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

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  • 03/24/17--08:40: Fly airplane, Vietnam-style
  • Hello Kitty and I were entertaining a visitor from out of town, who requested that we go somewhere with old school table-side service.  Two places come to mind immediately, but ultimately we decided on Hugo's.  My first and only visit a couple of years ago delivered a couple of nice, classic dishes.  It would be nice to go back for a few more.

    Thanks to miscommunication, Hello Kitty found ourselves sitting by ourselves at the restaurant while our visitor flew off to his next destination.  Well, since we were here and I had asked the staff to open up both bottles of wine that I brought... we might as well eat!

    We start with the bread basket which, as always, had those delicious slices of garlic bread...

    Lobster bisque - I made it a point to order this tonight.  Hello Kitty really enjoyed this on our last visit, and I wanted to try it for myself.  The cart was wheeled out next to us, and it did take more than 3 minutes to prepare...

    This was one delicious bowl of soup!  Nicely flavored with brandy, and rich with cream.  Tons of umami.

    Wiener schnitzel - can't remember the last time I had Wiener schnitzel, and I kinda wanted something classic for a main course.  When the plate arrived, I was kinda surprised by the size of it.  I know the veal has been flattened and stretched thin, but still...

    Very thin, with a nicely browned coating of breadcrumbs.  Once you take a bit, it becomes obvious how much butter/fat this has soaked up...

    We didn't have any dessert, and just had these chocolate ice cream bonbons to finish...

    2005 Vincent Girardin Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Le Cailleret - advanced oxidation, with deeper color.  Lots of sugarcane on the nose.  Ripe on the palate with a rather short finish.

    Even though I had a second bottle open, we decided to bring it back home to drink with some friends. Thankfully the restaurant didn't charge us corkage for the second bottle...

    2004 Ponsot Griotte Chambertin - drank 2 hours after opening.  Nice nose of leather with some floral and forest notes.

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  • 03/25/17--01:39: Ro ro for lunch
  • I was having lunch with Fergie a couple of days ago when he mentioned that he had just gone to a dinner tasting of Alexandre Polmard's beef.  This is the man running a family business that has been aging their "vintage" beef for decades - which was labelled "world's most expensive meat" a while ago.  Apparently Derby Restaurant at the Hong Kong Jockey Club was doing a promotion, and Fergie thought the beef was pretty tasty and reasonably priced.

    I pinged The Man in White T-Shirt, even though I thought the promotional event was already over.  Fortunately I was wrong, and we immediately made plans for a lunch tasting today.

    We looked at the tasting menu on offer, but decided that it didn't have enough beef for us, so we ended up ordering all the choices à la carte - sharing all the starters.  It was clear from the pricing of the dishes that we weren't having "the world's most expensive meat".  No vintage beef on offer here.  But everything was still aged for 4 weeks, so not exactly your run-of-the-mill beef, either...

    We started with an amuse bouche of deep-fried crab ball, with mashed potatoes inside.

    Air-dried Polmard beef, cornichons and pickled pearl onions - this apparently went through a transformation that saw it go from 3.5kg down to 1kg.  Nice and firm texture, and definitely pretty tasty.  I was surprised that we didn't ask for a second order.

    Polmard beef traditional tartar - there was plenty of hazelnut chunks mixed in with the beef, and they drizzled both olive oil and hazelnut oil on top.  Dunno why, but I wasn't a big fan of this... and that's not even taking into account the beetroot on top.

    Polmard beef carpaccio, rocket and shaved Parmesan - the carpaccio, in comparison, was excellent.  Beautiful texture with bite.  Served with shavings of 48-month Parmigiano-Reggiano, which came from the same supplier who supplies Massimo Bottura.  So good we ordered a second plate.

    Grilled Polmard beef boudin blanc sausages, truffle mashed, onion sauce - we love boudin blanc, and these looked a little darker than the usual variety, but sooooo delicious.  Of course, the truffle mash didn't hurt.  We also ordered a second plate of this.

    French pave Polmard beef, quinoa popcorn, Wagasagi onion, romanesco, horseradish, light pepper sauce - this was rump steak, and while we were supposed to get them rare, mine was a little more cooked than I expected.  The flavor of the beef was pretty nice, but it was the "quinoa popcorn" that stole the show.  These tasted like they had been deep-fried - just really, really crunchy and toasty.  The horseradish foam on the side was nice, too.

    I brought along two bottles of red to go with the beef, while The Man in White T-Shirt ordered a bottle of bubbly from the list to start.

    Franck Bonville Brut Prestige - both acidity and ripeness on the palate.  Not too acidic for a blanc de blancs.

    2010 Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvée 3.14 - unfiltered and cloudy.  Nice acidity on the palate, with toasty corn, sweet fruit, animal, and leather notes.  A wine that is drinking beautifully now.

    1997 Viader - decanted 1 hour prior to serving.  First whiff showed black olives and stewed prunes.  Later with vanilla, forest, and meaty notes.  Mature now and somewhat disappointing.

    A long and very enjoyable lunch today. One of these days I'll need to pay up and try a piece of that vintage beef...

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  • 03/25/17--07:00: Earth Hour 2017
  • It's late March, and that means Earth Hour is once again upon us.  Tonight is my 9th year taking part in this global event.  I know the event is only 1 hour in duration and is largely symbolic, but I believe it sends an important message, and is a reminder to everyone that we need to do what we can to be kind to the earth, as it is our only home.

    Our early dinner started late, which wasn't a surprise given our company.  Thankfully dinner was relatively simple and we finished quickly, so Hello Kitty and I rushed out of the Sheraton and crossed the street to the harbor front.

    In a matter of a couple of minutes, the normally bright and vibrant Victoria Harbour went dark.  Half an hour before, one of Hong Kong's most well-known tourist attractions - A Festival of Lights - had been cancelled to mark Earth Hour.  Gone were the colorful flashing lights prancing around skyscrapers, and giant neon and LED billboards went napping.

    Every year, someone inevitably fails to get the memo and leave their lights on.  Last year it was the People's Liberation Army, who kept their lights on the whole time.  They finally got the memo this year and went dark.  A couple of buildings were a little behind - some because of their internal clocks were slow, but pretty much everyone except for a couple of buildings around Times Square got with the program right on the dot.  And then even these guys got around to it eventually.

    Even when looking at the skyline during Earth Hour, it's not hard to see that there is still a certain amount of light pollution - just look at the haze in the sky.  That's pretty scary if you think about it.

    It was pretty chilly out tonight and we were both underdressed thanks to the warm temperature during the day.  So we left a few minutes early and didn't wait for the lights to come back on, although a couple of buildings decided that turning out the lights for half an hour was good enough for them.

    I overheard a few tourists talking amongst themselves, and even they realized that the lights were out because of Earth Hour.  People are becoming more aware of this event - which is now in its 10th edition.  That's a very good thing, especially in the age of Trump.

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    The Hungry Tourist is back in town after a couple of months' absence.  It's only been a few weeks since we last saw each other in Bangkok, and in the meantime he continued to eat his way across the world.  As usual, he wanted to make Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) his very first stop of his trip, so we agreed to meet up for a late lunch.  Coincidentally, Jinlovestoeat is also in town, and we found ourselves with a party of six - the biggest group I've taken to Yat Lok.

    Since there were six of us, I decided that there was no reason we shouldn't order up one whole roast goose (馳名燒鵝).  The annoying thing, though, was that they chopped up the goose one half at a time, and we clearly didn't get two halves of the same goose...  And one half was clearly a little more charred and burnt than the other.  I do have to say that lately, their quality has been fairly inconsistent.  Some of their geese are a little too charred.  Thankfully, though, we still had one half that was just about perfect.

    Barbecued pork, fatty and charred (肥燶叉燒) - I used to complain about the char siu (叉燒) here being hit-or-miss, but following ILoveLubutin's lead, I decided to specifically ask for a plate that was more fatty and charred.  This was MUCH better than many of the other plates I've had over the years...

    I was wearing one of my favorite sweaters today and didn't want to get any noodle soup on it, so I passed up my favorite rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉) in favor of tossed egg noodles (撈麵). What a mistake this was...  The taste of alkali was really heavy, and they added a dash of soy sauce on the noodles - a totally unnecessary move.

    Blanched choy sum (菜心)

    This was very, very satisfying.  Although we had spent quite a decent sum of money on lunch, it was getting clear that the staff wanted us out so they could turn our table.  We took the hint and vacated our table, but didn't leave before one of our visitors placed an order for SIX more geese to take home on a plane.  As Hello Kitty said, the boss lady's eyes lit up once that order was placed...

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  • 04/01/17--08:56: Beyond Chungking Express
  • We were getting together with a couple of friends we haven't seen in a while, and searched for a fine dining restaurant which had a corkage policy that could accommodate us.  Amber was out of the question, and Guillaume Galliot doesn't start his stint at Caprice until May.  I was looking to revisit old favorites which I've somehow neglected for a while, and Pierre was an obvious one.  A couple of quick calls to the restaurant later, and we were back at square one.  Apparently the corkage policy there wasn't very accommodating, either.

    So we decided to go back and visit Sato-san at Ta Vie旅.  We've always been free to open as many bottles as we'd like here - paying full corkage, of course - and I've never not had a great meal.  After all, this is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in town.

    I had seen a few pictures of Sato-san's new dishes

    Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid caesar dressing - it's firefly squid (蛍烏賊) season again, and I just loooove these little buggers from Toyama Prefecture (富山県).  I've always loved Sato-san's version of Caesar salad, replacing the anchovies with a better ingredient.  There's also shredded Japanese spikenard (独活), croûtons, cheese shavings, and the pepper chiffonade (糸唐辛子) that Japanese chefs seem to love. The little dab of sauce on the side was made with the liver (?) of the firefly squid.  Yum.

    I always look forward to the homemade butter.  I don't mind that it's unsalted, because it is so, so, so light and ethereal.  How many chefs do you know who make their own butter?

    And the butter is used on the homemade nukazuke (糠漬け) bread.  I love this bread, but tonight the texture seemed a little more airy than I remembered.

    "Clam chowder", whelk Matsubu twist clam and peas with chef's twist - the bowls were placed in front of us, then another tray was carried table-side, bearing two large whelks.  The "chowder" was then poured from the whelks into our bowls.  In the bowl were chunks of 真つぶ貝 - the largest and highest-quality whelks.  I was pretty surprised at how soft they were.  The onions were nice, but those sugar snap peas were simply divine!  Everything was just very elegant and came together naturally.

    White strawberry, cherry, fruits tomato tossed with Thai basil with Burrata cheese - this dish originally had beetroot, but since neither Hello Kitty and I care for this earthy ingredient, we asked for a substitution.  So, instead of something we dislike, we got... Japanese cherries!  These were called Sato Nishiki (佐藤錦) from Yamagata Prefecture (山形県).  Imagine that... a chef named Sato serving us cherries bearing his name...  These came with Japanese white strawberries called Hatsukoi No Kaori (初恋の香り) from Yamanashi Prefecture (山梨県) and Amera tomatoes (アメーラトマト), on top of a bed of creamy Burrata, and garnished with some really fragrant Thai basil.

    At first glance this seemed like another twist on the traditional caprese, but it is so much more!  The red fruits - including the Amera tomatoes - were just incredibly sweet and fragrant.

    "Civet" braised abalone with abalone shell - my second time savoring this dish.  The abalone from Jeju Island (제주도) - braised in a jar in water bath - was very tender.  The pearl onions and mushrooms worked well with the abalone and the abalone liver sauce.  The "shell" on top was a delicious cookie which tasted like I shouldn't ask how much butter had been used to make it...

    House made pasta with "aonori" sauce topped with premium uni - as usual, an extra complimentary course from Sato-san.  I shan't ever get tired of having this pasta with seawater sea urchin (海水雲丹), especially with all the umami from the seaweed.

    Pan-seared Ise-lobster, sauce vin jaune Chinois - the Ise lobster (伊勢海老) was cooked PERFECTLY - which is to say it was barely cooked and still pretty raw.  Served with bok choy (白菜仔), morels from Yunnan (雲南), asparagus, and foam/sauce made with 10-year-old Shaoxing wine (紹興酒).  Really, really good.

    Charcoal roasted French duck breast with "Inca" potato tossed with fuki butter - once again, the execution was perfect.  The duck breast was more rare than rosé, so I guess I'd call it saignant...  but so, sooooo tender and delicious. On the side were fiddlehead ferns, Alpine leeks (行者にんにく), "Inca" potatoes coated with with butter flavored with finely diced butterbur (蕗), and chunks of root chervil.  I had never had root chervil before, and was surprised at the starchy texture - which was kinda in between potato and plantain.

    Iced sakura Oolong tea - very elegant, with the mild fragrance of cherry blossoms.  The slightly salty flavors of the cherry blossoms certainly made it interesting.

    Almond ice cream with meringue, fresh strawberry, scent of sakura blossom, covered with fragile candy glass - one of Sato-san's signature desserts that I've had numerous times, and I still think it amazing that a seemingly simple dessert could deliver such harmony.  Going from the sugary sweetness of the meringue to the creamy sweetness of the almond ice cream; then to the strawberries with the fruitiness along with refreshing acidity; to lemon cream which delivered a fine balance between acidity and some slight bitterness; and finally a little saltiness from the cherry blossoms.  Lots of layers here, but everything was subtle and none of it in-your-face.

    Crêpe with "kinkan" and ginger, hot mandarin honey sauce flavored with black truffle - a more fruity and citrusy dessert... A different version of crêpe Suzette.  The warm mandarin honey and truffle sauce was drizzled over a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.

    I love kumquats (金柑) for their intense, citrusy fragrance, and here we've got ginger chiffonade bringing a little more zing to the mix.
    Mulberry compote and gélee - this was the petit four which accompanied Hello Kitty's pandan and lemongrass tea.  I love mulberries.

    I wanted a different petit four, so I asked for some coffee.  This was Tano Batak Mandheling from around Lake Toba in Sumatra, roasted in Taiwan.  Very elegant.

    Chocolate and kaffir lime pudding - the real reason I wanted coffee tonight.  The kaffir lime just makes this chocolate pudding incredible.

    The three of us who were drinking tonight managed to clear out three bottles, although I did manage to save some of the bubbly and the white Burg for Sato-san...

    2006 Roses de Jeanne Creux d'Enfer, dégorgée à 10 Avril 2010 - nose of strawberries and later sweet like honey.  Really nice depth of flavors along with a hint of bitterness.

    1999 Coche-Dury Meursault - the nose was sooooooo huge and explosive, with so much toast and roast corn.  How can I not love this?!

    2004 Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses - served a little on the warm side.  Very sweet and fruity nose, lovely and floral, along with a little toast.  Very sexy and always a pleasure.

    I found out at lunch earlier today that the Hungry Tourist also had plans to dine here tonight, and in fact ended up being seated at the next table.  What a coincidence!

    Also at lunch today, Jinlovestoeat told me that she's never been to Ta Vie旅, and despite staying at The Pottinger, she chose instead to dine at VEA last night.  Well, as much as I enjoyed my sole dinner at VEA last year, in my mind there simply is no comparison.  As Hello Kitty described, with VEA the emphasis is on theatrics, but Ta Vie旅 is on a different level.  As our friends tonight were the very same people who brought us to VEA last year, we went through a comparison of the two restaurants.

    As their career progresses, many chefs goes through a stage where they try to impress by creating dishes that are fancy and complex - thinking that it will dazzle diners and critics.  The truly great chefs will eventually get past this, and what they present to diners are dishes that are deceptively simple, yet somehow achieve the seamless integration of the ingredients to deliver the "wow" factor - seemingly without much effort.  We agreed that Vicky is still slogging his way through the former stage, while Sato-san has undoubtedly reached the latter.  Both have put a lot of thought into their dishes, but the dishes at Ta Vie旅 - while they can also be visually dazzling - just feels more natural and comfortable.

    My friend, who is both a big fan of Chef Vicky Cheng and a real film buff, chose an analogy using the career of director Wong Kar-wai (王家偉).  Vicky's dishes are like Malicious East and the Venomous West (東邪西毒) - with a jaw-dropping cast weaving through a complex plot, requiring some serious work in the editing room.  Sato-san, however, has clearly delivered us dishes that feel like Chungking Express (重慶森林), Happy Together (春光乍洩), or beyond - where the style feels much simpler and natural.

    Yes, boys and girls, we DO talk about things other than food and wine at the dinner table.  And sometimes, just sometimes, that conversation can be real interesting.

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  • 04/02/17--01:30: Golden Waves of the Riviera
  • It's only been 12 hours since the end of our wonderful dinner last night, but Hello Kitty dragged ourselves out of bed this morning and made our way to the Centurion Restaurant at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in Shatin.  They've invited another chef from a restaurant with 3 macarons, and this time it was Arnaud Donckele from La Vague d'Or in St. Tropez.

    None of us are regular visitors to the Riviera, so to be honest, we weren't familiar with the chef who, back in 2013, supposedly became the youngest 3-star chef that year.  But we were looking forward to getting a taste of the south of France.

    We started with a few amuses bouches:

    Carrot fritters picked up by hand, Cajun sauce - I don't know how the sauce was "Cajun", but there was plenty of acidity there.

    Local shellfish coated with a lemon balm and cardamom cloud - raw Fine de Claire oyster with lemongrass mousse, and some herring caviar that I could have sworn was Avruga caviar.

    Black truffle and onion country style tarte - the warm brioche with some cheese on top was pretty tasty, thanks to the black truffle and onion stuffing.

    We were also served two different types of bread from the chef.  I don't recall many guest chefs who insisted on making their own breads to go with the menu...

    Black olive bread - one could certainly see plenty of black olive bits scattered within the loaf, and the distinctive fragrance made its presence known.  Served in a stone "bibimbap" bowl.

    Rosemary bread - this was the tastier of the two with a crispier crust, although I must confess that the fragrance of rosemary wasn't obvious to me - even though it's my least favorite herb.  Served in a Chinese bamboo steamer.

    Zitone pasta stuffed with foie gras and truffles with melted mountain Parmesan - with artichoke purée, black truffle duck jus, basil cappuccino, and topped with purple artichokes stewed with basil as well as fresh black truffle.  An hommage to Jean-Louis Nomicos, who helmed Lasserre when Chef Donckele worked there.  This was hearty and delicious.  Cutting or biting into the tubular pasta would force the foie and truffle stuffing to ooze out, and when that takes place in your mouth... the feeling is pretty satisfying.  The dish still feels a little wintery.

    Braised codfish, delicately smoked - with this dish, we are definitely basking in the sunshine of the French Riviera. The tender and succulent cod - slow-cooked for 45 minutes - did indeed impart light, smoky flavors from quick grilling.  The "fish soup from southern France", which didn't taste like bouillabaisse with its acidity, came with clams, tomatoes and zucchini scented with verbena.  Garnished with a green and yellow zucchini rose on top of the cod, and a sprinkle of roasted pine nuts.

    Granite of thyme flower, sorbet of fennel of Florence - with a splash of Absinthe at the table.

    This was meant as a palate cleanser, but it was sooo damn delicious!  The fennel in the sorbet was pretty strong, and the 69 types of herbs that went into the Absinthe made it outstanding.

    Veal tenderloin a la Carqueirannaise - with cherry tomatoes, sage gnocchi, and "dentelle" of tête de veau.  The veal was very, very tender.  Just perfect.

    Before moving on to desserts, a glass of citrus juice with herbs was poured as another palate cleanser.  Very smooth.

    And this is where service went wrong.  We still had plenty of wine with us, and some of us wanted to finish the wines before we get to dessert, so we asked the waitstaff to hold off on serving us dessert.

    But they either didn't hear us - which was unlikely because several of us voiced our preference - or they just completely ignored us and didn't tell the kitchen.  Our dessert came a few minutes later.

    Delicate layers of citrus - a very interesting millefeuille, with what looked like orange and grapefruit slices topped with a layer of citrus sorbet, with another layer of cream on top.  On the side you've got lines of citrus pulp, powder, as well as a drizzle of olive oil flavored with Buddha's hand citrus.  This was refreshing and delicious.

    Aaaaand some of us finally got to witness the transformation of Ro Ro into Good Chucky.  She was upset that the waiters ignored our request to hold the dessert, so she refused to touch her plate.  It sat there until the sorbet melted into a puddle...  And when Chef Donckele came out to greet us with Chef Shaun Anthony, this was brought to their attention.  A new serving was promptly delivered, and Good Chucky slowly went back to being the Ro Ro that we know and love.

    End of desires "Fragrances of My Native Normandy"
    Sorbet of baked apples and kaffir lime

    Manosque apple rolled into an open rose - served on meringue and purée of green apple enhanced with kaffir lime.

    This was an extra dessert from the kitchen.  Chocolate mousse at the bottom, with coffee ice cream, and topped with a ginger and cardamom-scented coffee cream.  Very yum.

    As usual us winos brought our own alcohol...

    2003 Françoise Bedel L'Âme de la Terre - nicely oxidized and caramelized nose with minerals.

    2004 Philipponnat Clos de Goisses - leaner and more elegant, more focused.  A little sweet on the nose.

    2011 Ram's Hill Sauvignon Blanc - surprisingly very oxidized and probably too ripe. Fragrant with lots of honey on the nose, along with sweet grass, water chestnut, and a little poached pear.

    2004 Nicolas Joly Clos de la Coulée Serrant - pretty fragrant nose with lots of herbs.  Kinda ripe on the palate but still got that acidity for balance.

    2012 Dominus Napanook - served slightly too warm.  A little coconut and exotic spices, smoke, and some pungent animal notes.  Still tannic.

    This was a nice and relaxing long lunch on a beautiful Sunday. As it was a race day, we even stuck around and watched one of the races from the balcony outside the restaurant...

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  • 04/03/17--23:12: Droning Boy: Cape D'Aguilar
  • After a few weeks straight of having crappy weather - or fine weather during the work week and crap weather on the weekends - I've finally gotten a day off when the sun is out and the skies are blue.  That means I finally get a chance to take my DJI Mavic Pro out for more practice.

    Ever since Hello Kitty pointed me to a particular video a couple of months ago, I've been wanting to go fly my drone around Cape D'Aguilar.  The old lighthouse sitting on the cliff seemed like a pretty good subject, and the water around Hok Tsui Wan (鶴咀灣) is so clean that the area has been designated a marine reserve, and the site of the Hong Kong University Swire Institute of Marine Science.

    Lately, however, it seems that the public has discovered the beauty of this area, and selfish, irresponsible tourists have ended up trepassing on the Institute grounds looking for toilet facilities.  In the process they have caused irreparable damage to the research being done by the Institute, as well as polluting the pristine waters of the marine reserve.  Calls were made for the public to stop visiting the area so that it doesn't get damaged further.

    I still wanted to go fly my drone there, and I figured that I could just go up to the area around the lighthouse and not actually go down to the rocky shores by the marine reserve.  That way I could avoid trepassing on the facilities of the Swire Institute, inflict zero damage on the coastline, and still get what I want.

    I dragged my ass out of bed pretty early in the morning on a holiday, and got myself onto a bus headed to the area.  It happens to be Ching Ming Festival, and the bus was packed full of people on their way to pay their respects to their ancestors.  After getting off at the nearest bus stop, I set off on a trek of more than 3km towards my destination.

    The trek was pretty easy, as there was minimal change in terms of elevation.  I walked past the ruins of the Cape D'Aguilar Battery (鶴咀炮台), which once provided protection for soldiers and their machine guns.  This would certainly make an interesting subject for drone photography, and would save me the trouble of trying to find my way down to the ruins themselves.

    The paved road cuts through the PCCW Cape D'Aguilar High Frequency Radio Transmission Station.  If one chooses to come via taxi, the drop-off point is at the gates of this compound, and one would need to continue on foot.  However, as the compound is a restricted area and off-limits to civilians - despite the gates being open on both ends - I followed the well-trodden foot path that circumvents the fences of the facility.

    Just as I passed the transmission station and was admiring the clear, azure waters, I realized to my horror that I had dropped my jacket somewhere on the way here.  I had taken it off as I was getting a little warm, and stuffed it under the flap cover of my camera bag without securing the buckles.  It must have slid off without me noticing.

    As this was my "go-to" windbreaker whenever I needed a second layer, I immediately doubled back to try to look for it.  I probably walked more than a kilometer before giving up, and went back towards the lighthouse.  I guess it was a sign that I needed a new jacket...

    The Cape D'Aguilar Lighthouse entered service in 1875 and operated for 21 years before being decommissioned.  It re-entered service in 1975 - a hundred years after first being lit - after automation.

    I found a spot on the path next to the lighthouse, away from the residences attached to the Swire Institute, and launched my Mavic Pro into the air.  Much to my dismay, I discovered only this morning that all four of my drone batteries were down to about 50% power.  They had been fully-charged as of a month ago, and I didn't realize the power drain was going to be so significant.  That means each battery would only give me about 10 minutes of real flying time.  Not great.

    So I flew my drone around a little, circling the lighthouse with the ol' Point of Interest mode.  I was trying to do a fly-by while having the drone rotate so that the camera was always pointed at the lighthouse, but I wasn't successful in getting the drone to recognize the lighthouse using the ActiveTrack mode.  Need more practice...

    As I flew my drone past the lighthouse over the Swire Institute, I wasn't surprised to see a bunch of tourists basically trespassing on the grounds.  They were on their way to the rocky shoreline and encroaching on the marine reserve, which they certainly should not have been.  I guess there will always be plenty of selfish people who only care about their own pleasure, with little regard to the consequences of their actions...

    Since I didn't have much juice in my batteries, I ended up running down the power until I was cutting it pretty close.  Automatic Return-to-Home was activated on all four of my flights.  With no juice left, I packed it up a lot earlier than I had expected and headed back on foot - another 3.5km on the way out.  It was getting close to noon, and a lot of people were coming in.  Sigh...  I hoped that they, like me, were only going to visit the lighthouse and avoid the rocks in front of the Swire Institute.  But that's probably wishful thinking... especially when a number of them felt it was cool to bring their kids as well as their four-legged kids.  I shudder to think what kind of gifts they would leave behind for the marine life in the area...

    P.S. I got totally lucky!  On my way back, I found my trusty ol' Prada windbreaker!  Someone had picked it up and decided to leave it on the ground next to one of the village dumpsters.  Now I just need to go get it cleaned...

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  • 04/05/17--07:35: Another private initiation
  • When the Hungry Tourist told me a while back that he was coming back to town, the place that I wanted to take him more than anywhere else was my favorite private dining facility.  You see, like many tourists, he is a big fan of Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  Not that there's anything wrong with being a fan - since the restaurant certainly serve up some delicious food and delivers fantastic service - but as a "local", I sometimes tire of hearing tourists rave about the place.  Having claimed the title of the first Chinese restaurant ever to receive three macarons back in 2008, Lung King Heen has been the one destination that well-heeled tourists always hit when they're looking for Chinese food.  And sometimes it's their only stop.

    So I took the opportunity to round up a few friends who have yet to have the opportunity to dine there, and asked the chef to set up a menu with several specific requests.

    Before we start dinner, though, Birdie Golf very kindly brought us something special from Singapore at Hello Kitty's request.  This bag of Gourmet Salted Egg Yolk Potato Crisps from The Golden Duck was damn good!  There was, of course, plenty of powdered salted egg yolk, but also some kick from chilis... and best of all, beautiful fragrance and flavors from curry leaves.  Can't wait to try to bag of fish skin!

    Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - it always impresses the hell out of first-timers when this comes out first.  A whole plate of giant king prawns.

    The prawns are beautifully scored, and seem almost translucent.  The texture is beautiful, too... with just the right amount of bounce and crunch as one bites down.  Lightly flavored with ham broth.

    Deep-fried crab claws (椒鹽肉蟹鉗) - I don't often do this, but tonight we followed up the plate of king prawns with a plate of giant crab claws.  These were nice and fat.

    I don't always order deep-fried crab claws elsewhere, but the chef does it so well that I don't find it a waste of good ingredient. One can really taste the sweet and savory flavors of the crab meat - something that the Chinese refer to as 鮮味.

    Stir-fried tripe with mixed vegetables (七彩炒肚尖) - always one of my favorite dishes here, and tonight the execution was very, very good.  The tip of the pig's stomach had that perfect springy and crunchy texture.  The celery, Chinese celery, red bell peppers, yellowed chives, water chestnuts, and pickles - together with toasty Indian almonds - combined with the tripe to make each mouthful perfectly delicious.  And our bowls were pretty dry tonight... without a lot of liquid at the bottom.  A testament to the chef's skills to produce the wok hei (鑊氣).

    Traditional Buddha jumps over the wall (古法佛跳牆) - ah yes... another favorite - without shark's fin, of course.  Tonight the pot looked a little empty, though...

    And my plate certainly didn't look as full as I remembered from previous dinners.  Still got the dried abalone, which was tasty.  The spiny sea cucumber was pretty good, and the piece of fish maw seemed bigger than usual.  The goose web was good, and since the Hungry Tourist didn't want his, I ended up with two.  Yay!  Oh, and the shiitake mushroom, bamboo shoots, and pork belly were good, too.

    Yes, we had some steamed rice to soak up all the collagen-rich sauce.  And I took the leftovers, which would make another delicious meal or two with more steamed rice...

    Almond soup with pig's lungs (杏汁白肺湯) - a classic Cantonese dish.  It takes a lot of effort for a chef to properly clean the lungs before cooking, and I usually take a piece and nibble on it.  Always love the soup, which is made with a little ginger to neutralize the smell of the lungs, along with pork bones and pig trotters.

    Braised garoupa fin in traditional style (古法炆斑翅) - I love this dish, and it seemed the Hungry Tourist did, too.  Lots of garlic and sliced mushrooms make for a rich "relish" covering the garoupa fins, which were deep-fried before being braised.  Yum.

    Crispy chicken (脆皮炸子雞) - normally this is my least-favorite preparation of chicken here, but I know how much the Hungry Tourist loves this chicken at Lung King Heen, so I asked for this.  It's pretty good... although, as Hello Kitty remarked, there wasn't much flavor in the chicken itself since it's sourced locally.  Most of us were pretty full by this point, so the Hungry Tourist took at least half the chicken back to his hotel...

    Choy sum in superior stock (上湯灼菜心) - even the veg dishes here are more delicious than elsewhere.

    Sautéed rice rolls with minced beef, bean sprouts in satay sauce (沙爹牛肉炒腸粉) - I just loooove this dish... with that nice, spicy kick.  I always wish I could eat more of this at the end of the meal, but I almost never could.  So the Hungry Tourist - obviously still hungry - cleaned up.

    Double-boiled ginkgo nuts and lotus seeds (銀杏燉湘蓮) - very yum.

    A few of us brought along some wine for dinner, although we ended up drinking a lot less than expected.  Some of that, unfortunately, had to do with the wines I brought... which were not drinking as well as they should.

    1996 Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill - a beautiful wine.  Nice and toasty nose.  Mature and smooth on the palate.

    2004 Kistler Chardonnay Vine Hill Vineyard - the first bottle was very oxidized, with a really marzipan nose and a pretty flat palate.  The second bottle fared slightly better.

    2001 Kracher Scheurebe Trockenbeerenauslese No. 9 Zwischen den Seen, from half-bottle -

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - this was again disappointing.  The first bottle was corked, while the second bottle was flat without giving much fruit.

    2002 Numanthia Toro Termanthia - very minty, with dried herbs, lots of cedar, and sweet fruit.  Delicious.

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    It's been a couple of months since I last paid a visit to Neighborhood, and a few of my friends have been posting about their meals on social media.  I've been drooling over the firefly squids (蛍烏賊) from Toyama Prefecture (富山県) in particular, so I hurriedly begged for a couple of seats at the bar for a quick dinner tonight.

    Fried white asparagus / wild garlic aioli - white asparagus is in season again, and I really loved this dish from last year.  The crunchy coating of bread crumbs sure was tasty, as were the spears of asparagus themselves.  That wild garlic aioli?  DA BOMB.

    Black truffle chicken wings - how can we say 'no' to chicken wings, especially when there were black truffle shavings on top???  Finger-lickimg good.

    Beef tripe gratin - I was tempted by this dish, but didn't order it because I didn't think we had enough room for it.  Well, The Man in White T-shirt decided that we should have it, anyway...

    And I was ever so thankful to him for having made that decision for me.  The trippa was DELICIOUS.  Got that nice kick on the back end which left my taste buds tingling a little...

    Toyama firefly squid / Hokkaido sea urchin risotto - as the song of summer 2016 said... "This is what you came for".  And boy, was I happy that I came for this!!!

    The risotto was nice and al dente.  The sea urchin sweet and creamy.  And those firefly squids... they just exploded with flavors of the ocean once I bit into them.  The finely chopped chives and black pepper worked really, really well with the dish.

    The mistake we made?  We should have cut out one of the other dishes and ordered two of these - so that we both could have a bowl to ourselves!

    Australian wagyu flap steak / bone marrow jus - Hello Kitty needed some ro ro, and this turned out to be perfect.

    The flap steak was perfectly cooked. It was tender, juicy, and full of beefy flavors. The bone marrow on top didn't hurt, either...  Someone was happy.

    We really didn't have room for dessert, and just made do with canelés.  Yum!

    This being a casual dinner and all, I brought a simple bottle that I'd been cellaring for more than a decade for casual drinking.

    2001 Ojai Vineyard Syrah Roll Ranch Vineyard - served 45 minutes after opening.  A little closed at first.  Kinda sweet and minty.  Lots more sweet fruit came out after about 75 minutes.

    Very satisfied and soooooo happy that we decided to unwind here on a Friday night.

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  • 04/08/17--08:36: Californian and French TOAST
  • The Prince of Napa is back in town, and a few weeks ago he invited me to join a "casual BYOB dinner".  When I asked him what the theme for the evening was, I was told there was no theme... BUT someone was apparently planning on bringing a 1997 Abreu.  Well, I know that my friend often drinks with people who pop open bottles of Jayer, DRC, and old Bordeaux First Growths without a second thought... but c'mon!  1997 Abreu is not a casual bottle for most of us mere mortals.

    Anyway, I decided to bring something appropriate to match, and showed up tonight at Elite Dining (優粵閣).  This space used to be Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), back when they had a macaron.  Apparently it is now run by Elite Concepts, who also runs Nanhai No. 1 (南海一號) right downstairs.  Given that I'm not a fan of either that establishment nor sister restaurant Ye Shanghai (夜上海), I wasn't particularly excited about the food we'd be having tonight.

    The menu was preset for our little group in the private room, and the restaurant was kind enough to provide each of us with a few glasses.  But with the hodgepodge of wines tonight, I was constantly rinsing my glasses with water before switching to the next bottle...

    Jelly fish head mixed with white pepper (白胡椒海蜇頭) - honestly, I didn't taste any white pepper...

    Crispy pork belly (脆皮燒肉) - below average.  Yes, the crackling was OK, but the pork belly was on the lean side.

    Deep-fried spare ribs with honey and chili sauce (密椒欖角骨) - not bad, and the combination of flavors was a little unusual.

    Crispy suckling pig (招牌乳豬全體, 手撕二度) - what's not to like about having a whole roast suckling pig at the table?!

    The crackling was thin and crispy.

    And the plate of shredded meat was fantastic.  Tender, fatty, tasty.

    Stir-fried prawns with egg white (水晶蛋白蝦球) - this was OK.  Flavors of the egg white were on the light side.

    Scrambled eggs with vermicelli and crabmeat (鮮蟹肉炒桂花銀絲) - this was OK.

    Steamed giant grouper (清蒸沙巴龍躉) - the fish wasn't the prettiest-looking when it came to our table...

    ...but it was OK, if slightly overdone.

    Stewed chicken with "Shaoxing" wine in clay pot (陳年花雕鮮雞) - this was OK.  Naturally the chicken didn't have much flavor of its own.

    Simmered banboo fungus with vegetables (上湯竹笙扒菜膽) - this was pretty standard.  The hearts of the mustard greens were tender.

    Fried rice with crabmeat, conpoy and egg white (瑤柱蛋白炒飯) -not bad.

    Almond cream (生磨杏仁茶) - reasonable and middle-of-the-road in terms of flavors and texture.

    Chrysanthemum with ginger juice jello (菊花薑汁糕)

    Crispy egg pastry glazed with honey (金絲脆麻花) - what's not to like about crispy, deep-fried dough?  I wish I got more of this.  In fact, I wish I had half the plate to myself.

    The Prince of Napa, not surprisingly, bitched about his disappointment regarding the food - calling it one of the worst dinners he's ever had in Hong Kong.  Well... I didn't find the food to be anything to write home about, but I've had far worse.  Although to be fair, I probably wouldn't go back...

    Aaaaaaaand then there were the wines.  The 11 of us ended up with 15 bottles, and would have been 16 had someone not left behind her 2000 Colgin Tychson Hill in a taxi before showing up at dinner.  Lots of wine + high proportion of alcoholic Californians = TOAST.

    2008 de Fieuzal - a little more oxidized and caramelized than expected.  A little pungent, perhaps sulfur, with a little flint.

    2012 Lavinia Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Nuits par DRC - leaner with nice acidity, flinty.  Pretty good.

    2014 Arista Chardonnay Banfield Vineyard - nice acidity here along with some ripeness.  Pretty fruity and oaky.

    2001 Henri Boillot Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrières - corked, showing wet cardboard and sweet grass.

    1988 Palmer - supposedly sourced from one of the owners of the château, but didn't come with a Mähler-Besse label.  Still plenty of fruit here, with smoky nose and grilled meats.  Elegant and beautiful.  Arguably my favorite wine of the evening.

    1983 Léoville Las-Cases - classic claret but a little more muted, showing a little smoke.  Soft on the palate.

    2000 Petrolo Torrione - a little stewed and cooked.  Pretty sweet with a little black olive.

    1998 Vogüé Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru - pretty nice.  A little eucalyptus, some leather and sweet fruit. Drinking very well.

    2010 Marcassin Pinot Noir Marcassin Vineyard - much sweeter and lots of fruit, and showing beautifully.  The alcohol was a little high a singeing the hair in my nostrils...

    2014 Arista Pinot Noir Toboni Vineyard - very sweet and fruity, showing strawberries.  A lot like Marcassin, which isn't a surprise considering the whole winemaking team came from there...

    1997 Shafer Hillside Select - I carried this back from Shafer in 2000 and have been waiting to open this.  Much, much smoother than I had expected.  Smoky nose with a hint of vanilla, but overall much leaner than I would have guessed.

    1997 Abreu Madrona Ranch - a hint of cork here, showing sweet grass and cardboard.  Shame.

    1996 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - pretty cooked, with a lot of black olives.

    2006 York Creek Cabernet Sauvignon - sweet but a little cooked.
    2012 Grace Vineyard Deep Blue - nose was very sweet, a lot like US pinot.  A little cooked, too, with some savory notes like black olives.

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    Now that I've started to hike in order to fly my drone, and the weather seems to have gotten better, I decided to go for another outing this weekend.  This time I set off for familiar ground, although it has been more than a decade since I last went onto the Dragon's Back.  The weather today wasn't as bright and sunny as yesterday, and I kinda regret not going droning right after leaving the Hong Kong Sevens.  Oh well...

    I got Hello Kitty to come along with me today, and we decided to take the Number 9 Bus from Shau Kei Wan and hopped off at Lan Nai Wan (爛泥灣).  This doesn't get us to the start of the Dragon's Back - which is the next bus stop of To Tei Wan (土地灣) - but this is where I've always started my hike on the Dragon's Back... ever since my very first hike back in 1995.

    Unfortunately for Hello Kitty, this meant that instead of going up on a nice and easy paved path, we were taking a steeper, well-trodden dirt trail - while getting our arms and legs scraped by the vegetation.  It was also a little tough on someone whose shoes didn't have the right treads.

    After a couple of pauses for breath while taking it kinda easy, we finally got to the top.  I took my DJI Mavic Pro out of the bag and started setting up.  That's when I got the message about a new firmware being available, and foolishly decided to upgrade.  I thought I had already upgraded a few days ago, but I figured it'd only take a few minutes so why not do it again.  Big mistake.

    Maybe it was because the signal strength on top of the hill was relatively weak, but it took a loooong time to download the latest firmware.  But what was ridiculous was that it took even longer to install the firmware.  All in all, Hello Kitty and I sat around for about half an hour before the process was complete and I could start flying.

    I started by flying towards Big Wave Bay (大浪灣).  The sun was hiding behind the clouds this afternoon, only peeking out occasionally, but at least the skies weren't gray.  Not surprisingly, the winds were fairly strong and I kept getting warnings from my drone.

    I just love panning straight down and looking at the clear water below.  The weather was relatively warm although I don't know whether the water temperature was still cold.  That didn't seem to stop a few surfers getting their boards out...

    Spending half an hour updating the firmware put a drain on the batteries, and fighting the wind didn't help, either... so I decided to call the drone home after about 11 minutes of flight time.  The battery had about 11% capacity left by the time it landed.

    I sent the drone out again with a fresh battery, this time flying over the Shek O Country Club before going back to Big Wave Bay Beach again.

    The beautifully manicured fairways and greens of the Shek O Country Club looked stunning from above, especially as it's located by the rocks.  Maybe next time I'll fly a little lower and get a closer look...

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    Thrice a year, around the time of the respective announcements of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, and Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants - all of which are sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna - controversy erupts about the validity of this list... about how the rankings are total bullshit, the system and the people behind it are corrupt, how the list is not about the quality of the restaurants but the result of marketing efforts... etc.  The debate has been going on for years and isn't likely to go away soon.

    In my book, any list or ranking is inherently imperfect, as everyone's tastes and preferences are different.  I love to repeat this cliché so much because it rings true : OPINIONS ARE LIKE ASSHOLE, EVERYBODY'S GOT ONE.  So I have grown tired of these discussions and won't go into yet another round here.

    For the last couple of years, though, there has also been some blowback regarding the creation of the "Best Female Chef" award by the same organization responsible for the 50 Best lists.  Critics questioned why such awards were needed, and considered them sexist.  Many of the same people also openly wondered whether there should be "Best Male Chef" awards alongside these gender-specific awards.

    At the risk of throwing more gas on the fire - and getting totally flamed in the process - I'll come out and say that criticizing the need for "best female chef" awards is analogous to criticizing people for saying #BlackLivesMatter.  And people who don't see a need for these kind of awards are also likely to feel that there's no need for any kind of affirmative action - that everything should be based purely on merit because everyone is on the same, level playing field.  That's just fucking bullshit.

    I'm not part of the hospitality industry, and I'm sure those people within the industry would know the challenges of being in the industry much better than I do.  But even a civilian like myself can easily see the strains that long hours in the kitchen can have on a chef's life, and those pressures seem even more onerous when the chef is question is female - given the many allegations of sexism in the kitchen.  If you have any doubt that the existence of sexism in this industry - only one of those challenges facing female chefs - check out this story about Dominique Crenn.

    I am therefore not the least bit surprised when, in compiling lists of "top" restaurants, very few at the very top are ones helmed by female chefs.  This isn't to say that women can't be top chefs.  History tells us that long before Alain Ducasse and Joël Robuchon came on the scene, the world's first chef to run multiple Michelin 3-star restaurants was Eugénie Brazier - whose twin La Mère Brazier restaurants once both held the highest honor from Michelin.

    Let's examine the criticism - directed at the World's 50 Best Restaurants - regarding the absence of restaurants run by female chefs on the 50 Best lists.  Some of them wondered why only three entries in the 2017 World's 50 Best Restaurants are represented by female chefs - and in both cases, share the billing with a man.

    Is the World's 50 Best Restaurants - and the people whose votes make up the list - particularly sexist? Let's see:

    In the 2017 edition of the World's 50 Best Restaurants - and the accompanying 51-100 list, the following 6 restaurants are represented by female chefs - with 3 in the top 50:

    No. 5, Central - Pía Léon shares the billing with her husband Virgilio Martinez
    No. 30, Arzak - Elena Arzak (World's Best Female Chef 2012) shares the billing with her father Juan Mari Arzak
    No. 40, Cosme - Chef de Cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes shares the billing with chef/owner Enrique Olvera
    No. 69, Hiša Franko - Ana Roš (World's Best Female Chef 2017)
    No. 81, Maní - Helena Rizzo (Latin America's Best Female Chef 2013, World's Best Female Chef 2014) shares the billing with her husband Daniel Redondo
    No. 83, Atelier Crenn - Dominique Crenn (World's Best Female Chef 2016)

    Let us look at three other lists - all published in 2017 - compiled by Steve Plotnicki at Opinionated About Dining.  These are also the results of a voting system, although the methodology is vastly different from that of the 50 Best.

    In OAD's Top 100+ European Classical and Heritage Restaurants 2017, 4 restaurants are ranked within the top 100, with 3 inside the top 50:

    No. 12, Dal Pescatore - Nadia Santini
    No. 13, Pic - Anne-Sophie Pic (who was World's Best Female Chef 2011)
    No. 37, Al Sorriso - Luisa Valazza
    No. 94, Romano - Franca Checchi

    Similarly, in OAD's Top 100+ U.S. Restaurants 2017, 6 restaurants are found within the top 100, with just one inside the top 50:

    No. 46, Atelier Crenn - Dominique Crenn (World's Best Female Chef 2016)
    No. 76, Acquerello - Suzette Gresham
    No. 78, Aquavit - Emma Bengtsson
    No. 83, N/Naka - Niki Nakayama
    No. 88, Del Posto - Melissa Rodriguez
    No. 97, Elizabeth - Iliana Regan

    Finally, in OAD's Top 100+ Asian Restaurants 2017, which is dominated by entries from Japan, there are actually none within the top 100.  The only 3 entries within the top 200 are:

    No. 131, Bo.Lan - Duangporn 'Bo' Songvisava (Asia's Best Female Chef 2013) share the billing with husband Dylan Jones
    No. 133, Le Moût - Lanshu Chen (Asia's Best Female Chef 2014)
    No. 139, Tate Dining Room - Vicky Lau (Asia's Best Female Chef 2015)

    So.... after all that rambling, what's my point?  Well, I think there are valid reasons why female chefs should be fêted and their achievements singled out.  If you asked me to name the top female chefs in the world - or in Asia, for that matter - I probably would have difficulty coming up with names other than the ones already singled out by the various "best female chef" awards.  The reality is that the restaurant industry is very, very male-dominated at the top end, and from my own experience, I very seldom dine at top restaurants helmed by female chefs.  Here in Asia, I've gone to Le Moût twice, Tate Dining Room twice, and Bo.Lan once.  The only other two female chefs running kitchens that I can name are Margaret Xu and Lise Deveix (Akrame Hong Kong)

    Maybe because it's fresh in my mind, but I'm getting a little tired of all the 50 Best-bashing - just like I've gotten a little tired of my own Michelin-bashing years ago.  If you wanna accuse the 50 Best list of being "sexist", then you might as well look at other "listicles"... and clearly OAD's 3 lists published this year aren't any better.  While I haven't done extensive research on all the Michelin Guides around the world, I also don't think they do a much better job in this department.  So what's with the hypocrisy of 50 Best hate, especially from the people at Eater?!

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    It's Easter weekend and we have a couple of extra days off, so I took the opportunity to get a couple of extra droning sessions in.  I didn't wanna go too far out today, and given that we needed to be on the eastern end of Hong Kong Island, Hello Kitty and I decided to take Kuma out for a stroll in Tai Tam Country Park (大潭郊野公園).  I've gotten a little more experienced flying my drone ever since my first flight there, and since the trail we planned to be on was virtually flat, it was also a good opportunity to take Kuma out on his first hike in almost 2 years.

    We started at the south entrance and strolled along Tai Tam Reservoir Road.  There were lots of people out today, including at least one race that went through the road.  There were also lots of people taking their dogs out, so Kuma got to do his meet-and-greet with plenty of new friends.  He was also pretty popular with the kids.

    Like last time, we parked ourselves at the picnic area next to the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir Masonry Bridge, and launched the drone from there.  And just like last time, I sent the drone over Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir towards the bridge, and over Tai Tam Harbour.

    I was trying to get a closer look at Red Hill Peninsula, but thanks to the distance and the trees that were in my way, I decided not to push the drone any further.

    We moved closer back towards the south entrance, and I parked myself on one the bridges straddling the reservoir, and did flew under the bridge for a few shots.

    When I was done and ready to pack up, we did the obligatory "drone selfie"...

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  • 04/14/17--08:07: A Stellar Good Friday
  • I've been trying to get together with a couple of friends, and after multiple rounds of trying to schedule something that works for everyone, we finally managed to meet up on Good Friday, again.  The six of us gathered at Stellar House (星月居), where the kitchen is helmed by Chan Yat-Sang (陳日生) - formerly the head chef of Shun Tak Fraternal Association (順德聯誼總會).  The chef's reputation precedes him, and I had in fact tried his cuisine once years ago, so I was pretty curious about this relatively new restaurant.

    The menu we had tonight was the second version that was proposed - or at least, the second version that I had seen.  The earlier version had braised abalone and was a shorter menu.  Obviously our hostess didn't think the abalone was necessary and asked for substitution, and we ended up getting quite a few more dishes in exchange...

    Double-boiled soup with fish maw and conch (花膠響螺湯) - I didn't taste any of the fish maw from the plate of "dregs" because a couple of the others complained about its quality, but the soup was OK.

    Wok-fried crystal prawns (玻璃明蝦球) - the many dinners I've had at my favorite private dining space has forever spoiled me when it comes to many dishes... and this is one of them.  This is such a "plain" version in comparison, even for something as basic as the scoring of the prawns.  The flavors and texture of the prawns also fall some ways short. In fact, I felt the flavors were a little off...  Only the little strip of crispy ham kinda helped.

    Daliang fried milk (大良炒鮮奶) - rather disappointing.  First of all, we didn't get to the dish right away because dishes were being delivered a little too quickly, before we've had a chance to get to the earlier dishes.  When we finally got to it... well, it was a disappointment to me - just as it was seven years ago.  Besides the sliced mushrooms and pine nuts, there was also some crab meat.  Unfortunately, the kitchen did a poor job and extracting the crab meat, and I found quite a few pieces of hard crab shell on my plate.

    Crispy pan-fried and baked fish jaws (煎焗魚咀) - these were pretty good, and we were each given one piece of upper and lower jaw.  Nice and tasty gelatin here.

    We had asked for the kitchen to slow down the service of dishes, and we became annoyed when the fish came when we were still busy with the other dishes.  We were told that the fish was already being steamed when we passed down our earlier instruction, and going forward the dishes will arrive at a slower pace. Well... I guess this place is just like 95% of Chinese restaurants - the kitchen dictates how quickly you should eat.

    Steamed brown-marbled grouper (清蒸海老虎斑) - the sauce served with the fish was surprisingly sweet, and has a higher proportion of oil than what I'm used to.  Which made it more delicious than usual.

    Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - everyone loved the sweet and sour pork.  There was a little more sauce than I had expected, but the combination of crispy batter and tender pork inside was a winner.

    Crispy pigeon (脆皮燒乳鴿) - O.M.G.  It's been sooooo long since I last had a crispy pigeon this tasty.  This was old school... marinated in 20-year-old 滷水 before roasting.  Incredibly thin and crispy skin, and very, very juicy and succulent.   I especially love it when the pigeon tastes almost "milky"...

    Eight treasures stuffed duck (霸王八寶鴨) - honestly, this was waaaaay too big for the six of us, especially since we had so many other dishes.  The duck came stuffed with salted egg yolks, shiitake mushrooms, lotus seeds, ginkgo nuts, and Job's tears.  We all ended up taking boxes of it home.

    Fried glutinous rice (生炒糯米飯) - apparently the glutinous rice is washed in hot water several times in order to reduce its stickiness, but I'd rather prefer the texture of other versions of the dish.  This version also doesn't have any soy sauce added, and relies on the preserved sausage and preserved pork for seasoning.

    Jujube soup with lotus seeds, lily bulb, and longan (紅蓮百合圓肉糖水) - pretty decent.  Any sweet soup with longan and jujube is OK in my book...

    Naturally, we brought a few bottles to our little gathering.  I was, however, a little surprised that we didn't polish off more bottles tonight...

    2006 Roses de Jeanne Côte de Val Vilaine, dégorgée en Avril 2014 - always nice to drink this blanc de noirs.  Pretty soft and round on the palate, with a little acidity along with ripeness.  The minerality kinda clashed with the prawns.

    2004 Didier Dagueneau Pur Sang - pretty ripe now, with good acidity balance. Later on opened up to show a little flint and acetone.

    2012 Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc To-Kalon Vineyard I-Block - this has always been one of my favorite Californian wines, prized (by the likes of me) for its rarity - as it's only available at the winery itself.  The I-Block contains sauvignon blanc vines planted in 1945, and for me there is always something special about old vines.  Initially the nose was a little muted, with a little oak and flint.  Lean with good acidity.  Later this opened up to show some muscat grapes and a little pipi de chat.

    1999 Roulot Meursault Charmes - good acidity here, showing flint and lots of tasty notes.  Drinking beautifully.

    [1968 or 1970] Penfolds Dalwood Hermitage - very bretty and medicinal, barnyard, and savory.

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  • 04/15/17--02:16: Droning Boy: Lion Rock FAIL
  • The weather was looking pretty good today, and Hello Kitty was out enjoying a girls' lunch, so I decided to take my drone for an outing.  Lion Rock (獅子山) has long been considered a symbol of the indomitable spirit of the Hong Kong, and over the last couple of years, banners demanding "real democratic election" would be hung from the top of the mountain from time to time.  I figured that it would make for an interesting shoot.

    Public transport to the spot was surprisingly easy, and a few minutes after getting off the bus, I found myself in Lion Rock Park (獅子山公園).  I found a flat and open area away from the crowds, and launched my DJI Mavic Pro up in the air.

    Unfortunately, even though the top of the rock isn't above the height limit set by the drone, the trees around me - and perhaps the presence of power lines nearby - caused me to lose connection with the drone.  I got close to the top, but wasn't able to fly above or get right in front of the peak for a better shot.

    I made a second attempt from a slightly higher location, but the result was kinda the same.  Towards the end my gimbal was starting to behave erratically and I was getting error messages about "gimbal motor overload", so I figured I shouldn't risk it any further.  I called the drone home.

    I guess I'll have to go climb up to the rock of that rock myself and just shoot from there next time...

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    With the weather forecast predicting very fine weather today, I had planned a trip to Lantau Island with Hello Kitty today so I could get more use out of my drone.  Somewhere along the line Diva decided that he would like to come along, so I planned out the trip and we agreed on a noon departure.

    The weather, as it turned out, was fantastic on this Easter Sunday.  I knew there would be a ton of people trying to get out of the city, so the lines for buses at Tung Chung would be ridiculous.  Ferry to Mui Wo would be a better idea, as the number of people waiting for buses would be limited by the number of passengers that could fit on any single ferry.

    But first, a little fuel is needed before we embark on our adventure.  Hello Kitty and I got our caffeine fix at Fuel in IFC - which now charges HKD 52 for a latte... because they can.  We then decamped to Le Salon de The Joël Robuchon for some breakfast.  Why did we make two stops, you ask?  Well, there's nothing substantial that we'd wanna eat at Fuel, and the coffee at Oncle Joël's is disgusting.  And we wanted the best of both worlds.

    I ordered the brioche French toast with berries, and since we were gonna burn up some extra energy today, figured I'd add the pork sausages on the side, too.  After waiting around 15 minutes or so, my French toast arrived - sans sausages.  I was a little annoyed but willing to forgo the encased meat, but the kitchen sent them out a few minutes later.  I must say... these were probably the most fancy French toasts I've ever had.  Definitely tasty... and I don't wanna know how much butter was used.  The pork sausages had a very strong, if pungent, taste to them.  I can imagine some of the customers complaining about that.

    We arrived at the ferry pier 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time and found ourselves at the back of a very, very long queue.  I'd never seen anything like it at the pier, and wondered whether we would be able to make it on the 12 p.m. ferry.  Well, we did miss the ferry that I wanted to be on, but thankfully there was an extra sailing a short while after, and as luck would have it, we made it just in time for the scheduled bus departure I wanted to catch.

    After a long and winding journey that took us along South Lantau Road, rounding Shek Pik Reservoir and passing not one but two prisons, we finally arrived at Ngong Ping.  Hello Kitty and Diva parked themselves at a restaurant inside the tourist trap known as Ngong Ping village, while I found myself a quiet corner from which to launch my drone.

    Click here for a 4K version of the video.

    The weather was absolutely beautiful today, and I made two flights around the Tian Tan Buddha (天壇大佛) - circling overhead to get the obligatory 360-degree view with the DJI Mavic Pro's Point of Interest Mode.  I also managed to get a glimpse of Tung Chung as well as Hong Kong International Airport in the distance, but I had planned a hike later in the day to get a better view.

    After I finished flying the drone, we went onto the grounds at Po Lin Monastery (寳蓮禪寺) and climbed the steps to the big Buddha statue.  It's been 20 years since my first and only visit, but I was very glad to have come back.

    I wanted to make another stop to fly my drone, so we headed away from the crowds to an area called the Wisdom Path (心經簡林).  To be frank, I wasn't planning on seeing this set of wooden tree trunks carved with the Heart Sutra (般若波羅蜜多心經).  I wanted to come here because it's right on the edge of the mountain, and it seemed like the perfect place to launch my drone towards Lantau Peak (鳳凰山) and Kau Nga Ling (狗牙嶺).  I walked around the path out of curiosity, but Hello Kitty was unhappy about being on the path.  Apparently there are rumors/urban legends about this place being a fengshui array (風水陣) designed to pin down and choke the phoenix in the mountains, and meant to ruin the fortunes of Hong Kong.  Well, I have no clue about these things, but now that she mentioned it, the center of the path did look like the head of a cobra...

    I guided the drone on an ascent to the top of Lantau Peak, thinking that unlike yesterday, I've got direct line of sight to my target destination... and also no interference.  And hey, I was launching the drone at an altitude of around 450m!

    But Lantau Peak has an official height of 934m above sea level, and my Mavic Pro has an internal height limit of 500m.  So even though I've kinda reached the top of the mountain, I couldn't gain enough height above it for a really good top-down shot.  I was a little frustrated, but decided to descend and fly towards Kau Nga Ling.  I didn't quite make it there, because battery concerns led me to recall the drone.  Not wanting to bore my two companions further, I packed it up and moved us to our next hiking trail.

    Nei Lak Shan Country Trail (彌勒山郊野徑) starts around where we were, and circles Nei Lak Shan (彌勒山).  Heading north in a counter-clockwise direction, this would give us good views of the north side of Lantau Island, including the airport and nearby Tung Chung.  We also get a pretty good view of the northern face of Lantau Peak.

    We were about halfway to my intended destination along this relatively deserted trail, when suddenly Hello Kitty - who was a few steps in front of me - jumped and screamed "SNAKE!" The remaining two of us reacted in shock, too, as I saw a pretty sizable black/dark gray snake - probably between 1 to 1.5m long - quickly dash into the bushes next to the trail.  The snake was just as startled as we were, and thankfully none of us were hurt.  In all these years of being on hiking trails I had always wondered if I would come across a live snake, and I never have - until today.

    We decided that it was probably a good idea to turn back and head home.  We'd had enough adventure for one day, and I thought I'd gotten some pretty good drone footage.  We took the bus back from Ngong Ping to Mui Wo, and caught the slow boat back to Central.  The sun was going down, and we enjoyed looking at the sky being painted in beautiful colors.

    P.S. on our way back, we joked about the fact that the snake seemed as scared of us as we were of it.  Well... if the snake were smart, it would certainly run away from people in Hong Kong... especially three who really enjoy their snake soup in the winter!

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    After our hiking adventures earlier today, we felt we needed to treat ourselves to a nice dinner.  Specifically, a steak dinner.  So... a call was placed to book ourselves a table, and after going back to our respective homes to clean ourselves up, we reconvened at the Grand Hyatt Steakhouse.

    Hello Kitty's eyes lit up as soon as she saw the presence of our favorite Spanish beef listed on the menu.  The three of us agreed to share 3 different orders of steak, plus a couple of starters and sides.

    Garlic bread - this place is known for their good garlic bread, and they certainly looked pretty damn good... but I was a little disappointed today.  These just didn't have enough kick from the garlic.

    Prawn cocktail, cocktail and louis sauce - apparently both Hello Kitty and Diva love prawn cocktails as part of their childhood memories.  I myself don't suffer from the same nostalgia, but at least the prawns are nice and fresh.

    Bone marrow, herb salad, capers, shallot jam, sourdough toast - we were never gonna pass up something like this!  We scooped out the bone marrow and spread it on the sourdough, then added a little bit of totally yummy shallot jam.  The richness of the marrow, with the right amount of seasoning and herb crust, was just heavenly.

    But there was an extra piece of garlic bread leftover, and no one else seemed to want it, so I took it upon myself to spread some marrow on top of this piece of bread - which was, of course, infinitely better than just a plain slice of sourdough.

    Galician 12 year Rubia Gallega Tenderloin, 10 oz. - my favorite breed of cattle ever since the Man in White T-shirt introduced it to me.  Dry aged for 90 days instead of the 120 days or more I'm used to having, so there wasn't that funky, blue cheese flavor that I love so much.

    But the meat still had plenty of flavor, and a nice, tender texture thanks to the dry aging.

    Galician 12 year Rubia Gallega Striploin, 12 oz. - also dry aged for 90 days.

    This was my favorite tonight.  I preferred the slightly firmer texture, and better flavors coming from the strip of fat running down the side.

    Dry aged Irish free range rib eye by John Stone, 14 oz. - dry aged for 60 days.

    Comparatively, this piece of meat was more bland, but still fairly decent in the grand scheme of things.

    Thrice cooked duck fat potato fried - very sinful.

    Macaroni and cheese, aged white cheddar - the use of very short sections of macaroni was interesting, but I found the powdery sauce annoying.  Hello Kitty believes that the roux had separated and I was tasting the graininess of the flour, and I'd say she was right.

    Creamed spinach, nutmeg - this seemed almost like spinach purée, which was something I'm not really used to when it comes to creamed spinach.

    After the kind of day we've had, a little was definitely in order. Diva and I each brought a bottle...

    1991 Opus One - very smooth on the palate.  Smoky nose, clearly a little "old", showing some cedar and woodsy notes along with some coffee and savory notes.  After about 20 minutes in the decanter, some sweetness showed up, along with good acidity.  Started to fade after 1½ hours in the decanter, showing a little cooked fruit.

    2003 Canon La Gaffelière - really sweet and a little jammy, almost luscious.  Showing berries with some smokiness underneath, along with a little forest and coffee notes.  Beautiful.

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  • 04/18/17--06:19: Mo' Unni in the 'Hood
  • Mo' Unni's making some big changes in her life, and we figured we were overdue for a catch up, so a reservation was made for an early dinner at Neighborhood.  I was a little surprised that she had never been to my favorite restaurant in town.  As an aside, days after this reservation was made, another friend asked me to take her to Neighborhood for dinner... a request I turned down as I suggested an alternative.  So... more than 2 years after the place opened, my friends are still waiting for me to take them to my favorite restaurant...

    Anyway.  I arrived shortly after 6 p.m. to a completely empty space.  I was the only customer around as I chose my table and sat down.  No sign of the Man in White T-shirt.  After Mo' Unni arrived, I asked her to pick out a handful of dishes.  It's a casual meal and we don't really need anything fancy.

    Potato gnocchi / fava beans / duck ham - this was pretty damn good, if slightly heavy as the first dish.  The gnocchi were like fluffy marshmallows, and the fava beans were very, very delish.  Those slices of duck ham?  DAMN!  Those could give jamón ibérico a run for their money.

    Artichoke barigoule / escargot - the boss loves working with artichokes, and this is a simple and homey dish - with carrot and ham brunoise as well as chopped onions.  Very yum.  The portion size was fairly large.

    Toyama firefly squid / Hokkaido sea urchin risotto - naturally, I can't pass this dish up while it was still available.  Firely squid (蛍烏賊)!!!!!  I simply pointed the dish to Mo' Unni and told her that she couldn't possibly not have a dish with uni as one of the main ingredients...

    Well... tonight the risotto was a lot more wet than usual... and their style is already a little more runny than what many people are used to.  I was, of course, in firefly squid heaven, and not surprisingly Mo' Unni felt that she could have done with less squid and more uni...  I did originally suggest that we each order a bowl for ourselves, but that would have been a little too much to handle.  Maybe next time we will order two bowls, and her bowl will have more uni and mine will have more squid - making both of us even more happy than we were.

    Wagyu bavette steak / bone marrow jus - this was surprisingly good on my last visit, and the rump steak remains really tender and flavorful.  Always happy to have bone marrow, too...

    Homemade coconut sorbet - I had intended to pass up dessert, but I just couldn't resist when I found out they had coconut sorbet.  This wasn't the crisp and refreshing kind made with coconut water, but rather rich and intense.  Very sweet with that coconut butter flavor.

    Canelés - nom nom nom

    I brought a casual bottle of wine, which was given to me by a Taiwanese friend some years ago.  The winery is owned by a Taiwanese guy, so that makes it kinda unique.

    2007 Les Belles Collines - sweet on the nose and also a little sweet on the palate, showing eucalyptus, minty, a little meaty notes.  Almost jammy.  After 2 hours, palate became a little bitter and tannic.

    After we had finished with our food, the Man in White T-shirt finally made an appearance... in a suit!!!  I have no idea what function he had just attended, but as Mrs. White T-shirt said, it was clearly a wardrobe malfunction!  Well, at least his shirt was still white...

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  • 04/19/17--08:09: Gin et Jim
  • A couple of days before my first visit to Frantzén's Kitchen, I somehow scared myself into thinking that an online reservation I thought I had made was not completed.  This was, of course, helped along by an incompetent staff member at the restaurant.  In a state of panic, I hurriedly made an online booking for tonight, before discovering that I did, in fact, hold a booking for the original date.

    Since I enjoyed my dinner at the restaurant so much, I decided to keep the second booking and come back a mere 6 weeks later.  So... a mere 3 nights after our steak dinner, Diva, Hello Kitty, and I reconvened for another meal.  Diva had told us that he didn't enjoy his first trip here, but he was willing to give it another try.

    Unlike my first visit, this time we were seated at the counter, up close with the couple of chefs who do the plating with their tweezers - including Jim Löfdahl.  A couple of the staff may or may not have recognized the guy with the DSLR, but in any case we were treated pretty well tonight.

    I decided not to BYO tonight so we would just order cocktails.  As I was scanning the wine list, I came upon a very curious entry, and decided to order it up.

    Richard Juhlin Blanc de Blancs Non-Alcoholic Sparkling Wine - Richard Juhlin is a well-known critic who rates Champagne, so when there's a non-alcoholic sparkling wine bearing his name - and a blanc de blancs! - I was naturally curious.  Nose was a little pungent, and in fact smelled more like apple cider from Brittany with the mineral notes.  Not a fan.

    Knäckebröd - I absolutely loved these wafers of rye crispbread last time, and I couldn't stop eating them tonight, either...

    ...because of the incredibly awesome beurre noisette, which was mixed with 50% regular butter plus some 1.7% of salt.  As I did last time, I couldn't stop spreading this on the knäckebröd, and we probably went through 7 to 8 servings of this...

    We each ordered our own snacks, then shared all the mains.

    "Swedish sushi" - the piece I had tonight was even better than the one I had last time, perhaps because there was more of the cep mayonnaise on top of the lichen... or because the shavings of frozen foie gras was tastier.  The raw slice of fallow deer was just as tender and tasty, and the ash on top of the powdered foie gras added a little je ne sais quoi...  I think next time, I'll need to have two pieces of this.

    "French toast" - winter truffle season is coming to an end, but this was still really delicious.  The bread was soaked in 25-year-old balsamico, and one could taste the slight crunch of the stewed white onions in between.  Tonight, instead of using the Swedish cheese aged for 14 months as last time, it was 28-month Parmigiano-Reggiano Vacche Rosse.  The flavors were definitely richer tonight.

    Sashimi of Norwegian salmon - the salmon was smoked, then lightly brushed with a glaze made with soy sauce and 5% sugar. On top we have pickled cucumber, Swedish king crab infused with beer and dill, trout roe infused with ponzu (ポン酢), and the "dill x3" featuring fresh, dried, and pollen from the end of the season.  Tonight the salmon aspic was much stronger in terms of flavor, and as last time, the trout roe required a lot of effort to pop in the mouth.  And the king crab didn't seem as creamy as before.  Still a very Swedish or Scandinavian dish to me... and still very tasty.

    I got myself a gin and tonic made with Hernö Gin and elderflower tonic, along with dried lingonberries and dried orange.  Pretty nice, actually...

    North Atlantic skrei "janssons" - this was one of my favorite dishes last time - where we ordered a second portion.  This is also the end of the season for the fish, served with caramelized Cevennes onions in a white wine sauce with preserved Swedish anchovies.  Topped with crispy potatoes, vendace roe from Kalix, chopped chives, and of course dill powder.  Like some of the other dishes, the flavors of this dish tonight were also stronger, and a little more salty.  Still very, very good.

    White asparagus - the white asparagus from Vaucluse was slow-cooked for 2 hours with dry white wine with coriander and covered with the peel of white asparagus.  Served with purée of split peas, sauce made with gooseberries fermented for 19 days, mint, crudités of asparagus, and toasted pine nuts.  The asparagus tasted fresh and sweet, and I could taste the fermented flavors in the gooseberry sauce, along with some acidity.

    Velouté - purée of caramelized French shallot onion at the bottom, roasted almonds, covered in caramelized French white onion soup, and topped with almond oil, almond milk, and licorice cream made with freeze-dried licorice root from Iran.  The almonds were very toasty and really delicious.  You've also got an interesting attack of sweetness underneath the rich and salty flavors.

    Tartar of Swedish dairy cow - the beef was dry-aged on the bone for 100 days, boned before export and hung a little longer for texture.  Mixed with sour cream made with sustainably-farmed Swedish silver eel (where 90% is released back to the Sargasso Sea).  Topped with crispy potatoes, double-smoked herring caviar, green onions, julienned mushrooms, and served with scallion oil.  The eel was nice and smoky, and worked very, very well with the beef.  Just as delicious as last time.

    Roasted Swedish pork belly - Omega-3 pork belly was cooked for 10 hours.  Served with pumpkin purée, pumpkin seeds, hot sauce made with fermented carrots and chili, fermented garlic, and dried kale.  OF COURSE the pork belly was delicious... with that crackling.

    Veal cheeks - the restaurant's take on "kalv i dill", the veal cheeks are slow-cooked for 24 hours, with purée of carrot cooked in its own juice (confit?), crudités of carrots covered in dill powder, and glazed carrots.  Covered in a sweet and sour sauce based on ättika.  As tender and delicious as I remembered.

    Pan-fried guinea fowl - cooked on the bone, with butter-flavored chicken jus and a touch of soya. Salad tossed with emulsion based on truffled vinegar, along with morels, hazelnuts, pickled girolles, and the first ramson of the season.  Not bad.  At least it would be more tasty than the chicken...

    Buried underneath the guinea fowl were a couple of cockscomb, which I enjoyed by myself since the others wouldn't eat it.  Yum!

    Hello Kitty was curious about aquavit, so we decided to try some at Jim's suggestion...  These were served in Riedel Single Malt Whisky glass - I'm guessing Vinum from the markings.

    Roslags Sailing Pepparmynta - I liked the peppermint flavor, and it makes for a good digestive.

    Roslags Sailing Havtorn + Örter - flavored with sea buckthorn and other herbs.  A little savory, mineral, with a hint of smoke.  Kinda reminds me of Chinese 跌打酒...  Jim prefers this over the other bottlings.

    O.P. Anderson Original - served chilled and not at room temperature like the others.  Apparently the gold standard.

    Swedish blueberry ice cream - at the bottom is pastry cream with ginger, with ice cream made with blueberries which have been caramelized for 24 hours, topped with caramelized honey, and almond sponge cake, confit lemon zest, and thin wafers of meringue.

    "Syltkakor" - this time with licorice and raspberries.  A little more butter fragrance this time, but I'd still rather have the beurre noisette with knäckebröd...  Actually, we didn't ask for these because we never liked them the last time, but somehow these showed up in front of us - and also on our bill.

    We had a really good time, again... and apparently Diva did, too.  It does help to have the head chef of the restaurant come and explain the dishes in more detail than some of the waitstaff could.  I guess I'll wait a few more months and see if they manage to change more of the dishes before making my third visit.

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  • 04/21/17--07:34: One star food, WTF service
  • WARNING: this is a long rant piece about why the service pissed me off so much that I won't return to a restaurant with good food.  If you have no interest in my rant, skip ahead to where the pictures start showing up and I actually talk about the food.  For the few of you who already have your bowls of popcorn or bags of peanuts ready... read on!


    It's been a while since we caught up with Winnie the Chew, and I was pretty happy we could figure out a date that worked for everyone.  To my great surprise (NOT!) she requested that I take her to Neighborhood... but as I was already scheduled to dine there 3 nights ago, I turned down the request and looked for an alternative.  When Hello Kitty suggested that we try out Tate Dining Room and Bar at their new location, I thought it was a great idea.  Vicky Lau has been getting some love in the press lately about her move to the brand-spanking-new digs, most notably from Hong Kong Tatler.  Both of my meals at the previous location were reasonably enjoyable, and after reading such a flattering piece in Tatler, along with Da Jam's restaurant review, there was no reason not to check out Vicky's new "All the Odes" menu...

    It had been raining heavily only hours before dinner, so I carried my umbrella to the restaurant.  I was surprised that there wasn't a place for me to park the umbrella, so I took it to our table and hung it from the side.  No one bothered to take notice, and it wasn't until I nudged it and the umbrella hit the floor with a loud "whack!" that someone came over and checked it for me.  Small matter, but many establishments would have taken care of it upon arrival.

    We brought our own wines as usual, and I carried both a Champagne as well as a red Burg.  I asked the Bespectacled Waiter - whom I recognized from my previous visit a year ago - to chill the bubbly.  While I made clear to him that we would also open the red Burg, I told him I needed to think a little when he asked me whether I also wanted the second bottle opened at the same time.  He politely walked off, but left the bottle of red Burg sitting in the middle of the table.  This bottle would remain in the middle of our table for the next hour or so - without anyone coming to ask if they could help put it somewhere out of our way.  Nobody on staff thought it was strange to have an unopened bottle of wine sitting in the middle of the table during dinner - for a whole hour.  I finally asked the Bespectacled Waiter to chill it before having it opened.  Strike one.

    Alas, that doesn't surprise me.  I remember the Bespectacled Waiter precisely because of the way I watched him serve wine to another table on my last visit... and was thankful that I didn't BYO that time.  And also because I just found difficulty in terms of communications with him.  Not that we don't speak the same language, but maybe we are just on totally different wavelengths...

    For some reason, one of our waiter took away the Champagne glasses from two of us while was still plenty of bubbly left in the bottle.  When it was discovered that we hadn't finished the bottle, new glasses were brought out for those who longer had them.  How did this happen?  Did someone decide on our behalf that we didn't need to finish our bottle, or someone made a decision that two of us shouldn't have any more Champagne?  Strike two.

    I know I can be a pain in the ass when it comes to wine service, and I normally don't want my glass topped up with a fresh pour until I have completely finished the wine in my glass.  This is because I want to taste how the wine develops over time, and I don't want to mix the old and new pours.  So I don't mind when I find my wine glass empty.

    However, not everyone is like me, and Hello Kitty was feeling fairly thirsty tonight... so she asked a waitress to pour her some wine when her glass became empty.  Well... said waitress kinda just ignored her and walked away to do something else unrelated to our table, and her glass remained empty.  Hello Kitty was none too pleased about having to make a second request to get some wine in her glass.  Strike three.

    Hello Kitty is also a lefty, so she is used to moving the silverware from her right side - where waitstaff usually sets them down - to her left side.  Normally the smart waitstaff at restaurants would notice this after a couple of times, and begin to set the silverware down on her left.  When you are setting down silverware for the seventh course and you are still putting it down on the wrong side - YOU ARE CLEARLY FAILING AT YOUR JOB.  What made it even worse?  After Hello Kitty moved the silverware from her right to her left, one waitress came and MOVED THEM BACK TO HER RIGHT!  WHAT KIND OF BRAINDEAD PERSON DO YOU HAVE TO BE??

    Good waitstaff needs to do more than just set down plates/silverware and recite the names of the dishes.  He or she should also be observant of the customers and - in rare cases where the staff is exceptionally good - anticipate the needs of the customers.  NO ONE was doing that here tonight.  Not even close.  Strike four.

    While I am commonly referred to as the Arrogant Prick by my friends and well-known to be very, very picky when it comes to service (I once inadvertently caught a glance of Amber's warning note to their front-of-house staff about me...), Hello Kitty is generally very easy-going.  When you fail so badly that you bring out THE Hello Kitty - kinda like that time when Good Chucky made a rare appearance - then a good skewering is gonna come your way.  Hence this portion of this post.

    Oh, one final thing.  I know not everyone is able to the flawless pronunciation of every single term which originated in a foreign language - myself included, but I still think that restaurants need to train their staff to try better.  Waiters who tell their diners about the SE-VEESH on the plate will get the same reaction from me as shop assistants who welcome me to their VER-SAYS or CHANNEL store. I'll let a lot of this stuff slide when I'm at my local Spaghetti House because I don't have any expectations.  When you're charging USD 200 for a seat in your fine dining restaurant - part of which goes to pay for the fancy decor and the custom-designed fancy uniforms for your waitstaff - I expect you to do better.  A LOT better.

    Contrary to popular belief, I don't enjoy skewering restaurants.  OK, maybe just a wee little bit, but it's far from my raison d'être.  Skewering is the inevitable result of an experience so poor that it elicits a reaction in response, and when I'm paying my own money to dine out, the last thing I would want is a poor meal - money down the drain and/or wasted calories consumed.

    In case it isn't clear: I want Tate Dining Room and Bar - and Vicky Lau in particular - to do well.  Just last week I had written another rant piece about the hate that certain people have for the "Best Female Chef Awards" given out over the last few years, in which I defended the need for such awards.  Vicky is a previous recipient of that award, and I would love nothing more than seeing her succeed and inspire others.  I think we need to see more diversity in the hospitality industry - especially in the kitchen.  But at the same time,  it doesn't mean I'm gonna cut her and her restaurant any slack when they fall short of my expectations.

    I've said many times before that poor service is one of the reasons why I don't return to restaurants - regardless of how good the food is.  And as a normally generous tipper, it takes a lot for me to put a big fat zero in the "tip" row on the credit card slip.  Which was what I put down tonight.

    *END RANT*

    Vicky Lau's new "All the Odes" menu comes in eight parts, with an additional ode at the end of the meal.  The menu is presented in a book-shaped box, along with the wine list.  There is no longer a choice between a shorter and a longer menu - so a more economical option has been removed.  There is now only a choice between the "regular" menu and a vegetarian (and slightly cheaper) option.

    INTRO. Sour dough with kombu butter - both "regular" and kombu (昆布) butter are served.  Naturally the kombu butter was much, much more delicious.

    Hor d'oeuvre - oops, we did it again!  We didn't see any mention of beetroot on the menu, so we didn't tell the waitstaff when asked about any dietary restrictions or preferences.  And right off the bat, we've got cold beetroot soup with a yogurt foam on top.  As it turns out there were three of us who dislike beetroot... but thankfully there also seemed to be some tomato purée inside, which diluted the earthy flavors of the offending root.  The little bits of diced cucumber also helped.

    I. Ode to Soya Sauce: tuna with steam fish soya sauce and scallion oil - with a dab of avocado cream. The rolls of tuna were pretty decent.  The bonito flake (鰹節) jelly was a little salty, but the whole thing still got some acidity for balance.

    II. Ode to Scallop: scallop espuma, ceviche and dried - so we've got Hokkaido scallops and ark shell ceviche, caviar, and strands of crispy potato, diced green apple, and scallop espuma.  As I recall, my dinner last year also included a dish with scallop espuma and caviar.  A sheet of rice paper came on the side.

    Horseradish foam was added on top.  Not sure I understand the rationale behind this... as the flavors of horseradish - who are much more pungent than wasabi (山葵) - kinda overwhelmed the natural flavors of the scallops...

    Brioche with fermented tofu butter - the brioche was delicious, and the butter flavored with fermented tofu (腐乳) was very, very interesting.

    III. Ode to Umami: miso grilled kinmedai with kinome purée and white asparagus - golden alfonsino (金目鯛) is one of my favorite fish to eat, and marinating it in white miso (味噌) is a nice touch.  Interesting for the chef to have included purée flavored with sansho leaves (木の芽)... which lent its distinctive fragrance.  The romanesco on the side was marinated in something a little fruity, which added a little sweetness as well as acidity.

    IV. Ode to Hong Kong: Dai Lin abalone with tuna jus and vegetable ribbons - this was very impressive... Although fresh abalone from Dalian (大連) was used, the flavors here were so rich and intense that I thought the chef had used dried abalone.  Really, really good.  The now-ubiquitous abalone liver sauce on the side was tasty, too.  Lemongrass foam on top, and vegetable ribbons on the side along with some lily bulb.  Ties for my favorite dish of the evening.

    V. Ode to a Chiu Chow Classic: foie gras royale with marinated goose - I'd read so much about this dish lately... a marriage between a classic French preparation with a classic Chiuchow dish.  Seemed like a natural fit, since many of us have had some incredible goose liver marinated in master stock (滷水) at the Chiuchow restaurants in town.  The chef has also worked with steamed foie gras before.  But what seemed like a perfect match on paper didn't quite work on our palates.  The sliced marinated goose was OK, as were the bits of crispy tofu skin, but all of us detected a bitter aftertaste.

    Was it the quality of the foie itself, or did the master stock that we drizzled on top of the foie gras royale with the eyedropper react poorly to the foie?  Probably the latter, but the bitterness was certainly unpleasant.  The pile of Sichuan peppercorns outside our bowls also delivered fragrance that seemed to overpower the actual scent of the dish.

    VI. Ode to Sakura Ebi: lobster tagliolini with crispy sakura ebi - this was really, really good.  Flavor-wise it was very similar to a dish I had on my first visit - down to the Château Chalon used along with the lobster broth.  The noodles were ever so slightly al dente, and of course the sauce had tons of umami here... and adding cherry tomatoes never hurt.  As for the crispy sakura shrimp (桜海老)?  Just heavenly.  I'd have no problem inhaling a couple more bowls of this.  Tied for my favorite dish of the evening - or maybe just wins by a nose.

    VII. Ode to Meat: Kagoshima beef tenderloin with cauliflower purée and spring vegetables - yes, I know this is A4 wagyu (和牛) from Kagoshima (鹿児島県)... a premium ingredient... but I didn't see the point.  The beef was overcooked, and served a little lukewarm - perhaps a function of the fact that the slices were dainty and thin.  Served with tomato sauce on top, along with cauliflower cream, asparagus, fiddlehead fern, and leeks.  The little bits of spicy kimchi were interesting, though...

    VIII. Ode to Sun: Alfonso mango gateau with sago pandan coconut ice cream - I was pretty disappointed in the Alfonso mango dessert I had last year not because it wasn't delicious, but because the mango played merely a supporting role.  That didn't happen this year.  We were advised to first suck up the contents of the glass, which was a mix of mango purée, sago, pomelo pulp, and pandan-flavored coconut ice cream.  This was a very intense and sweet take on 楊枝甘露, and I was pretty damn happy.  The flavors of the ring-shaped Alfonso mango gâteau wasn't as rich as I would have liked, but at least there was enough of it.

    END. Ode to Zen: mignardise - since we are treated to the same set of signature mignardises as my two previous visits, I'll simply copy and paste the paragraph from my last visit : "ah yes, the chef's signature mignardises collection... with passion fruit marshmallow, matcha opéra cake, dark chocolate with sesame ganache, and the "rocher" that looked like black volcanic rocks. All on a bed of charcoal sugar that we are encouraged to play with using the small rake provided..."

    The three bottles of wine we ended up opening tonight were:

    Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, dégorgée en Septembre 2008 - a little caramelized on the nose, lots of salty plum and minerals.  Delicious.

    2007 Chapoutier Ermitage L'Ermite Rouge - very fragrant, nice cedar notes, with sweet fruit, smoky, a little vanilla.  Drinking really well.

    2004 Domaine Leroy Nuits St. Georges - nose was really floral, really open and beautiful.  Really ripe, and almost overripe, with some toasty corn.

    So... in conclusion: delicious food with some outstanding dishes.  Shit service that pisses me off.  Not going back.

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