted to save some room for our "second round"...
There wasn't a second seating tonight, so we sat around and just hung out at the Lab. Vladimir and Gaggan very kindly offered me more wine, but I was happy with my alcohol intake. So... at some point, Gaggan decided to offer us some of his tea which he referred to as "the Romanée-Conti of tea"... He asked his staff to fetch a couple of boxes, one of which had something like "DON'T EVEN THINK OF TOUCHING THIS EVER" written on the outside.
When it was finally time to go, we were offered a ride to one of Gaggan's favorite street food stalls around Silom. When we got out of the car, I saw Gaggan and Vladimir talking to Chef Prin Polsuk from nahm. When you have the chefs from the top two restaurants in Thailand - according to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, that is - at the same street food stall, you know that's some good shit!
It was past 1:30 a.m., and some of us were fading fast after a late night last night. We bid farewell to Gaggan and company, thanked them for the hospitality, and told them we'd be seeing them soon...
P.S. We knew that when Gaggan invites us for dinner, he wouldn't let us pay. But we tried to, anyway... The Great One and I snuck downstairs and asked for A, the affable restaurant manager. Not unexpectedly, he refused to accept payment and told us that we can pay next time. Knowing there is never a "next time", we asked to record his promise on video so that we could hold him to it when "next time" came around. A ran away from us...
Thankfully, though, both the Great One and myself had come prepared, and we each brought a bottle of Champagne as a gift to Gaggan on his birthday. Of course, the bottle of bubbly from the Kat was better than mine...
I'm spending quite a few days in Bangkok on this trip, and wanted to do something a little different... more than just eating at restaurants. I wanted to do something a little off the beaten path. And I knew just where I wanted to go.
A few years ago I was privileged to have been invited as a speaker at TEDxVictoriaHarbour, and I was mesmerised by the story of one of my fellow speakers. Alisa lives on Bang Krachao - a riverine island sometimes referred to as "the lungs of Bangkok". She talked about her life living on the island, away from the hustle and bustle of the metropolis, in a house built in part with recycled materials. It sounded so far away from my daily life that I found it intriguing.
So I contacted Alisa and asked for tips on visiting the island, and eventually I made plans to meet up with her for lunch today. It's Sunday, and the Ban Nam Pheung Floating Market (ตลาดน้ำบางน้ำผึ้ง) - which is just a market by a canal and there aren't any vendors hawking their wares on boats - would be open for us to walk around in.
We took a taxi from Sathorn and crossed the Chao Phraya River on the Bhumibol 1 Bridge, then doubled back to get on the island. We got dropped off at the market, and after wandering around a little, we did eventually meet up with Alisa and her husband Landry, as well as their adorable daughter.
Among the many vendors at the market was this stall selling traditional peanut candy called khanom tup tap (ขนมตุ๊บตั๊บ) - named for the pounding sound one hears during the process of making it. The Great One and I were both pretty excited to see it being made.
Once we were done with lunch, Landry helped me find a place nearby the launch my drone. I had brought my DJI Mavic Pro with me so that I could fly it over the island, with the skyscrapers of Bangkok in the distance. Eventually we found a basketball court that provided enough clearing for the task.
I was pretty glad that I made the trip, and wish that we could have spent more time on the island. I look forward to going back again, perhaps renting a bicycle to explore more of the island. And of course to fly my drone again.
We're leaving Bangkok tonight after having eaten our way around town, but before we do, there was one last meal to be had. My friend L flew in today for a short business trip, and we managed to catch up with each other in Bangkok of all places.p
Having gone through a few Thai restaurants ranging from fine dining to historical hole-in-the-walls, I decided to go somewhere sort of mid-range. Taling Pling (ตะลิงปลิง) is a local chain with a few convenient locations, and the branch in CentralWorld seemed to be a convenient location for all of us.
The three of us each picked out some dishes that we wanted to try, so we ended up with a lot of food...
This was a pretty good lunch at a popular chain restaurant in a busy shopping mall. Not in line to be one of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, to be sure, but still provided us with a delicious meal. I was happy to have caught up with my friend as we were wrapping up our trip to Bangkok.
We thought we've had our last meal in Bangkok as we headed for Suvarnabhumi Airport, but thanks to a bout of stupidity with yours truly, we managed to miss our flight out of the city. Due to previously scheduled commitments the next morning, we ended up booking ourselves on a redeye flight at an ungodly hour. So... with more than 8 hours until we fly out, we decided the only thing for us to do was to head back into the city and get ourselves some dinner.
Having failed to pay for both of our meals at Gaggan this past week, Hello Kitty felt that we could show our appreciation by going to Meatlicious and finally paying for a meal there. We decided to try out the Airport Rail Link, and took the train to Ramkhamhaeng Station, then grabbed a taxi to Ekkamai Soi 6.
I pinged Gaggan on our way to the restaurant, asking him whether we'd have a problem getting seats at the last minute. I knew he was already in the middle of service for the first seating, so I didn't really expect to hear back from him.
My phone rang in the middle of dinner, and it was Gaggan - wondering whether I was OK. I told him we were already at Meatlicious and that everything was fine. Five seconds after Gaggan hung up, it was Jorge's phone's turn to ring. Of course Gaggan was calling him to tell him to take care of us and not to let us pay. I didn't know exactly what Gaggan said, but I told Jorge not to listen to whatever was being said by whoever was calling him.
But clearly Jorge wasn't gonna ignore his boss' instructions, and we weren't given a bill at the end of our meal, despite our protestations. So I left a tip big enough to cover the cost of the dinner.
We still had a few hours before our flight, and our friends RC and Ro Ro were actually having dinner at Gaggan, so Hello Kitty and I decided to crash their dinner date. We were, of course, taking advantage of our relationship with the restaurant's owner and staff... And I walked in still wearing my T-shirt, which was exactly what the kitchen staff was wearing. One of the managers later told me - not sure whether he was joking or not - that he thought I was a staff member...
So we ended up sitting with our friends for the next couple of hours, sipping on wines that they generously shared with us - which we exchanged for the leftover portion of our delicious roast chicken from Meatlicious.
It was a nice way to end our last day in Bangkok, in spite of the travails we had to go through. We were happy to (unexpectedly) spend some time with our friends, and of course very happy to see Gaggan and Vladimir - for the fourth time in 6 days and for the third day in a row. Hopefully we'll see them soon in Hong Kong.
One of my impetus for coming to Bali on such a short trip was the prospect of flying my drone over this beautiful island. In particular, I wanted to take some aerial footage over the iconic temples of Pura Tanah Lot and Pura Uluwatu.
I spent a lot of time researching the drone laws in Indonesia - which were published in 2015 and updated in 2016. Not satisfied with the English summaries put out by a few law firms, I found the original text and asked my friend L to translate the key parts. As Ayana Resorts and Spa, Pura Uluwatu, and Pura Tanah Lot were all somewhat close to Ngurah Rai International Airport, I was desperate to find out the exact definition of Kawasan Keselamatan OperasI Penerbangan - the restricted airspace around an airport. I eventually gave up and decided to fly my drone regardless.
On the first morning, we were picked up by our driver and headed north to Tanah Lot. Upon arrival at the toll gate, I told our driver that I had no intention of going to the actual temple. What I wanted was to find a secluded spot near the temple - somewhere I can use to launch and land my DJI Mavic Pro. Thankfully we managed to find just such a place.
After I recalled my drone, I saw one of Air Bali's choppers come around and hover ave Tanah Lot. At that moment I realised how lucky I was. I could have been on that chopper and gotten a similar view as I just did flying the Mavic Pro... but I would have been subjected to the vibrations of being inside a moving chopper, and would have needed the use of a much bigger and clunky professional gimbal to get any decent shots. The footage I got with my drone was taken while I sat comfortably on a chair, without any noise or vibration.
I headed to Pura Uluwatu after lunch, and I had picked out what I thought was another perfect spot from which to launch the drone. Unfortunately, I found out after arriving inside the temple parking lot that the spot was inaccessible. It was going to be a full moon tonight, and besides the usual horde of tourists wanted to watch a kecak performance at sunset, the locals were also coming to worship. The temple staff would not allow any drone-flying, even if I were willing to pay a ridiculous fee (I wasn't willing). And I certainly did not want to be disrespectful and buzz my drone above the temple while the locals were worshipping. So I decided to go back to Ayana Resorts and made it just in time for my sunset dinner date with Hello Kitty.
The next morning, after some delay due to unexpected rain, I decided to go out to Nyang-Nyang Beach to launch my drone. I scoped out the place with my driver from the day before, and the cliff above the beach seemed like the perfect spot - it's where paragliders launch themselves.
It started to drizzle a little, and I didn't want to risk flying the Mavic Pro in the rain, so I called it a day and headed into town for lunch. I'll just have to figure out how to get the shot I want on my next trip to Bali...
A couple of days ago, I wanted to double-check my booking, but couldn't find the confirmation email in my mailbox. It was sent by a booking service, and a keyword search in my mailbox didn't return any hits because I hadn't typed in the accent above the letter "e"... So I decided to call the restaurant and confirm it over the phone. The first person who answered the phone - with a more "Asian" accent - couldn't find my reservation. This sent me into panic mode. Shit! Was I dreaming that I had booked the table online? Did something go wrong in the final steps of booking? Where would I get a table for this birthday dinner on such short notice?!
I decided to make another booking for a later date through the restaurant's website, and got a confirmation email right away. Using the address of the sender, I managed to find the original confirmation email for this meal, then called the restaurant again. Thankfully, the person who picked up the phone this time - with a more "Western" accent - found my reservation almost immediately. Crisis averted!
We ended up ordering one portion of each of the 4 snacks for each of us - except for My Favorite Cousin who refused to eat "Bambi" - then shared the rest of the courses.
Smoked ice cream - our server came to pour the hot fudge onto the candy dome, melting it to reveal the contents underneath.
So we've got some smoked ice cream, tar syrup (we eat tar?!), and some cocoa nibs and nuts for the crunch. Pretty tasty, and the cloves in the salted fudge was really nice.
I brought a bottle of Aussie shiraz in honor of my Aussie cousin, and ordered a bottle of rosé Champagne that I love. They ended up waiving the corkage for the bottle I brought.
This was a very good dinner. I was very much relieved that the dishes we had weren't swamped in acidity, like the scallop prepared by Björn Frantzén at the Michelin Gala in Macau last year or many of the dishes I had at Noma Tokyo. The main dishes were also warm and hearty, which was great. There were no fails tonight, and I pretty much liked every single dish we had.
If I had to pick a bone, it would be with the service. Not that the staff weren't friendly or incompetent, but I had some issues with the introductions to the dishes. I understand that the dishes are complex and there were many different components, but the staff seemed intent on reciting all the ingredients as quickly as possible - that it all turned into one big blur. Taking literally a few more seconds and slowing it down would make things much easier to understand.
Well, guess what? I have myself another reservation for next month. Let's see how many new dishes they come up with by then. The good thing is that even if they don't, I'd be happy to eat pretty much anything we had tonight as an encore performance.
I'm back home in Taipei for a short trip, spending time with the Parental Units and celebrating mom's birthday. Normally I would just book a table at STAY, and having just had lunch with Chef Pierrick Maire in Bangkok last week, that would have been the easy solution.
But Hello Kitty suggested that we cook for mom instead, and deep down I knew that would make her much happier... and so we did. Well, when I say "we", I meant Hello Kitty. My culinary repertoire is pretty limited, but fortunately I brought along my pinch hitter...
After dropping off our luggage at my place, we made a mad dash for CitySuper so Hello Kitty could quickly take stock of the available ingredients and decide what she was gonna cook. We didn't have a whole lot of time, and it's always tough to find the ingredients we want in Taipei, but oh well...
We saw a package of beef shank from Rangers Valley, and we were reminded of the Black Market beef we had earlier this year. We figured that this would work well in a stew, and picked up some veggies and other ingredients to go along.
Hello Kitty wanted to pick up a bottle of supermarket wine to dump into the beef stew, but I had other ideas. I have a few bottles of 1997 Beringer Merlot Private Reserve Howell Mountain lying around, and I didn't think it was going to get much better with age, so I popped open a bottle and asked Hello Kitty to use it for her beef. She was pretty shocked at first, but as the beef was cooking she quickly realized that it does matter what wine you use - and she could smell it. Hey, we're cooking for my mom, and nothing's too good when it comes to the Parental Units.
Birthday celebrations aren't complete without wine, and of course I opened a bottle from mom's vintage...
Mom was very happy. Hello Kitty had cooked dishes which aren't in mom's repertoire, and that is always interesting to mom. Mom even packed the leftovers home, knowing that we wouldn't have the opportunity to finish it. I'm grateful to have had Hello Kitty's help, and glad that everything turned out well despite the mad rush.
Since HaoKouFu knows the boss lady, our menu was pre-arranged. I was curious to see how many dishes would be repeats of my earlier visit.
We've got some pickled radish (小蘿蔔) and sweet potato (地瓜). These were pretty good.
There was also a little ball of tomato sorbet (樹番茄冰沙) to cleanse our palates. Pretty savory and delicious.
With a group of winos, naturally we brought our own wines to dinner. Thankfully we didn't have to bring our own glasses to dinner...
Pretty decent dinner, although admittedly some of the very "classic" Taiwanese fare was missing from our menu. And no doubt we paid a significant premium for both the organic/sustainable ingredients as well as for the dining space. But I thought it was a good compromise between food, ambience, and wine service.
The night was still young, so we adjourned to Domaine Wine Cellars (鈞太酒藏) for a little more vino.
Hello Kitty and I had been awake since early morning, so we decided to call it a night and bid farewell to our visitor. Hopefully we'll have a chance to catch up in Tokyo soon.
A friend is in town and wanted to catch up. It's been a while since I last had the pleasure of entertaining her, so I asked her what she preferred to have. When the choice came back as Cantonese, I knew that with just the two of us, I'd have to pick some place in a hotel where they put together single-portion tasting menus for tourists or people with expense accounts. In short, places where I usually avoid like the plague.
After quickly surveying a few menus online, I ended up choosing Summer Palace (夏宮) at the Island Shangri-La. My last dinner there delivered an upside surprise for quite a few of us, and I was more than happy to go back and check it out again.
I chose the cheapest dinner set available, because I liked the dishes better. I would have wanted the prawn toast from the set menu for two, but I didn't care for the rest of the menu...
Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - this is one of my favorite things on a Cantonese menu, and I was pretty happy to have it again tonight. The breadcrumb crust was perfect, and I loved the creaminess of the crab meat stuffing, along with the crunchy strips of onion. I could do with another one of these...
Pretty decent meal. Not cheap, but outperformed my expectations. At least the evening didn't end with me cursing under my breath about being ripped off, like at this famous 3-star restaurant...
This was a night we've been waiting for since December, and I was glad that it finally happened tonight. Ever since I first got my hands on some Russian beluga caviar late last year, a few of us have been discussing the possibility of doing a beluga tasting. Our schedules went through a few changes, but we managed to clean out our stash tonight.
Rather than asking our favorite chef the Man in White T-Shirt for another favor like last time, our friend RC offered to host us for this gathering, and proceeded to cook up a storm. We had only been able to drool over pictures of Chef RC's cuisine at Chez Ro Ro, and tonight we finally had the chance to have a taste.
A: Iranian beluga - RC's contribution and a gift from one of his (obviously very generous) friends. This has been sitting around for a while, and clearly some of the eggs have burst. Pretty good in terms of depth of flavor, definitely tasting of the sea... almost a little umami.
B: Russian beluga, packed in December 2016 - Fergie's contribution. Lighter in terms of flavor, definitely less salty. Oily and nutty. The eggs in this tin look the freshest.
C: Russian beluga, packed in November 2016 - my contribution, from the same 22-year-old fish whose eggs I tasted in December. I think we all agreed that this was the best batch. Really big flavors, full of the ocean and seaweed, nutty, good acidity on the finish along with slight bitterness.
D: Russian golden oscietra, packed in December 2016 - my contribution. slightly more salty with nice acidity.
|Clockwise from top: Iranian beluga, Russian beluga (Dec 2016), Russian beluga (Nov 2016), Russian golden oscietra|
Since we just had all this good stuff, our host decided that we should have some of the "regular" stuff for comparison's sake. Out came this jar of oscietra, which looked like it had been picked up in a supermarket in Russia. It's been sitting around for at least a year, and upon opening the jar we can see that a lot of the eggs had burst. Honestly, this wasn't very tasty at all... no complexity nor depth of flavor beyond the salt and fishy notes... none of the oily, nutty flavors of the others.
Conclusion? Yeah, it's worth paying up for quality when it comes to caviar. But is beluga worth double the price of golden oscietra? Well... that's the same kind of question as whether Romanée-Conti is worth 3 to 5 times the price of La Tâche...
I picked up this sake castella (酒ケーキ) made by Dassai (獺祭) on the spur of the moment, and figured it would be interesting to try it out. While some of the others were surprised by the level of alcohol inside (it was only about 2%), I was quite happy with it. I love Japanese castella (カステラ), and this had junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) inside!
On top of the goodies he brought back from Tokyo, our host also shared with us some of the treasures from his cellar - as he forbade us from BYO.
What a fantastic evening! Not only did we get to do a rare tasting of beluga caviar, we were treated to a delicious dinner with fresh Japanese ingredients cooked by an expert. Now... when do we schedule our next gathering?
It's been a long, few years, but I finally got to see live performances by Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch again. Three years ago I missed the opportunity to see them when I stupidly double-booked myself and left my friend stranded by herself. This time I wasn't gonna be so stupid, and I dutifully logged in to Hong Kong Art Festival's website just hours after booking opened to get my tickets.
Tonight the company was presenting two of their most iconic works. I had seen snippets of both in Pina, the movie by Wim Wenders, but I would finally get to see the entire works, live.
We started with Café Müller, which was first performed in 1978. The set was the interior to an empty cafe, with tables and chairs dotted all over the stage. A set of revolving doors was placed at the corner upstage right, and there are plexiglass walls indicating the boundaries of the cafe.
The music for the piece is pretty... sad... to say the least. It was basically a woman waddling in melancholy, weeping - which set the mood for the piece. One of the female characters spends most of the piece walking aimlessly through the space with her eyes closed, wearing a pained expression, and in fact ends up mostly against one wall or another.
One of the male characters spends his time clearing tables and chairs from the paths of the women walking through the café. I guess that's to signify what adults often do to their children - trying to make sure they don't hurt each other.
Most of the audience would likely focus their attention on the main couple, who find each other in the middle of the floor and immediately go about embracing each other. Another character comes and intervenes, manually adjusting the couple's embrace to another posture. As soon as the intervener leaves, the couple reverts to their original embrace - at which point the intervener returns to make the same adjustments. The process is repeated at an ever faster pace - until at some point the couple goes through the adjustment process themselves without the need for anyone to intervene. I guess in life, our natural behaviors are often corrected by others in society to conform to accepted norms... and eventually we just end up doing what society wants us to do instead of what is natural for us.
The characters also go through plenty of internal struggle and pain... The main couple also go through cycles where they flail each other against the wall. Violent and destructive. Oh and there's unrequited love, too...
No, there's no happy ending here. Nobody walks out with smiles on their faces.
The Rite of Spring is seemingly more upbeat - at least it's set to Stravinsky's score originally composed for Ballets Russes. For this piece from 1975, the stage is covered in a layer of brown "earth", and the piece begins with a woman lying face down on top of what seemed to be a piece of red cloth. This red slip is then discarded, picked up, and passed around throughout the piece - all the while groups of female and male dancers come on stage and perform a dance that seemed ritualistic and certainly animalistic, and reminiscent of tribal fertility rituals.
A victim is chosen for the ritual sacrifice, and she dons the red slip. The emotions are so intense that by the end of the piece, she was literally in tears. Such is the level of character immersion demanded. I couldn't help but join others to give her - and the rest of the cast - a standing ovation.
Maybe it was because of casting rotation, but I didn't see some of the more senior cast members I had seen in previous performances. Dominique Mercy was notably absent, and his role in Café Müller was taken over by Scott Jennings. I was very glad to see Christiana Morganti in the piece.
Azusa Seyama and Michael Strecker seemed to be the only dancers who performed in both pieces - with Michael being the oldest dancer in the Rite of Spring. I guess that's understandable, since the older members of the company would look a little out of place in a piece about a fertility ritual...
I was very happy to have finally watched these two pieces in a live performance. I guess I'll have to wait for another 3 years before the company returns to Hong Kong... But the bonus of the evening? I finally was able to get my hands on the CDs of the music from Vollmond, the first Pina Bausch piece I ever saw. I just love the music, and I was happy that I didn't have to order the CD all the way from Germany.
It's been 6 years since that fateful day in Japan, and the memories of watching the horror unfold on live TV are still with me. Six years on, there is still no solution to Fukushima, as recent robotic probes have all failed in their missions. It' still the elephant in the room that the Japanese government and TEPCO don't like to talk about.
But I have not wavered in my support of Japan. I still try to go to Japan when I can... although my visits have been annual and infrequent. I still haven't made it to the Tohoku region myself, but one of these days I will make a trip to help H-man at his nascent winery in Yamagata Prefecture (山形県). But one thing I do consciously is to try to support the people of the Tohoku region by buying their products, and sake is something easy for me to purchase, so in recent years I have steered myself towards sake breweries in the affected region.
After entertaining my mom last weekend, it was time to entertain Mary White. We were trying to pick a Japanese restaurant somewhat convenient for her, and came up with Inagiku (稲ぎく) at the Royal Garden Hotel. In all my years in Hong Kong, I've never managed to come to this restaurant. In fact, I've probably only been to the newer sister outlet in IFC twice. These jack-of-all-trades Japanese restaurants like Inagiku and Nadaman (なだ万) are, inevitably, master of none...
The three of us decided to order a few dishes to share.
I always open a bottle of sake from the Tohoku region to mark the occasion, and this year I once again picked something from Dewazakura (出羽桜). They make very high quality offerings, and I love the fact that some of their production is aged in the brewery for a long time.
Senpai is back in town, and I haven't been able to catch up with him in a while. As he just celebrated a big birthday earlier in the month, we managed to round up the troops for a dinner at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門). It's been about half a year since I was last there, and I was curious to see how much of an impact the departure of Chef Gordon Leung (梁燊龍) had on the quality of the food.
Our usual organizer and restaurant VIP kept things simple - sticking to very traditional dishes and especially the ones that Senpai would like.
Soup of the day (例湯) - didn't check what the soup was, but there was clearly pork belly, cucumber-like gourd, and different types of legumes and grains.
As usual, I brought some wine to go with dinner. And since we were celebrating Senpai's birthday, I made sure I brought a nice bottle of bubbly...
Jacques Selosse Version Originale - can't read the disgorgement date on the back label... Very nice mousse, with yeasty notes. Very mineral and savory, and much more salty than expected on the palate.
Very happy to have had the opportunity to celebrate Senpai's birthday, and glad to be back at FLM.
It's been a while since I last saw the Specialist and the Alcoholics, and she pinged me a couple of weeks ago to try to schedule a dinner. Apparently Chef Angelo Aglianó has come back to Hong Kong and recently opened up Locanda dell'Angelo, and as she had been a fan of Angelo's, she wanted to give it a try. I had paid a few visits to Angelo during his years in Taipei - both at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon as well as his own Angelo Aglianó Restaurant. I had been wondering as to his whereabouts after the latter restaurant closed when he wasn't getting enough traction in Taipei. Now I know.
Da Jam had just visited the restaurant last week and published his review, so I had been warned about a particular dish to avoid. I dutifully relayed his message to the Specialist, and picked out what I wanted to try before I stepped foot in the restaurant tonight.
The restaurant is in the same space as Dai Siu Yeh (大少爺), a cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) I used to frequent during the years I lived in Happy Valley - since I lived on the very same block. The layout is very different now... Instead of having the kitchen all the way in the back, it now takes up half of the narrow space at the front of the restaurant. This means the dining space is one long and narrow strip, and can only accommodate tables of four that are tight on space near the entrance. For a bigger party like ourselves, we ended up being put in Siberia - all the way at the back. This kinda sucked for us, as it became a little tough to get the attention of the staff. We were also right next to the air conditioning vents, so at times yeah, maybe it did feel like we were in Siberia...
I arrived a couple of minutes after the appointed time, and the rest of the gang were already chowing down on some starters... The carpaccio di manzo classico con rucola e Parmigiano, salsa leggera alla mostarda was fine.
Oh and this is where we get our WTF moment of the evening. One of the bowls still had a lobster claw left untouched, and somehow our over-eager manager figured that we must not want it anymore. We stared in stunned silence as he nonchalantly whisked it away. It took a couple of minutes for us to get his attention again to tell him that we wanted it back. Sigh... If you're in service - even if you were working in a casual cafe - you NEVER, EVER take plates away from a customer without asking first.
Then came our second round of dishes, with three primi piatti:
That wasn't nearly enough food for the 5 of us, so a third round of dishes was ordered...
I did say in the first sentence up top that this was a dinner with the Alcoholics, right? That means a casual evening - where the Specialist decided that we didn't need to consume 1 bottle per head, and telling me that "no need to be too serious" - turned into something slightly different... We ended up ordering 3 bottles from the restaurant's relatively reasonably-priced and well-thought-out wine list, plus opening two bottles that we brought along.
I gave the Specialist a choice of 4 wines that I could bring from my limited stock in the office - knowing full well that she would scoff at 3 of them - and wasn't the least bit surprised when I was asked to bring the
1975 Massandra Rose Muscat - having tasted some of Massandra's dessert wines before, I knew that this was gonna be deathly sweet. At 24.3% sugar, this has easily 50% more sugar than something like Yquem... Pure honey and sugarcane, with a hint of savory notes like salty plum (話梅).
After going to a pop-up lunch with a 3-star chef at Petrusa few months ago, I received messages from the restaurant's chef Ricardo Chaneton inviting me to visit the restaurant. My last meals at Petrus were back in 2010, and nowadays none of my close friends actually talk about dining at the restaurant. Like Summer Palace (夏宮) many floors below, it's a restaurant that's been around for a long time - I know it's there, but I never think about it because it no longer seems interesting.
But Ricardo comes with 7 years' of experience working for Mauro Colagreco, the man behind the acclaimed Mirazur (as well as other restaurants). That piqued my interest, and I put Petrus on my "hit list" for Hong Kong - despite the fact that it's not a new restaurant. After trying to find a slot for it for the last couple of months, I finally made it there tonight.
As I was already on Ricardo's radar, I decided to be discreet and asked Hello Kitty to reserve a table in her name. A change of plans meant that Hello Kitty had to go out of town and would be missing out on dinner tonight. Knowing that she might not pick up the call when the restaurant called to reconfirm the reservation today, I called the restaurant myself to avoid our table being cancelled.
I was running a few minutes late and started getting messages from my friend. My friend had forgotten that the table wasn't reserved under my name, so I told him to look under Hello Kitty's name. My friend was told that there was no table reserved under that name, either. At this point I was getting annoyed, given that I had called to reconfirm the reservation only hours earlier.
Apparently, the restaurant staff had misspelled Hello Kitty's family name, which is a real feat considering that there are only three letters. They have written down the same three letters, but jumbled up their order. My friend tried to persuade the door bitch that they must have made an error in spelling, and he's there for that particular table of three. The door bitch didn't buy it, then started recounting a past instance where there had been two tables reserved under similar names, and a particular customer had been led to the wrong table.
But there wasn't another table reserved under a similar name tonight. Yet the door bitch refused to budge and seat my friend. Exasperated, my friend asked whether the restaurant was full tonight. It was not. Quelle surprise. Could he be seated at another empty table first, perhaps, until the person whose name is on the reservation list arrives?
The door bitch finally relented and seated my friend. Minutes later, I arrived at the door and asked for the table reserved under Hello Kitty's name - with the correct spelling, of course. I could see the displeasure on the door bitch's face as she showed me the table where my friend was seated. Well, guess what? I don't know what the fuck her problem was, because I was more pissed than she was.
Not a good start to the evening.
Once seated, we noticed a card on the table with the title "Blind Tasting". I initially thought this was about a wine pairing, but it turns out that the restaurant was asking diners whether they would forgo ordering from a menu and just let the chef choose 6 courses to serve them. Well, this is giving carte blanche to the chef, or omakase (お任せ) as the Japanese would call it. This certainly isn't anything new to me, and I'm happy to trust chefs to do the best they can. So we went for it.
Pig's blood tart with mushroom and apple - this was a nice surprise, as I wasn't expecting many fine dining establishments to be serving pig's blood. Of course, the three Taiwanese at the table had absolutely no issues with it, and I found it pretty delicious - especially with the slice of crunchy and slightly acidic apple in the middle.
Our amuse bouche was sea urchin topped with Granny Smith apple gelée and Granny Smith foam. There were also bits of crunchy, raw onions inside. Pretty nice.
The caviar on the side provided a stark contrast with their saltiness, and while the lemon cream added the expected sweetness, it also brought a very strong and bitter finish that I didn't care for.
Per restaurant policy we were able to bring two bottles of our own wines, and we happily paid corkage for this.
I had originally wanted to open a different bottle of white wine, but when I pulled the cork on the 1996 Olivier Leflaive Montrachet in the office, I made sure to have a sip to check on the condition. White Burgundies from the mid- to late-90s have a reputation of being excessively oxidized, and sure enough, the small pour in my glass smelled very caramelized. So I brought a backup bottle, and asked my friend (as well as the sommelier) for their opinions. In the end we decided to put the cork back in the bottle and drink the backup bottle instead...
1990 Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune - a beautiful wine! Very open and fragrant, with flint, petrol, nice fruit, white flowers, and some lemon in the nose. Some residual sugar here but really good acidity, especially after opening up.
We asked for Chef Ricardo and offered him some of our wines and our compliments. He ended up spending over an hour with us, and we talked about his time at Mirazur, their philosophy, his Venezuelan/Colombian background...
We also discussed how Petrus' place on the Hong Kong dining scene had undergone a complete change over the years. When I first arrived in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago and wanted a place to celebrate my first birthday in the city, Petrus was the restaurant I chose. These days I don't hear any of my friends talk about going to Petrus, and the departure of Chef Frédéric Chabbert a few years ago aroused people's interest mainly because of where he landed... In fact most of my friends couldn't even be bothered to find out who replaced Frédéric - myself included. Undoubtedly the restaurant's dated decor scores negative points with some of the younger diners today, but unfortunately this isn't something that is easily addressed.
But with our dinner tonight, I have renewed hope for the restaurant. The dishes tonight may not be ones that feature on #theartofplating, but they all come with carefully sourced ingredients - the arrangement of which are all well-thought-out. And here's a chef who challenges the diners to trust him by offering his "blind tasting". In the past I've only done that with chefs I know well - or in a place like Quintessence with their carte blanche menu. Hopefully more diners in Hong Kong will accept the omakase-style menu and discover a different kind of cuisine from Ricardo.
Next time, though, Imma ask Ricardo to cook me some of his Venezuelan repertoire.
P.S. Ricardo very kindly offered us a huge discount on our dinner, and after we pleaded with him without success to accept the full payment, we accepted his kindness with gratitude. I did make sure to add a very generous tip...
ILoveLubutin and I had talked about catching up over lunch, and she happened to be entertaining a couple of guests from out of town, so we all met up at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) for some goose.
I'm entertaining a visitor from China, and decided to take her to my favorite Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) for lunch. Yes, it's my second lunch here this week...
I can't say that I've been a regular of the place, but whenever I was in the mood for some steak frites, this was the place to go. From time to time I'd even bring along a bottle of wine, and I've also attended an event or two with the Commanderie de Bordeaux, as the restaurant's owner Wilson Kwok is an active chapter member.
So I'm feeling a little sad upon hearing the news that the restaurant is closing after 23 years, and figured that I should come and bid farewell. So here we are tonight, just 4 weeks before closing.
I also took a glass of house red wine with my dinner. Didn't bother asking what it was, but I figured it would at least be drinkable given this is Wilson's place. And it wasn't bad at all... especially at the price of HKD 40 a glass.
I've actually never gone to any of the newer steak frites restaurants that have opened up in the last few years, because it was always easier for me to come here. After next month, I guess I'll have to look elsewhere to get my fix...