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

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  • 10/15/13--07:43: What the Fook?!
  • We did a belated birthday dinner for BM, even though I'd already attended another belated dinner for him 2 weeks ago.  It's the first time that the four of us - BM, Tigger, the Ox and me - have gotten together for a meal as a group.  The venue?  Some place where all of us are regulars - Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    Since the Ox and I had just had dinner at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) a mere two nights ago, he thought it'd be fun to order some of the same dishes and compare the two restaurants.  I heartily agreed.

    Deep-fried frogs' legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - honestly, for someone who's had this dish here numerous times, this was the worst I've ever had it.  The exterior just didn't have the same dry, crunchiness about it.  Definitely a little flabby tonight.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - these were complete diasters compared to GFL.  Whereas the ones two nights ago were full of crunchy cubes of lotus root, with just enough pork to hold everything together, I was having difficulty finding any lotus root in the patties tonight - just some flabby chunks of pork.  In fact, I found pieces of cartilage instead.  The patties from GFL were also perfectly fried to a golden brown crisp, whereas tonight… these just seemed a lot more moist without the crispiness.

    Deep-fried tofu cubes (椒鹽豆腐粒) - these were OK, but execution at GFL was slightly superior.

    Fook Lam Moon's famous crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - this was OK, although half a chicken on the plate was somewhat less impressive-looking than the usual whole chicken.

    Sweet and sour pork with pineapple (菠蘿咕嚕肉) - TOTAL FAIL. I'd always thought the best sweet and sour pork in Hong Kong could be found right here, and I'd never been disappointed.  Until tonight.  The batter was no longer crispy, but totally flabby.

    The reason for failure is clear as day - just look at how much starchy sauce is on the plate.  WTF?!  This looks like what I'd find at Panda Express in the States… I'll bet even restaurants in Chinatown can do better.

    Braised pomelo skin with shrimp roe (蝦籽炆柚皮) - the pomelo was actually fine, without noticeable tough fibers or any trace of bitterness.  However the sauce just had too much starch, and could be much lighter without losing any flavor.

    Steamed rice wrapped in lotus leaf (鮮荷葉飯) - Tigger's favorite, and this was OK tonight.

    Blanched spinach in superior broth (上湯菠菜) - this was fine.  I think it's pretty hard to screw this up...

    Stir-fried kale with ginger sauce (薑汁炒芥藍) - this was pretty decent.

    Walnut cookies (核桃酥) - gotta say these were pretty tasty, but I've had better… Could have been baked a little longer and a bit more caramelized.

    Yolk and lotus seed paste birthday buns (蛋黃蓮蓉壽飽) - uh… FAIL.  This ain't the first time I've had these buns here, but I didn't get no fluffy buns today.  Instead I saw the exterior "skin" of the bun get separated from the inner layer.  Not something I would expect from this place.

    We also had a plate of mixed fruits, which were pretty good.

    The Ox and I thought it'd be fun to do a match up of wines, so we brought a pair of '86 Bordeaux while Tigger contributed the lovely Champagne…

    2002 Cristal - very toasty and yeasty nose, caramelized and sweet.  Good acidity but also ripeness on the palate, showing nice balance here.  Very enjoyable.

    1986 Cos d'Estournel - sous bois, a little smoke, minty with nice fruit in the nose.  After a while smoke got heavier, with earthy and tobacco notes.  Drank well right after decanting, and plateau'ed out after a while.

    1986 Palmer - minty, a little smoky, and a little bit stewed fruits.  Took a little time to open up.  Nice on the palate.

    The four of us had a good time together, but the food really was the worst I've had from Fook Lam Moon.  Ever.  We discussed our recent experiences at Seventh Son (家全七福) with the staff, and was told that Brother Seven has been aggressively luring staff away from FLM.  Apparently while the top 2 chefs are staying, chefs No. 3 and No. 4 have resigned and will leave FLM in a few days.  No wonder the kitchen has been such a disaster tonight!

    So within the last two weeks I have dined at Fook Lam Moon as well as its two "spin offs" - Seventh Son and Guo Fu Lou.  Right now, I'm sad to say that my vote goes to neither Brother Five (who continues to run FLM) nor Brother Seven (who started Seventh Son).  I'll be taking my hard-earned dollars to Guo Fu Lou instead...

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  • 10/21/13--09:10: I AM (not) FOOD BLOGGER!!!
  • WARNING: this is a rant post.  Skip this if you are looking to read about some delicious food at a restaurant.  Also skip this if you are a someone who writes a food blog.  You may be offended, even though it wasn't my intention to offend you - unless you are a very particular someone who writes a food blog… in which case I don't give a flying fuck if you're offended.

    During our recent dinner together, a couple of friends casually asked me whether I'd been to Caprice after the arrival of their new chef.  My love for Caprice is well-known, and I guess people just assumed that I would rush to meet and greet the new chef who replaced Vincent.

    When I told them that I hadn't been there recently, my friends seemed surprised and asked: "How come?  Didn't they invite you (for a free meal)?"

    This reaction bothered me.  A LOT.  Not that they meant anything by it, I don't think.  But the fact that two people who run a well-known restaurant group in Hong Kong, who have known me for more than a decade and watched this blog develop, would automatically assume that I regularly get invited by restaurants - and accept those invitations - for free meals... stopped me in my tracks.

    What does their statement - and attitude - say about food bloggers (or at least what people think of food bloggers) in Hong Kong?

    I know that my friends regularly invite media (and some bloggers) for tastings during the course of doing PR for their restaurants.  Many restaurants do the same.  Lots of bloggers - including people I consider as friends and acquaintances - accept those invitations.  There's nothing wrong with that.  Hey, if people wanna give you a free meal… go for it!  More power to ya!

    But that's not really me.

    I can't say that I've NEVER accepted a free meal from a restaurant.  Other than when I've been treated by restaurant owners who are friends of mine, it doesn't really happen much.  I've probably done it no more than a dozen times, starting from this meal a couple of years ago.  There were those 2 trips I made to the Hotel Lisboa in Macau with KC (that's 4 meals in two days per trip), and most recently this delicious lunch.  I've always been very snobbish and carefully picked who I accepted invitations from.  Yes, it might be free food, but why bother eating food that might suck and waste precious quota on calories?!

    After a particular disastrous invitation "blogger dinner" last year, I turned even more cautious and turned down most of the few invitations that came my way, especially from people I didn't know.  Anyone who dared to ask was told to check around about what happened after that disastrous dinner, and I never heard from most of them again.  I applauded for the courage (or was it foolishness?) of the couple of PRs who chose not to withdraw their invitations, but perhaps it was because they had faith that the chef could deliver.

    The truth is that I'm fortunate enough to be able to afford - and foolish enough to be willing to spend the kind of money required - to dine at nice restaurants.  Fine dining at great restaurants is a privilege I'm more than willing to pay for.  I'm privileged enough to be able to call some of the top chefs around town friends, and I never ever take our relationships for granted.  Yes, sometimes I do expect or hope for special arrangements when I dine at their restaurants, but I am always willing to pay for the privilege of that treatment.  I never expect to eat for free, and when I'm comped extra dishes or items, I usually try to compensate by leaving a more generous tip.  The PR from the Four Seasons Hotel - whom I've never met - doesn't bother inviting me for a freebie because she knows I'm more than happy to come and pay for a meal, or ten.  And also because she knows how little "influence" I really wield… that in all reality, nobody reads or gives a shit about this blog other than me.

    I don't go around town telling people I write a food blog, or throw around the proverbial "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!" unlike some scumbag in town.  Yes, I do think that person is a scumbag, and I did use the term 人渣 in Chinese when I talked about that person with people who used to work in the same firm.  Because people like that are the reasons bloggers get no respect and have become pariahs of sorts.  These days I'm embarrassed when my friends introduce me as a "food blogger".  It carries such a negative connotation in my mind, as if people who write food blogs just go around like leeches (or locusts?) looking for freebies from restaurants.

    So... my dear Pineapple and Lord Rayas, I generally don't take free meals from restaurants… other than the times when you invite me to your restaurants because I'm a friend - and not because I write some blog.  Besides, if I really took those free meals all the time, would I still be able to trash restaurants when they serve me crap?!  And I know y'all loooooove to read my posts when I completely trash a place…

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  • 10/24/13--20:01: Living with my Basis
  • When I first started my diet/nutritional program, a friend suggested that I get myself a new fitness toy, as a way to motivate myself.  I was looking around at the usual suspects from Nike, Fitbit, Jawbone, Garmin…etc.  But nothing I saw really appealed to me.  Having a GPS would be real nice, but that severely limited my choices.  Yes, I wanted a heart rate monitor, but didn't want to strap anything to my chest while I ran.  There didn't seem to be a single solution which combined a GPS with a wrist-based HRM.

    Then someone posted a story about Soylent on my Facebook timeline.  While the story was interesting (I would never want to replace eating with drinking Soylent) what really caught my eye was a little gadget called Basis B1.  The thought of wearing something 24 hours a day and then analyzing how your body behaves suddenly seemed intriguing.  After doing some research online and reading a few reviews, I suddenly wanted one.  Since Basis themselves were kinda back ordered and wouldn't have shipped directly to Hong Kong anyway, I found someone on eBay who would.  The premium I paid was justifiable in my mind, so I bid on it, won, and patiently waited for the seller shipped it from the US via USPS…

    There was a public holiday during my waiting period, and I took a few days off to spend it with my family back in Taipei.  After returning to HK, I eagerly checked my mailbox at work and finally found the package after some three weeks' of waiting…

    So began my adventures in self-quantifying.  I wore my Basis on my left wrist 24 hours a day, and the only time I took it off was when I weighed myself first thing in the morning, and when I took my showers.  I would now be able to peek into some aspects of my bodily functions and look at my life patterns, if there were any.

    Lots of people have criticized the Basis B1 for its "flaws", and there are certainly a couple of tasks where it doesn't do so well.  I think it has to do with expectations.  I never expected a device at this price point that does everything perfectly, and I read enough reviews before buying to know its limitations.  So let me address my own experiences and why it doesn't bother me so much.

    As a pedometer - some reviews out there have pitted the Basis B1 against a number of other devices and found it fairly accurate.  My own experience shows that the step count is generally pretty accurate, and the count mostly increases in time with my own steps.  I tested it by standing still and shaking my arm to see if the count increased… Sideway swings generally were not counted, by swinging my arm forward and backward did.  Random shakes of the wrist also did not increase the count.

    One way the accelerometer in the device could sometimes be fooled is when you sit inside a fast-moving vehicle and it brakes hard, producing a jerky motion.  Do that a couple of times and your Basis would count a few steps.  Otherwise I haven't seen my step count increase while being in a car, bus or the subway.  Another time when it may not count all your steps is when you choose to walk up the stairs two steps at a time.

    Having said that, I'm pretty happy and willing to accept a 5-10% margin of error.

    As a heart rate monitor - the Basis B1 uses an optical sensor similar to the device they clip on your finger at hospitals.  It looks at blood flow through your capillaries.  It isn't the quickest and most responsive - i.e. if your heart rate jumps suddenly it may not register that right way.  There have been times when I started to exercise and the device took a minute or two to register the increase in heart rate.  That being said, I'm not too bothered by it as one of the biggest things I am looking to get out of this device is looking at trends and patterns during the day.  If the device missed out on a few seconds or even a minute, it's not going to have a huge impact when looking at things on a 24-hour basis.

    It's well-known that the Basis B1 isn't the best device to wear during your workout.  That's not what the device was meant for.  If you're looking to have the most accurate data of your heart rate and what not, go and buy a Garmin or Mio.  However, since I don't do any real strenuous exercise - I jog very slowly on the advice of my nutritionist - I don't have a problem with this.  Just make sure the B1 is tight on your wrist, and I've had very little problem seeing my heart rate progress from "normal" levels even up to around 140 bpm or more.  I only check my heart rate once in 5-10 minutes, anyway…

    The one downside to the device is that the display is a little too simplistic.  Other than the time and date, - and a bar indicating your daily progress towards the goal of 10,000 steps - only heart rate, step count and calories burned are shown.  For the rest of the data you must sync the device with your PC and look at it online.  By the way, the app that works with your iPhone is completely useless.  It doesn't show anything meaningful and I can't even get the Bluetooth sync to work most of the time.

    The website shows a lot more.  There is a section where you can look at your data in detail for any 24-hour period (down to the average data for any given minute of the day), or as a pattern over a 2-week period (aggregated to hourly blocks). This was the part I was most interested in.

    Take October 9.  I was sound asleep until about 5:40 a.m.  Then I got up and did a light jog for an hour, resulting in a massive amount of steps as well as boosting my HR from 60ish to 130ish.  Then HR came down and settled between 60 to 70 during the day when I'm relatively stable at the desk.  That evening I had a humongous dinner at the Krug Room, with a ton of Champagne and wine.  That helped push my HR to the 80 to 90 range even while sitting down, which is a good 20 bpm higher.

    This raises an interesting point for me to argue with my nutritionist.  I've always known that my heart rate goes up after I drink alcohol, but now I can tell how much faster.  According to an article I read recently, raising your HR by 10 bpm would help you burn 0.7 more calories per minute.  Let's assume the relationship is not quite linear and that raising HR by 20 bpm burns 1 calorie more.

    I drank roughly 1 bottle of wine that evening, which would have been on the order of say, 650 to 700 extra calories (since the last glass was a very sweet dessert wine).  But as a result, my HR was raised by 20 bpm for the next 4 hours while at dinner, and continued at the elevated levels even during my sleep. So I would have burned 1 extra calorie for a period of some 10-11 hours, or 600 to 660 calories!  In short, drinking a bottle of wine would have resulted in almost no extra calories!!!

    I will never feel guilty about wine and calories again.

    Looking at the HR pattern chart, it's clear that my HR was at an elevated level on nights when I drank at dinner, and continued even into my sleep.  HR may drop somewhat as I sleep more, but it's still higher than my resting HR on nights when I don't drink.

    My calories pattern chart tells me that Basis clearly doesn't believe that a higher HR without exercise burns more calories.

    Steps pattern during the day.

    I always suspected that my body temperature goes up during sleep, even though I'm resting and not active.  Well Basis confirmed that my skin temperature is definitely higher during the hours of my sleep.

    Finally, there are "habits" that one can choose to follow, and there is a daily measurement of whether you've hit that goal for the day.  I chose Morning Lap and Evening Lap to make sure I walk enough steps before noon and after 5 p.m. on days when I don't run.  I also picked Don't Be A Sitter, which sounds like a good idea since the goal is to make sure you don't sit still for more than an hour.  You have to get up constantly so that idle time does not exceed more than an hour.

    Unfortunately these habits are sometimes hard to hit, as there are no reminders, nor any convenient way to see how far you are away from hitting that goal.  I've been frustrated on numerous days when I found that I sat for periods of 1 hour and 3 or 5 minutes.  I guess you just have to remind yourself constantly to get your fat ass off the chair…

    All in all, though… I was pretty happy with my purchase.  I learned a little more about myself, and I now have a reasonably accurate HR monitor without having to strap one to my chest.  On certain days I found myself consciously walking around to block to get in some extra steps to hit my daily goal.

    For a whole month, I left my small collection of mechanical watches neglected at home - my chronographs and my el cheapo perpetual calendar… and had this plastic toy on my wrist.  I even dared to wear it to a watchmaking class… much to the chagrin of my host, no doubt.  One whole month of wearing it nearly 24 hours, and seeing the indentations on my wrist during the little time each day that I have it off.

    But I finally took it off this week, as a new replacement toy came into my possession.  And the thing that displaced my Basis?  This "little" thing from The Chinese Timekeeper

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  • 10/25/13--07:48: A quiet Friday evening
  • It's been a while since I last caught up with Rice and his wife, and I wanted to see them to celebrate their anniversary, however belatedly.  Rice was busy galloping around the world for the last few weeks, and finally had time to meet up tonight.  As he left the choice of venue to me, I decided to revisit someplace that I'd been wanting to return to.

    When I stopped by Island East Markets last Sunday to pick up weekly ration of organic veggies and bread, I purposely pretended not to see Grégoire even though I know he had spotted me.  He was chatting with Jeremy from Mirror, and since I had already booked Mirror as the venue for tonight, I chose to stay away.  I wasn't sure if Jeremy would recognize me, but I rather preferred to be dining incognito tonight.  Most of my friends haven't been back to the restaurant since its early days, and I wanted to see whether things have changed, as they've gone through the gaining (and subsequent losing) of a macaron.

    Well, turns out that Jeremy wasn't even in town!  He'd flown up to Shanghai for something, and announced it on FB.  Incognito it is.

    I arrived to find the restaurant mostly empty and quiet, and in fact it stayed that way on this Friday night, with all of 12 covers.  I suppose that was good for us, as there was no problem getting anyone's attention.

    The amuse bouche tonight was beetroot panna cotta with blue cheese sauce and crispy beetroot.  Kinda interesting, and of course the sauce was pretty salty.  I did like the crispy bits on top.

    L'œuf egg mollet, shrimp sauce, crab roes, shrimp salads, chives - this was not bad.  I found the combination of shrimp, crab eggs and shrimp sauce reasonably tasty.  Dunno why but I didn't expect the egg to come chilled...

    Duck consommé, duck confits and French dumplings - very tasty.  Loved the bits of duck confit with their intense flavors.  The consommé itself was also very nice and clean.  Now why was there only one dumpling when the menu clearly stated it in the plural?!  That's false advertising...

    Joue de boeuf from France, beef cheek slowly cooked for 60h, carrots, pearl onions and red wine sauce - the cheek was certainly pretty tender, but that sauce was just much too salty.  Thankfully there wasn't so much of it, and the carrot mash on the side helped neutralize things with its sweetness.

    Pear flan, pear confite, wine jelly, cookies and caramel sauce - pretty tasty.  I really liked the little chocolate-covered rice crispies, and the whole thing is like a crumble.

    I couldn't resist munching on these pretty yummy mango tarts at the end... as well as more of those little chocolate balls.  It's been too long since my last yummy dinner!

    I brought a pair of wines to dinner, and Rice knew me well enough to guess that they would be from their anniversary vintage.  I was looking around for some aluminum foil in the office earlier, as I wanted Rice to taste them blind, but suddenly remembered I had these "wine condoms" that I got from the Specialist.  I slipped them on, and ended up putting two of them over one bottle as it was "leaking" and wasn't "safe" enough with just the one...

    1997 Penfolds RWT - ripe on the palate but not too sweet.  Fruity, plummy, vanilla, coconut, a little smoky.  Could be from the Right Bank.  After 1½ hours the nose became really sharp and alcoholic, and also acidic.  Smoothed out and drank nicely after 2 hours.  I don't think I would have guessed this "Baby Grange" was a Shiraz... Not quite tasting as it should.

    1997 d'Arenberg The Dead Arm - sweeter on the nose and palate compared to the RWT.  Also some coconut here as well as coffee.  More concentrated on the palate.  This is more like it!

    Well, I'm glad I finally had a chance to go back to Mirror.  I thought the food was pretty solid and decent, but somehow I was expecting something a little more, and came away slightly disappointed.  I can't quite describe it, and perhaps it's a little unfair to feel this way, but for a place that once had - and aspires to regain - a macaron, I thought I was justified in demanding more from the kitchen.  I discussed this with a friend who - like me - hadn't been back for some time, and he agreed and found the food "a little boring".  I've tried getting a few other people to go to Mirror with me, but they hesitated as the feedback they got have been rather mixed.  Such is the dilemma in which the restaurant finds itself... They deliver solid food, but perhaps they've been forgotten by the dining public in Hong Kong constantly in search of the next new opening...

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  • 10/28/13--00:09: The other Italian
  • It was supposed to be a casual business lunch, and with a big group of us I was kinda expecting Cantonese.  However the partner at my service provider kinda realized that I enjoy my food, and decided to take us to L'Altro - the Italian restaurant not far from my office which has earned themselves a little macaron last year.  Given that I'd never been here before, it was an unexpected chance to check it out.

    Going to a new restaurant is always a challenge while I'm on my diet, and the problem gets worse when it's a limited menu.  My colleague and I took some time trying to pick out the "lighter" choices from the list, although I think he had an easier time… since he didn't need to make sure he got all the food groups in.

    Burratina di andria con verdure grigliate e marinate - well I needed to get some veggies in, so I settled for the marinated grilled veggies.  I even tried to scrape off some of the excess olive oil so cut down on my oil take…  Of course the burrata was a complete no-no, but I was curious to check out the quality here.  In the end, it wasn't the best I've had in Hong Kong, but neither was it the worst.  The interior wasn't all solid and still had some of the buffalo milk, and the solids were still reasonably soft.

    Spaghetti alla chitarra all' amatriciana - I needed some carbs, so chitarra it is.  Unfortunately they weren't about to offer me the simple pomodori spaghetti that I always get a few floors down, so I took the fattier version made with pecorino and guanciale…  Thankfully there wasn't a lot of guanciale, and I made sure to take out all the deep-fried onion rings that was used as garnish on top.  This was pretty good, as the pasta was certainly al dente.

    Two courses was definitely enough for me, so I just took an espresso to help digestion.

    The two-course set lunch here cost about twice of what I would pay a few floors below at Linguini Fini, but the pricing was certainly justified and offers very good value.  Given that this place was only about half full at lunch today, maybe I'll keep them in mind in the future.  I'd also be very curious to come back during dinner...

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  • 10/29/13--08:05: The party crasher
  • I've been studying for an exam for the last couple of weeks, and today was the big day.  I was kinda borderline failing the mock exam I took last night, so I got a little nervous and spent most of the workday hiding in a conference room studying.  While failing the exam wouldn't be the end of the world, I didn't exactly wanna look like an idiot in front of my boss.

    So it was a little distracting when I received not one, but two invitations to dinner mere hours before my exam.  One of them came from my friend David Lai, who dangled the prospect of white truffles and who knows what else in front of me.  I thanked him but turned him down.  This is the last week of my 3-month weight-loss program, and I was already gonna have a cheat meal tomorrow.  No, I need to be a good boy.

    After passing my exam in the afternoon, I finished up in the office and decided to head to On Lot 10 to make a delivery.  After dropping off the package with one of the guests, I made sure to thank David for his kind invitation, but said I was going home.  I needed to be a good boy, and besides, I didn't really know the guest of honor and most of the crowd.

    That's when David said the magic words: "rice birds".

    Now I knew I was staying for dinner.

    So I timidly followed David upstairs, and was introduced to the guests he was throwing the dinner party for.  Theresa the guest of honor was a well-known figure in the local food industry, and goes by her moniker Dashijie (大師姐).  Her posse travels around the world looking for food, and their knowledge and experiences with food in China dwarf what little I have.  I spent the rest of the evening pretending to be a quiet mouse… and just listened.

    We started with some of 36-month jamón, which tasted a lot more complex than it looked, with strong, nutty flavors.  There was also some saucisson that was pretty tasty.

    Next up was the little delicacy I had come to sample.  The rice birds was marinated in Port, wrapped in pancetta and served on a bed of foie gras toast, then drizzled with some 80-year-old balsamic vinegar and finally the white truffle shavings were added.

    I loved hearing - and feeling - the crunch of tiny little bones as I bit down on the birdie.  The flavors of Port wine meshed perfectly with the birdie.  I knew this would make a few of my friends very jealous.

    Huîtres Spéciales Gillardeau N°1 - Gillardeau oysters are my favorite, but I don't think I've ever had them this big!  To have three of them on one plate was a real treat.  Lots of briny seawater here, but the creaminess and fattiness still came through.  Lovely with the Champagne.

    Tête de veau with sweetbread, Canadian scallop, soft-boiled Japanese egg, lentils and white truffles - sooooooo sinful.  I absolutely loooove tête de veau and love having it here, even though it's absolutely the wrong thing for my diet.  David says he uses these big Canadian scallops instead of the ones from Hokkaido because the latter is more fibrous, and it shows when the scallops are cooked.

    I was in heaven.  I loved every single ingredient, and tonight I even loved the lentils.  The perfume of white truffles filled my nostrils, and soon I was looking around for bread to soak up the yummy orange yolk of the Japanese egg.

    Grilled baby yellow croaker with porcini - I had been salivating earlier in the day when I saw David post a picture of a wild yellow croaker (黃花魚) caught at sea weighing about 2 catties, and here's a mini version!  Really yummy, and so were the porcini mushrooms.

    Then something I thought I'd never see again appeared in front of me, but this time it was even crazier than the last time.  At the first big gathering I had here a few years ago, David blew us away with two large pans of pot-au-feu.  Tonight I would get to see the mother of all pot-au-feu's… with double vision again!

    While the pan at the other end of the table looked like it was filled with bone marrow, the pan right in front of me was a different story.  There was bone marrow of course, and foie gras entier just like last time.  Numerous different cuts of beef, including ox tongue, ox tail and I didn't even bother lifting the canopy of shaved white truffle to see what was underneath.  Interestingly, there was a whole Bresse chicken in our pan, and I was real tempted to grab one of them drumsticks and chomp on it.

    Of course I decided to pick some of the richest ingredients out of the pan… Bone marrow was of course the first thing I dug into, with all that gooey, solid fat that was being liquefied; a piece of foie from the whole thing; and finally a tender piece of ox tongue.  Let's not forget to add a few slices of white truffle!

    There was also a bowl of consommé next to my plate.  It was absolutely wonderful, and among the different spices used I thought I detected a hint of cloves...

    It was then that I realized I had hit a wall.  I found myself pretty full at this point, after having 3 little pieces.  I stared at the pan in front of me, and could do nothing but waive the white flag.  After 3 months of my nutritional diet program, I believe my stomach has shrunk.

    Well, it looks like I wasn't alone, as our half of the table barely made a dent.  The remainder was promptly taken away and packed into doggie bags, although I declined to take one home.

    Finally, a little piece of pear tart for everyone.  If someone had asked me, I would have dispensed with the scoop of ice cream as I really didn't need the calories.  And to me, adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream to a piece of pie really doesn't add that much value, unless of course, it's actually not vanilla ice cream…  I pushed the ice cream to the side with my spoon, licked it, and realized it was salted caramel. This I will eat…

    Since I was the party crasher, I was in the unusual position of drinking wines that had been brought by others tonight.

    Françoise Bedel Cuvée Origin'elle - pretty interesting to drink this blend made mostly of Pinot Meunier.

    Lewis Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, vintage unknown - really alcoholic and ripe, tannic, sweet on the palate, sharp enough to burn the nostrils.  A hint of coffee.

    2009 Domaine le Briseau Les Mortiers - very minty, with lots of herbs, pine needle and potpourri.  Not my usual shit but pretty nice.

    This was a really fun evening.  I kinda suspected this was one of them evenings where I'd feel 不吃對不起自己… and I was right!  Many thanks for David for the kind invitation and letting me crash your party!

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  • 10/30/13--08:43: Supnormal evening
  • It's been a few weeks since I last got together with the Specialist, as both of us had been studying hard for our exams.  As I was done with my exam and she needed to take a break from her studies, we figured we should gather the troops for a night out.  After debating through different venue possibilities, the Specialist settled on the new Sup 1, which has now re-opened on the western end of town after being booted out from Gough Street thanks to skyrocketing rent.

    This was meant to be my lone cheat meal this week, but things didn't exactly go according to plan last night.  I was still gonna eat whatever I wanted tonight, but figured I could at least cut down on the quantity.

    Not surprisingly we started with some sashimi, and I took a piece of the sea urchin and squid roll

    …as well as a piece of fatty flounder wing (縁側).

    Next came some yakitori (焼き鳥), starting with some shishito peppers (獅子唐辛子).

    Chicken cartilage (軟骨)

    Chicken wings mid-section (手羽中)

    Chicken gizzard (ずり)

    Ox tongue (牛タン)

    Stir-fried kailan with garlic (蒜茸炒芥藍)

    Grilled beef short rib

    Duck confit casserole rice - this has always been delish here.  Glad to see things are still the same.

    Sautéed manila clams

    But the real point of getting together with the Specialist is always wine, not food.  It was suggested that we bring something "unusual", which was fine by me.  My inventory isn't exactly stocked full of the mainstream Bordeaux and Burgundy anyway…

    1996 Pascal Doquet Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil Sur Oger - nose of minerals, ripe, sweet like sugarcane, a little metallic and mature.  Later on a little toasty.  Slightly ripe on the palate.

    1995 Spring Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - ripe but not overly sweet, dried herbs, smoky, oak, potpourri.  Later on a little more sweet, minty, black fruits, almost herbal medicine.

    2001 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune - huge nose of petrol, minerals, acetone, polyurethane, white pepper.  Beautiful.

    1994 Henschke Hill of Grace - a little smoky, some fruit, slightly ripe and stewed.  Smooth on the palate.

    2004 Dom Pérignon - heavy toast, nutty.  Very nice.

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    It's been exactly 3 months since I started my program, and the weight-loss phase is coming to an end.  I'm meant to do a 6-week "maintenance" phase from now on, but it doesn't mean I won't keep on losing more weight!

    Final weight loss: 7.5kg.
    True to form, my weight loss is about 2.5kg per month, although 6 days ago at my lowest weight I had lost about 8kg.  A couple of big meals right after passing my exam, as well as a lack of exercise, meant my weight rebounded over the last few days.

    I'm pretty happy with what I've achieved so far.  Ultimately I'm shooting to lose 15kg, so I'm only halfway there, but I've seen my body fat percentage drop significantly, have tightened by belt by two notches, and I see a different person every time I look in the mirror.  All things to be happy about.

    For three months, I stopped eating some of my favorite things.  I haven't gone inside a McDonald's once, even though ironically, I have to pass by a McDonald's outlet twice every time I go visit my nutritionist… and I see her twice a week.  I haven't had any of those really sinful hotdogs from Wing Lok Yuen (永樂園), and for a few months I had them for breakfast (and sometimes lunch) regularly.  I certainly haven't been back to get my favorite sandwich at Yue Hing (裕興).  No instant noodles for me, either.

    Amazingly, other than the little bit of moon cake that I allowed myself for Mid-Autumn Festival, I hadn't snacked at all during the last 3 months.  When I found myself feeling hungry in the afternoon, I ate my daily ration of food or the occasional pack of saltines - which I would take out of my grain allocation for dinner later.  My collection of jams - most of them homemade by friends - haven't seen the light of day for 3 months.  The box of Sprüngli Grand Cru chocolate truffles - which I asked the parental units to bring back from their trip to Switzerland in July - is now more than 3 months past the "best consumed by" date.

    It hasn't been easy, but then again it hasn't been as difficult as I originally imaged it would be.  I will persevere and reach my goal.  I'm waging a long-term war, and I am determined to win.  My deepest gratitude to the person who inspired me and continue to lend me moral support.  You know who you are.


    Despite having lost a reasonable amount of weight, I'm by no means the "biggest loser".  That title, unfortunately, goes to the environment.  A big part of this program is about portion control, and since the very beginning I have made it easier on myself to work out portions by buying specific types of food in specific packaged quantities.  This purchasing habit ended up producing a lot of waste, which I hope will be eventually recycled, but unfortunately given Hong Kong's pathetic recycling infrastructure and a government who doesn't give a damn, there are no guarantees that this will be done.

    What sort of waste am I producing daily or weekly?  Let's see:

    Plastic bag for my bread - on any given day I could go through 1 package of Garden wheat toast, leaving behind one plastic bag.

    Plastic wrapper for my cheese singles - on most days I consume 1½ slices of Kraft low-fat cheese for breakfast, so I discard 3 wrappers every 2 days, and one plastic package containing 10 slices about once a week.

    Plastic tub for my yogurt - I go through a small, 125g cup of Yoplait Formé no-fat yogurt for breakfast on most days, so I'm chucking away lots of small plastic cups.  These days I found that they also come in 1kg tubs, so I've switched to this more environmental friendly solution.

    Steel cans for tuna - often I find myself going through canned tuna in spring water, and would go through almost a can per day.

    Steel cans for corn - for some meals I substitute cans of corn for bread, leaving behind 1 steel can every week or so.

    Plastic bag for veggies - I have veggies with every lunch and dinner, and would typically go through a packaged bag containing 300g every 2 meals.  Since Island East Markets reopened, I've been shopping there for my veggies and now get them in larger quantities, reducing my consumption of plastic bags.

    Plastic bag for saltines - on days when I'm short on bread or I need an afternoon snack, I open up a small pack of Garden saltines packed inside plastic wrappers.  When I'm out of bread for breakfast, that's 3 wrappers discarded for 1 meal.

    Plastic pouch for low calorie meals - my nutritionist gives me a certain number of stews sealed in plastic pouches, and recommends I consume them since the portions and calories are controlled.  I would have about 2 of these per week, but at least this will reduce my tuna can disposal by a ratio of 2 pouches to 1 can.

    That's a lot of plastic and steel I'm throwing away!  I gotta figure out ways to cut that down, as I don't want to be increasing my contribution to the landfills… especially since I've been moving in the other direction for the last few years!

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  • 11/03/13--07:21: The skinny duck
  • I'm up in Beijing for a couple of days on a business trip, and have a free slot for dinner tonight.  It's been a little more than 2 months since Felix stopped by Hong Kong before moving to Beijing, and I thought it's high time I caught up with him.  After a couple of rounds of discussions - and disqualifying some venues due to timing issues - we settled on the new branch of DaDong Artistic Conception Food (大董中国意境菜) - a 3-storey building right at the East Entrance of the Beijing Worker's Stadium (工人体育场).

    This is quite a palace that Mr. Da Dong has built for himself.  The entrance is quite dramatic - one either walks through a lawn with numerous lights as well as a couple of grazing horse statues, or drive through to the underground entrance, where the first scene encountered is an army of chefs roasting ducks in a central oven.  In the middle of the main dining room on the ground floor, there is a 2-storey high screen which loops through a video about - who else? - Mr. Da Dong and his philosophy.  Felix and I joked that in some scenes, instead of looking like a mild-mannered and cultured scholar, the boss ends up looking like the Shanghainese mafia of old…

    I was a little flustered when I got to the table, and my first attempt at flipping through the menu left me bewildered.  The dishes seemed to be crammed into the first few pages of the tome, and it all seemed like information overload.  Fortunately, the same dishes appear on the remaining pages along with beautiful pictures, which made things a lot easier.

    I wasn't particularly impressed by the duck when the chef came to Hong Kong last year, so I needed to see if I liked it any better here in the home base.  My last dinner left a pretty good impression in terms of the other dishes, as I found plenty of Western cooking techniques at work.  I was very curious on some of the more creative and fusion-looking dishes, and thankfully Felix was game.

    Candied lotus root with osmanthus and foie gras (桂花糖藕配鹅肝) - this was actually pretty interesting.  Shaved slices of foie gras terrine, paired with Shanghainese-style lotus root which wasn't as sweet as I'm used to.  Usually you have the osmanthus marinated in the honey sauce, but here the kitchen uses fresh flowers, which delivered more intense flavors and fragrance.  Very nice.  I actually didn't realize that I'd already tried this at the dinner last year.

    Stewed oxtail with longan and honey (桂圆蜂蜜炖牛尾) - this was OK, and I kinda like the honey flavor, but whatever flavors the longans were supposed to bring to the table didn't register with me.  We also wish the kitchen would have stewed it a little longer, as the meat wasn't exactly falling off the bone.  The chestnuts on the side were a nice touch.

    Black caviar and vegetable with mushroom salad (春草黑鱼籽蘑菇沙拉) - OK, it was my fault for ordering something that looked pretty in the picture, and the actual presentation - with dry ice and all - fell short of expectations.  It was also incredibly bland, as the only "seasoning" came in the form of a measly few caviar eggs.  Otherwise the mushrooms and the microgreens (red sango radish?) were pretty tasteless.  We were given a pair of small scissors, and had to cut the microgreens from the sheet of cotton (which looked like the cotton pads used to remove makeup) ourselves before being able to eat them.

    Bean vermicelli in claypot (粉丝煲) - I originally wanted to order this dish, but was told that it had sold out.  We were then recommended to take the grilled crab with bean vermicelli (蟹肉粉丝煲) instead, but when the dish arrived it actually looked like the original dish… since I couldn't for the life of me find any crab meat...  Oh well.  By the time we opened up the lid and started eating, the vermicelli had cooled down somewhat and gotten a little soggy, but it was still reasonably tasty.  I wish we had been able to eat it as it was served to us.

    Da Dong "super lean" roast duck (大董酥不膩烤鴨) - we ordered half a duck since we wanted to try other dishes.  OK, so now I know this ain't for me, and even trying it on home turf didn't do it for me.  I like my duck fatty and the skin crispy.  This ain't it.

    I know it's meant to be non-traditional, and the "healthier" alternative, with younger ducks and leaner meat.  Just not tasty enough for me.  Some meat just need to have that fat to be tasty, so please don't skimp on that fat!

    The pancakes, though, were absolutely awesome.  Very, very thin, but not fragile.

    Everybody always complain about how tasteless the duck soups are at every single duck restaurant, and this place is no different.  The two of us were left asking each other this question:  why are the soups always so bland?!  Do they all decide to dilute it by 50% just before serving?!  You gotta think that the bones and carcass can deliver a helluva lot more flavor than what's in those bowls!  Serious WTF.

    Braised winter bamboo shoots (干烧冬笋) - the bamboo shoots were really tender and devoid of layers, which led me to believe that they use only the hearts of very young shoots.  The deep-fried perilla leaves, which I normally love, are soggy by the time we got around to this dish.  Oh well…

    Our complimentary fruit came after our mains, and 'tis the season for dongzao jujube (冬枣).  These are very fresh, nice and crunchy.  Not too sweet, which was perfect for my diet…

    Finally, each of us get a little skewer of tanghulu (糖葫芦), which really isn't gourd (葫芦) but Chinese hawthorn (山楂).

    Fearful that Felix would be short on the selection of decent wines, I dutifully stuffed 2 bottles into my suitcase and checked it in.  There would be some bottle shock, but oh well…

    1990 Trimbach Riesling Clos Sainte Hune - nose of polyurethane, petrol and minerals.  Surprisingly fresh and not oxidized at all.  Very nice acidity balance.  Nose wasn't as big and powerful as I expected, but this was very elegant with a long and lovely finish.  The 14% alcohol was hardly noticeable.

    2001 Harlan The Maiden - aired in the decanter for a while.  Still a little alcoholic on the nose.  A little smoky, which worked well with the smoky flavors of the Peking duck.  Could use a little more aging, but starting to drink pretty well.  This may not be a classic Pauillac, but in a blind tasting I'd be hard pressed to pin it as a Californian, as there's none of that extracted, super-ripe fruit or heavy oak.  Much more French than your typical Cali Cab.

    So… I've finally been to a proper Da Dong restaurant.  The setting was completely OTT, which I suppose kinda matches the ego of the man.  I expected absolutely crap service, but was somewhat pleasantly surprised.  They were actually much better in terms of wine service - offering to bring a decanter, for example, without being asked.  But like so many Chinese restaurants, they chose to bring all the dishes - except the duck - at once.  This is why most of our dishes weren't taken at optimal temperatures.  Why Chinese kitchens do this - especially when it's a two-top - is completely beyond me.  I guess they just don't care.

    Food-wise, I was reasonably happy with our choices.  I had wanted to get a better sense of the "fusion" side of things, and overall it wasn't bad at all.  I would most definitely come back to Da Dong, and I'd want to rotate through their selection of "molecular" and more creative dishes.  Hell, next time I'm certainly NOT ordering the skinny-ass duck!

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  • 11/09/13--07:14: Cave dining
  • Tonight I was invited to dine with some friends, old and new, by a gentleman in his new "man cave".  He had decided to convert a unit inside an industrial warehouse into his new hideaway, and generously invited us for the very first "boys night" in his cave.  It was a curious collection of car guys, watch guys, and food guys.

    The gentleman of impeccable taste had managed to get dinner catered by Chef Antimo "Animal" Merone fromL'Altro.  It's not exactly everyday that you find a chef with macarons putting together food in your kitchen…

    Foie gras torchon with mango - pretty nice, but would be even better with a couple of grains of salt to season the foie that was marinated in Calvados.

    Confit lobster, Jerusalem artichokes puree and chips - the lobster was confit'ed at 90°C for a few minutes and was pretty good.  The Jerusalem artichoke purée was nice, the artichokes chips were better, and of course the shavings of white truffles took the cake.

    Delamotte Blanc de Bancs - surprisingly ripe on the palate and not that acidic.  Pretty enjoyable.

    63°C Japanese egg, cauliflower cream and porcini mushroom - the egg was done perfect at 63°C for an hour, and the beautiful reddish orange yolk was a sight to behold.  Nice to have both porcini and white truffles together…

    2010 Colin-Deléger Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Demoiselles - pretty ripe and sweet on the nose, with citrus, a bit of orange and minerals.  Ripe on mid-palate with acidity coming up on the finish.

    Risotto Miramonti with white truffle - VERY good.  Prepared with 3 different types of cheese and done very al dente.  We were joking that if we could still see the risotto, then we weren't getting enough white truffle shavings…

    1999 Gaja Costa Russi - smoky, ripe fruits, a little stewed, a hint of spices.

    M8 wagyu striploin and red onion marmalade, traditional 25 year balsamico - the wagyu was very, very tender thanks to the fat and the flawless execution.  The red onion marmalade was done with sugar and butter, and slow-cooked for 4 hours.  Very, very yummy.

    2009 Geantet-Pansiot Charmes-Chambertin - big nose of forest, pine needle, sweet but very cool fruit.  Still a little sharp and will need more time to soften, but pretty enjoyable.

    Tiramisu - a lighter version with Marscapone foam, coffee jelly and chocolate soil.  With white truffle shavings on top, of course!

    Finally we have the petit fours, which were:

    Chocolate with balsamico

    Fruit jelly - I think this is supposed to be mango, but I thought it tasted more like pineapple

    Hazelnut choux

    Passion fruit macaron with chocolate ganache

    And ending the evening with a Partagas Serie D N° 5… I honestly can't remember the last time I had a cigar… Must have been a couple of years ago!

    Good food, good wine and good company… Many thanks to the owner of the Chan Cave for this evening.

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  • 11/11/13--00:27: Licking the plate clean
  • It all started with an innocent post on Facebook.

    Just days after I met up with him, the globetrotting Felix from QLI jetted off to Shanghai and put up a post about his meal at the new 58 Grill.  Apparently he had œufs en meurette for dinner, which is something I love but rarely have, because it's time-consuming to make.  I responded to the post, expressing my desire to have some eggs, and thought nothing of it.  Hours later while at dinner, a response came from Chef Richard Ekkebus, offering to make the dish for me at Amber the next time I had a craving.  A few rounds of messages back and forth, and I was havings eggs for lunch today.

    My original plan was to rope in Tigger, as he is a big fan of Richard's and was seated next to me while this was going down.  Alas, the high flyer was busy today.  Fergie was also at dinner, but he was jetting off to a different time zone.  So I called on someone who I knew would appreciate the work that goes into a red wine reduction…

    By the time I arrived at the appointed hour, I Love Lubutin is already seated in the Amber Bar.  Worse, she took the single-seater while leaving me with the loveseat, and as a result had no place to put her expensive handbag.  I had to convince her to place her bag on the ottoman…

    Not surprisingly, we didn't have to do the ordering, as the menu has already been selected for us...

    Foie gras lollipops - nope, not tired of having these yet.  Nice little wafer of beetroot and a brioche wafer on top.  One bite.  Nom nom nom.

    Jamón ibérico croquetas - one bite again.  I don't mind the acidic, liquid center as it kinda balances out the otherwise salty jamón.

    Ravioles du Royans in cep mushroom consommé - A little cup was placed in front of us and filled with the brown, aromatic liquid that was cep consommé.  Ahhhh… the scent of autumn!

    Buried at the bottom were a couple of these tiny ravioles, which were filled with Comté and herbs.  This specialty from the Dauphiné region of France was kinda tasty.  There was also some brunoise of celeriac at the bottom.

    The cep consommé came in a little glass teapot, which was fitted with this clever contraption to stop the solids from coming out.  As I tasted the very last drops which came from the bottom, it almost reminded me of aged Puer (普洱) tea.

    Œufs en meurette - this is what we came for.  The fragrance from the red wine reduction was beautiful.  And that color… one look and you know that the egg had been poached in the reduction like this one.

    Cutting the egg open released the yolk… Such beautiful color!  And the red wine reduction was so thick and rich… Richard said that they used up a whole bottle of wine for it.  That's pretty amazing… and would have taken a lot of time.  I was in heaven.

    Of course, a reduction like this must be savored to the very last drop. So I dutifully used pieces of the baguette I had saved up to wipe my bowl clean.  And I thought I did a pretty decent job…

    But I could never, ever hope to measure up against someone who's famous for helping the dishwashers do their job at Caprice.  Just look at those fingers in action…

    Our waiter was speechless.  Had this bowl, in fact, been used?!  We asked him to show our bowls to Richard, but I'm not sure if he did…

    French wild venison, braised with foie gras, celeriac confit, black trumpet mushrooms - this was our main course as we are in game season, and what a treat!  I kinda got full just staring at the bloc of venison with the foie on top… What an amazing dish… I realize there's no bone here, but I would still use the phrase "falling off the bone" to describe how tender the venison was.  It literally just fell apart at the lightest touch of the knife, and was probably the most tender piece of venison I've ever tasted.  We are told that another bottle of wine went into the venison…

    Parmesan reggiano creamed spatzli with autumn truffle - in addition to the spätzli served with celeriac and trompette de la mort on the main plate, there was also this incredible side dish.  Screw mac 'n' cheese, I'll take this any day of the week!  Add a healthy sprinkle of chives and a generous pinch of black Burgundian truffle on top of the cheesy goodness, and what you get is a fragrant and tasty mouthful.

    Richard came to greet us, and I thanked him for the privilege of this very special treat.  Something looked amiss to me, and it took me a few seconds to remember that he's participating in Movember, and the additional facial hair was what threw me off about his appearance...

    Too full to take any dessert, we sipped on our espressos instead.  I was a little surprised that petit fours didn't arrive until after we finished our espressos, and I jokingly mentioned scumbag (人渣) because, coincidentally, this is the very restaurant where scumbag threw the infamous fit of "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?! I AM A FOOD BLOGGER!!!" Well, I didn't need the extra calories today, so I left them all for ILL.

    We asked our waiter to bring us the bill, only to be told that Richard had, once again, decided to comp the entire lunch - as he did on my last visit.

    Well, this just won't do.

    Time for me to throw a mini tantrum!  I asked the waiter to please go and tell Richard that we cannot accept this.  We are happy to pay for our meal.  Off he went, but came back a few minutes later with the same answer.  I insisted that the waiter re-deliver our message, and to tell Richard that we would no longer be coming back to Amber if he did not accept payment for lunch.  After all, it was nice enough for him to make the œufs en meurette especially for us just because I missed it.  That alone was enough of a special treatment.  I asked for Richard to come so we could talk some sense into him.

    It was then Sébastien's turn to deliver the same message back to us, along with the promise that Richard will charge us double for our next meal.  Somehow I don't believe him… but resigned to the fact that our money's no good for Amber today.

    Many thanks to Richard for the amazing treat today… all because I missed a dish dearly!  Methinks next time I come to Amber, me gonna slap some dollar bills right at the reception as soon as me walk in… and make sure they charge me double!

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  • 11/12/13--06:41: 270 Years of Moët & Chandon
  • Moët and Chandon is celebrating their 270th anniversary, and is offering a batch of ex-château Grand Vintage Collection wines through Sotheby's in London.  The auction is slated for tomorrow, and the consignment consists of 270 bottles, 174 magnums and 3 jeroboams spanning from 2004 all the way back to 1914.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited to a pre-auction tasting of some of the wines at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, hosted jointly by Moët Hennessey Diageo and Sotheby's.

    After mingling (or in my case, being aloof and anti-social) for a little while sipping on the first flute, we took our seats to start the main event.  We would go through 6 different wines tonight spanning a few decades…

    2004 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage - made with 1/3 each of the 3 cépages.  Acidity slightly high  Pretty toasty nose, a little heavy but in a good way.  Easy to drink with a long finish.

    1990 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage Collection, disgorged October 2003 - released in two batches - in 1995 and 2008.  The bottles tonight were from the 2008 batch.  How beautiful this was!  Yeasty, bready like a fresh baguette.  Toasty and big nose, with coffee, a little dried apricot, caramelized, starting to turn into Chinese salty plum (話梅).  Soooo lovely.  Wonderful acidity balance, soft and voluptuous.  It's hard to imagine a more gorgeous wine.

    1985 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage Collection en magnum, disgorged November 2002 - nose was bigger, heavier and toastier compared to the 1990.  Toasty corn, with higher acidity in the nose, and some coffee.  Powerful and ripe on the front palate, but there's acidity on the back palate.

    1975 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage Collection en magnum, disgorged June 2002 - an interesting vintage in that it was 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay with no Pinot Meunier.  Very heavy toast in the nose, with what I thought was a hint of cumin.  Turning nutty with some coffee notes.  Smooth on the palate and pretty nice.

    1962 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage Collection en magnum, disgorged February 2013 - surprisingly vibrant, thanks to the very recent disgorgement.  Very nutty, with heavy toast, coffee and perhaps a hint of coconut.  Really lovely nose, and very smooth on the palate.

    1990 Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé Collection - more red fruits, and fuller on the palate.  I was getting pretty buzzed by this point…

    It was interesting to learn the philosophical and stylistic differences between Moët and Chandon Grand Vintage and Cuvée Dom Pérignon.  The former is made in the style which is representative of the Champagne region and also of the vintage, while the latter is only produced in years where it is possible to follow the specific Dom Pérignon style.

    I came on an empty stomach, and initially turned away all the finger food offered by the waiters.  Half way through the tasting, though, I realized I was gonna pass out from being drunk if I didn't put some food in my stomach.  So I ended up eating bites that didn't exactly fall within the boundaries of my diet, even though this wasn't supposed to be a cheat meal for me…

    This seemed to be a bloc of foie gras with a layer of crunchy layer of crumbs and some tropical fruit dip.

    Salmon, salmon roe and sour cream

    Foie gras lollipop

    Some sort of beef roll with a creamy center and a bit of truffle

    Vegetable tart

    The wines tonight were very beautiful, and it was such a privilege to have been able to taste them.  Many thanks to Sotheby's for the kind invitation.

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  • 11/13/13--07:52: An old friend's new digs
  • It was time to meet up with Mo' Unni again, and it's been nearly two months thanks to my diet and limited allocation of cheat meals.  She has a preference for checking out new venues, and wanted to go to Upper Modern Bistro.  I've known Philippe Orrico since his days at Pierre, and followed him to St. George a couple of times.  Over the last couple of years, though, I lost touch with him as I didn't care for the surroundings nor the service at St. George.

    So I was pretty happy to hear that he's come out to open up his own place, and on the island, too!  As it happens, the mug that I use daily in the office looks like this…

    ...which is a picture that Tigger took in the kitchen at Pierre, on a day when we were horsing around after a cooking lesson.  Philippe was channeling his inner Gordon Ramsay, and I was his victim… But I digress…

    I pinged Philippe, asked for a table some 3 weeks in advance (yes, I plan my meals up to 4 weeks in advance nowadays, thanks to my diet…) and happily reported back to Mo' Unni.  We both had something to look forward to over the next few weeks.

    I arrived and was seated with a view of the interior of the restaurant, facing the famous "egg shell" decor.  I know how much Philippe loves eggs, and I fully appreciate the beauty and meaning behind the ceiling.

    We didn't want to make life complicated, so we chose à la carte for something simple.  I advised Mo' Unni to take the 63° eggs, as Philippe is known for his eggs.   I also saw people posting pictures of the braised beef cheek and recommend that, too.

    Brittany oyster, ponzu - Philippe very kindly sent this out from the kitchen.  Pretty full in terms of flavor, with plenty of minerals and a hint of metallic flavors.  Works nicely with ponzu (ポン酢).  I tried in vain asking the waiter what type of oyster this was, and the reply was "Brittany oyster"…  I guess he didn't know that Brittany is just a region and I was looking for something more specific…

    Next came something that didn't seem to be on the menu, and as this was comped and our server didn't bother to tell us what it was, I had no idea…  What I did know was that it wasn't something I would normally order, since there was clearly a piece of fatty tuna belly, along with tuna chunks, eggplant and tomato.  Normally I'd offer it to my fellow diners since I'm avoid any kind of tuna that could be bluefin, but I was dining with No Fish… so I ate it and tried not to feel guilty about eating this tasty morsel.

    Homemade venison terrine, green salad with walnut - it's game season and I'll order venison whenever I see it.  The terrine was pretty nice, and I happily spread it on the piece of toasted brioche.  The salad on the side also had some truffle shavings…

    Mushroom tagliatelle, poached egg, bellota and Parmesan + shaved Alba white truffle - it's white truffle season, so how could I resist?

    Of course there was an egg… There's no better combination than white truffle, egg, cream and pasta!  The jamón provided some nice savory complexity.

    Mo' Unni was in the mood for cheese, so we asked for the cheese selection.  Once again the waiter didn't know the selection… but I guess there is only one Caprice in Hong Kong…  We asked for Philippe instead.

    Pérail de Brebis - from Aveyron.  Salty with noticeable acidity and a spicy finish that leaves the tongue tingling.

    Reblochon - nice, but seems almost pedestrian in comparison.

    Langres - milder in terms os saltiness, nutty, a little bitter with a long, intense finish.  The rind was very salty.

    Tomme de Chèvre de Savoie - pretty strong.  There is a layer of grape must on top.

    Napoléon - from the Pyrénées.

    Regalise (?) - this was a type of blue, which was really strong and salty.


    1995 Remirez de Ganuza Reserva - pretty ripe, plummy, a little smoky.  Very smooth on the palate.

    I thought the food was pretty solid, although the service could use some tweaking.  The waiter took my wine away to be decanted, then chucked away the bottle… which I was unhappy about.  We had a pretty good evening overall, and I look forward to coming back… hopefully with Tigger.

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  • 11/14/13--06:48: The rebound
  • The King was making a rare appearance in Hong Kong, so naturally the bunch of us dutifully answered his call for dinner.  As it turned out we had a second visitor coming in from another city, making this gathering even more special.  Not surprisingly, we were back at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) despite the disastrous performance the restaurant delivered on my last visit.  No doubt BM had given them a piece of his mind, and told them to shape up or else…

    Steamed xiaolongbao with crab roe (蟹粉小籠包) - I've always been a believer that one should eat xiaolongbao (小籠包) in one bite, and was pretty happy with my one mouthful.  Can't say that I tasted the crab roe all that much…

    I skipped the snake soup (菊花燴蛇羹) tonight, as I'm happy to take in fewer calories.  I'd rather get my snake soup elsewhere…

    Roast suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬) - one does not come here without indulging in this… and I happily indulged.  The crackling was still very thin, crunchy and awesome.

    I did have a couple of pieces of the tender and succulent meat, but left the legs and ribs for the others.

    Steamed humpback grouper (清蒸老鼠斑) - no, not the most environmental friendly of seafood, but this wasn't my choice.  Of course this was very tasty…

    Salt-baked chicken (鹽焗雞) - served with the chicken's liver and gizzard.

    Stir-fried pea shoots and winter bamboo shoots (豆苗炒冬筍) - very young and tender bamboo shoots, and really, really young pea shoots.  Wonderful.

    Claypot rice with preserved meats (腊味飯煲) - it's been a while since the last time I had this… and this was soooo good.  You just can't beat rice that has had fatty oil drizzed on it.   And the different type of preserved meats as we enter the winter season… Just had to have a second bowl.

    Stir-fried kale with ginger sauce (薑汁生炒蘭度) - I didn't have enough veggies, so I asked for a plate of this.  The old man among us complained that these were a little "tough".  I think a few pieces were a little crunchier than usual, which was probably a combination of the ingredient itself as well as perhaps being slightly undercooked.  I didn't really care, and happily scooped up whatever I could into my mouth.

    Finally there was a fruit plate for me to get my fulfill my fruit quota of the day.  No dessert for me today…

    With a large enough crowd, I decided to bring out 2 magnums for dinner.  Unfortunately that wasn't enough, and for the wrong reasons…

    1994 Chapoutier L'Orée en magnum - a bit vegetal, grassy, straw notes.  A little sweet from ripeness but not what I had hoped for.  Over the hill, or something had gone off like the other magnums from the same case.  No real palate and no finish.

    1995 Vieux Château Certain en magnum - a little spicy, exotic spices, smoky, black fruits.  Medium bodied.

    I'm glad the food was pretty good tonight, as I was pretty shocked at the last visit.  I guess we can keep going back to FLM, then...

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  • 11/20/13--19:08: Ispahan, mon amour
  • My love affair with Pierre Hermé - his creations, not the man himself! - began more than four years ago, when I first stepped foot into one of his Parisien boutiques.  I was staying around Saint Germain and it was an easy walk to get there.  While I got to taste his macarons and experienced the magic for the first time, that visit was a little disappointing.  Why?  They didn't have Ispahan, as it was "not in season".  Ispahan, of course, is one of the Fat One's most famous creations.  I left Paris that day with a certain sense of regret…

    I was too busy on my next trip to France - which came mere weeks after - to hit any shops for macarons.  So my next run-in with PH came the following year on a trip to Tokyo.  I made a beeline for the PH corner inside Mitsukoshihonten, and just grabbed anything I could.  Once again, they didn't stock any Ispahan in the "regular/petit" size.  Sigh…  But I did manage to pick up lots of other variations of Ispahan: a big macaron with a bunch of raspberries, a jelly emotion, a small tub of ice cream as well as a Miss Gla Ga.  I was pretty happy, but the sense of regret remained.

    Later that year I was back in France, and made sure to stop by the PH boutique on rue de Vaugirard.  Nope, no Ispahan macarons that day, either.  But I managed to pick up jars of Ispahan confiture made by Christine Ferber, and tasted PH's truffe blanche et noisette macaron for the first time.

    Another year later, and another trip to France.  The PH boutique on rue Cambon didn't stock any Ispahan macarons, but I did pick up more Ispahan confitures and white truffle macarons

    Then something wonderful happened.  The Fat One opened up an outlet here in Hong Kong!  Surprise, surprise!  No Ispahan macarons during the opening season…

    I've been on diet for more than 3 months, so any sort of snack and dessert was out of the question.  I didn't bother to stop by the PH boutique anymore, and put the idea of trying out new, seasonal macaron flavors out of my mind…

    …until a few days ago.  Some dude posted pics of PH macarons on Instagram and there it was, Ispahan!  In Hong Kong!  I went to the PH boutique the very next day, resolved to break my 3-month ban on snacks because I didn't know when I would see the holy grail again next time.

    Ispahan - finally!  The flavors were all there: rose, raspberries and lychee.  I was a little surprised by the bits of raspberries in the ganache, but I should have expected it… given my experience with the olive macarons.

    Infiniment Jasmin - jasmin was one of the flavors which blew me away when I first had macarons from the Fat One.  I still love this… the beautiful fragrance of the flower came through.  Soft savory notes in the ganache.

    Infiniment Chocolat Porcelana - I ain't no chocoholic or connoisseur, but even I know that Porcelana from Venezuela is just too damn good to pass up!  I've never really cared for chocolate macarons - until now.  Instead of just using plain old chocolate ganache, there were actually little solid bits inside the soft ganache.  It makes for amazing texture in the mouth that was just so much more rich and satisfying.  Definitely my favorite chocolate macaron.  Period.

    Jardin dans les Nuages - interesting combination of chocolate and smoked salt.  The smokiness was definitely front of and center, and reminded me of the smoked Bordier butter…  Pretty good.

    I was glad to find that they had come up with a specific box just for Hong Kong.  I've always loved the box from Paris, but now we've got one with our very own landmarks!

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    So it begins.  Through pure coincidence, I will be spending 3 nights over the following week dining at the same restaurant.  Given that it's Chinese and the menu has been set by the hosts on two of those nights, I wonder how many repeat dishes there would be.  In all honesty, though, this is a "First World problem"… given that the restaurant in question is Seventh Son (家全七福) - which should be one of the best Cantonese restaurants in town.

    Tonight's gathering was a belated birthday dinner - VERY belated… by more than 6 months.  Apparently some of the guests had conflicting schedules which couldn't be resolved… until now.  Anyway, I'm just glad to be invited.  The birthday boy told me how many wines he was bringing to dinner, and I just knew that I'd be falling asleep at the table…

    We were also dining with the owner's daughter, whom I had met very briefly a few years ago.  Of course I was introduced as "zee bloggeur"… and proceeded to tell her that I love the place so much I'll be back tomorrow and back again next week!

    I was munching on some yummy candied walnuts as I sipped on bubbly, as traffic was pretty bad and most of us - including myself - were late.  When we finally had a full house, the onslaught began with the presentation of appetizers:

    Sautéed string beans with black olive and mustard pickle (欖菜四季豆) - not bad.  Nobody makes sautéed string beans better than Mom, but this is one of the better versions I've had in Hong Kong.

    Honey-glazed chicken liver (蜜汁燒鳳肝) - pretty good.

    Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - pretty decent.

    Pan-fried lotus root cake (香煎蓮藕餅) - personally I prefer the ones from Guo Fu Lou (國福樓), but this was a helluva lot better than what I had at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門)last month

    Broiled sliced fresh whelk (堂灼響螺片) - I've always been too cheap to order this dish myself, as I never was able to justify spending this kind of money on whelk… I must say, though, that this was very tender and delicious.  The only problem is that as these were done table-side, the air was filled with the fragrance of sesame seed oil, which kinda interfered with the wines…

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - on my second try, I think the crackling is now on par with the pig served at FLM.  I was encouraged to try one of the trotters, but declined as I'm still on my diet.  I took a small piece of meat but refrained from the ribs.  I still haven't figured out whether they over-season the ribs side as they do at FLM.

    Snake soup (菊花燴蛇羹) - the FLM-style snake soup has always been relatively clear and mild, and I always found it to be a little bland.  But hey, I'm on my diet and less salt is certainly good!  The preserved orange rind (陳皮) lent a lovely fragrance to the soup.

    Braised mountain turtle with Chinese lettuce (紅燒山瑞跟唐生菜) - hmmm I haven't had turtle in a long, long time… in fact not since the last dinner where the menu was set by the owner's daughter.  This time the turtle wasn't shredded and stir-fried, but I thought it was pretty good.  The gelatin-like pieces were actually the softer "skirt" of the turtle shell, which was kinda interesting.  Braising with garlic cloves and crispy pork belly naturally provided lots of rich flavors…

    Stir-fried pea shoots and winter bamboo shoots (冬筍扒豆苗) - very good, as both ingredients were young and tender.

    Crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - I thought it was pretty decent, but I only had one small piece…

    Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (煲油鴨腊味飯) - it's winter time and you just gotta have this… the hell with all the calories that duck fat brings!  I just couldn't resist having a second bowl…

    ...and a second helping of all the preserved meats.

    The savory part of the meal was over.  Bring on the desserts!!!

    Deep-fried egg crullers in honey (蜜糖雞蛋散) - these were GOOD!  I couldn't resist having a second piece…

    Mini egg tarts (酥皮蛋撻仔) - these were good, too.  Inhaled in one bite.

    Sesame rolls (芝麻卷) - these are really good.

    And I love to unroll them before eating.  Don't they look like rolls of film from the old days?

    Almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - this was pretty good, too.  The egg white tonight was very finely whipped, so it wasn't clumped together.

    And I was too full to have my daily ration of fruits...

    Besides all the delicious food, there was, of course, a fantastic selection of wines courtesy of the very generous birthday boy.  Let's see what I got drunk on...

    First flight was a trio of blanc de noirs Champagne.  It's always interesting to drink them together, despite the different vintages.  This was, of course, the über luxury version...

    1996 Billecart-Salmon Le Clos Saint-Hilaire - nice and ripe.  Sweet on the nose, with a little cane sugar.  Later on the acidity became more obvious on the finish.  Very enjoyable.

    1998 Krug Clos d'Ambonnay - a little more toasty, fresher, more vibrant, and yet more elegant.  Pretty sweet, full-bodied on the palate, with a long finish.  Later on the nose got to be a little more pungent.  The best of the trio by a hair.  Despite owning bottles of this über luxury cuvée - and massively overpaying when the damn thing was launched - this was the first time I've tasted any.

    1980 Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises - initial nose was coffee.  Pretty oxidized by now, very ripe, with big nose of cane sugar.  Full-bodied on the palate with slightly high acidity on the finish.  Also a little bitter on the finish.  The birthday boy told me upfront that I'd probably be the only one who would appreciate this... and it was definitely right up my alley.

    Second flight was a pair of Montrachets.

    2000 Domaine Leflaive Montrachet - initially the nose was more muted thanks to over-chilling, then toasty corn came out, which was lovely and not in-your-face.  A little bit grassy and straw notes, which led some of us to wonder if it was un petit bouchonée.  Soft and buttery on the palate.  Such an open and beautiful wine now.  The first time I drank this was 2 years ago, and that was bottle no. 253 while tonight I drank bottle no. 255...

    1992 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche - nose was a little more muted, flatter, more flinty.

    Third flight was a pair of twins.  Both came from the same vineyard in the same vintage - part of the Hospices de Beaune auction.  The barrels that the wines came from were purchased by different buyers and the only difference was the élevage.  Such an interesting pairing!

    2007 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine Collignon, élevé par Faiveley - minty, forest notes, very classic.  Seemed to be from cool fruits.  Lovely.  I got a preview of this wine from magnum at another dinner last month, and it tasted completely different...

    2007 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine Collignon, élevé par Pierre André - a little sweeter, still good concentration on the palate, but somehow less interesting.

    Fourth flight initially was a pair of Musigny, but one of the bottles seemed off, so the birthday boy uncorked his backup bottle.  The pair of Musigny was once again supposed to be "twins", because some say that in the old days, Madame Bize-Leroy used to buy her Musigny barrels from Vogüé for her négociant wines...

    1980 Comte de Vogüé Musigny - grassy, vegetal, oxidized, a little over the hill and kinda off.  A little acidic on the palate.

    1980 Maison Leroy Musigny - soft and smooth on the palate.

    1980 Bouchard La Romanée - a little smoky.  Soft on the palate.  Not bad.

    Fifth flight was a pair of 89 Pomerols, which could have only been surpassed by one other wine...

    1989 Lafleur - minty, some ripe fruit, a little smoky, a little savory, mineral and tea leaves.

    1989 Le Pin - so sweet on the nose, like Cantonese sugar cane water (竹蔗茅根), and a little coconut.  Classic Le Pin.

    Finally we had our dessert wine...

    1980 Yquem - nose of plastic, polyurethane, a little toasty.  Not too sweet and nice acidity balance.

    The full lineup of the evening, minus the Yquem...

    I was too drunk to have tasted the 1982 Karuizawa Single Cask Whisky... and fell asleep at the table as I thought I would...

    Many thanks to the birthday boy for generously sharing his treasures with us.  Now... onto dinner #2!

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    Here we go again...  Mere hours after flushing the alcohol out of my system, I'm back at Seventh Son (家全七福) for another wine dinner... and dining in the exact same private room, as expected.  Even the captain was surprised to see me coming back so soon.

    The MNSC boys gathered tonight as Lord Rayas played host, and a rare invitation was extended to the wives to join us.  We have been sticking to a strictly boys-only format for the last couple of years, and during dinner we were given a stern reminder of why that has been the case...

    I was wondering how much overlap there would be between the menus from these two consecutive nights. While I was grateful that there was only about 2/3 overlap, I wasn't expecting to see one of the exotic dishes again tonight.  Methinks I've fulfilled my turtle quota for at least the next year...

    Some appetizers to start:

    Roast gold coin chicken (燒金錢雞) - this combination of chicken liver, bacon fat and char siu (叉燒) wasn't bad but kinda skimpy in my book.  I'm still partial to what I get at Manor Seafood (富瑤海鮮酒家).

    Deep-fried frog legs (椒鹽田雞腿) - this was OK, but I'm thinking it's still not as crispy as what I used to get at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門).

    Deep-fried chicken testicle tofu (雞子戈渣) - it's been a while since I last had this… which is made with, yes, chicken testicle purée and chicken stock.  It's then battered and deep-fried.  Same texture as gaozha (高渣) from Yilan (宜蘭).

    Snake soup (菊花燴蛇羹) - the A/C was pretty chilly at the start of the dinner, but I didn't feel no more chills after this!  Interesting, though, that my tongue experienced the sensation I always have when there's MSG in my food.  I'd always complained about the FLM snake soup as being too bland, but I wonder if they're now adding MSG…

    Fresh abalone with spiny sea cucumber, mushroom and Chinese lettuce (鮮鮑角伴遼參北菇跟唐生菜) - nice chunks of abalone, and the sea cucumber was pretty delish.  Perfect for red wines… NOT!

    Braised mountain turtle with Chinese lettuce (紅燒山瑞跟唐生菜) - of all the dishes from last night that I expected to repeat, this wasn't one… Still pretty good, though.

    Chinese cabbage with Kim Wa ham (腿片扒律白) - I think the "律白" is a typo and should have been "津白"… I love Chinese cabbage, and Jinhua ham (金華火腿) just works perfectly with it.

    Crispy chicken (當紅炸子雞) - yes, I only had one piece of chicken breast… There was already too much food tonight.  This was OK.

    Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (煲油鴨腊味飯) - for me, the pièce de résistance.  And I'm having it two days in a row!  Rice with duck fat mixed in, topped with preserved Cantonese sausage (腊腸), liver sausage (膶腸), preserved duck (腊鴨) and preserved pork belly (腊肉) and drizzled in soy sauce.  Of course I had a second helping…

    But it gets better!  They actually scraped off all the rice crispies (飯焦  in Cantonese, or 鍋巴) at the bottle of the claypot - as they normally would - and dunked them in superior broth (上湯)!  Words could not do justice to the joy I felt as I slurped this up.

    I just couldn't pass up dessert tonight, and snapped them up as the staff was packing them into boxes, thinking we weren't interesting in having them...

    Sesame rolls (芝麻卷) - yum.

    Walnut cookie (合桃餅) - these were so light, so airy, and sooooo delicious!  I do not want to know how much lard went into one of these cookies… but they have the ability to turn me into the Cookie Monster...

    Almond cream with egg white (蛋白杏仁茶) - yup, the egg whites were still fluffy and not in big clumps.   Slurp.

    Look!  I even got some fruit in, since I didn't get any last night.  Too bad it's sugary watermelon

    This being a big birthday celebration for Lord Rayas, I figured he would pull out all the stops.  On the way to dinner, I had a wild guess that he was going to serve a massiiive vertical of Château Rayas.  When I arrived and saw identical-looking bottles - covered in velvet bags but with red capsules protruding out of the bags - my suspicion grew a little stronger.  I felt more convinced when I took a whiff of the first glass of wine.

    1990 Dom Pérignon - very smooth, almost a little light on the palate.  Ripe and mature on the palate, with cane sugar notes on the nose.

    First flight:  aired for 1 hour in bottle prior to serving.
    1969 Rayas - first whiff showed a little plastic, but underneath the nose seemed to be lovely.  A little plummy and sweet.  Smooth with a light body.  93 points.

    1971 Rayas - lightest color of all three wines, definitely kinda old.  Showing a little plastic in the nose, with floral notes underneath.  Fuller body compared to the '69.  93 points.

    1978 Rayas - a little smoky, farmy and earthy, but not showing much in the nose.  Still medium to light bodied.  91 points.

    Second flight:
    1979 Rayas - nice and sweet fruit, farmy, smoky with grilled meats.  Showing much better than the first flight.  95 points.

    1983 Rayas - a little metallic, reminds me of iron in the blood, which was distracting.  Very sweet on the palate, full-bodied with a long finish.  93 points.

    1990 Rayas - plummy, clearly very ripe on the nose, almost a little stewed fruits.  Smoky.  96 points.

    Third flight:  aired for 3 hours in bottle prior to serving.
    1989 Rayas - grassy, dried herbs, a little plastic. More concentrated on the palate.  93 points.

    1993 Rayas - smoky, ripe, a tiny bit alcoholic on the nose.  Also forest and pine needle notes.  95 points.

    1998 Rayas - very ripe and very sweet, with forest and potpourri notes.  Beautiful nose.  Exotic with a hint of lychees.  Unmistakably Rayas.  97 points.

    This was an amazing experience.  It's rare that any of us would get to do a vertical of Rayas, let alone so many older vintages... including the legendary 1978, 1989 and 1990.  I wish I could have enjoyed some of these vintages more, especially the '78, but for some reason I just couldn't coax much nose out of my glasses.  Maybe I was simply too cold from the A/C earlier in the evening, and my olfactory powers suffered.  Or maybe Lord Rayas UG'd the first flight and the '78 simply needed more time to come to life.  Oh well...

    Many thanks to Lord Rayas for this wonderful opportunity, and for hosting the highest-scoring MNSC evening ever.  He ain't called Lord Rayas for nothin', ya know...

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  • 11/26/13--07:58: St. John's Horde
  • For years, St. John in London has been on top of my hit list for London.  The restaurant's famed roast bone marrow and parsley salad has inspired numerous copies worldwide, including some in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, as I am a much bigger fan of Froggyland than Rosbifland, I haven't stepped foot in London for more than 7 years.  So the nose-to-tail dining experience remained firmly out of reach, despite having recommended a number of friends to visit the establishment.

    So when my friend Susan announced nearly two months ago that she's booked a table at the Blue Butcher on the night that Fergus Henderson was gonna be there, it took me only a minute to respond.  I wouldn't have missed this dinner for the world.

    A few days later, I received a very kind offer for an interview slot with Fergus.  I thanked the lovely PR for the kind invitation, but in realty as I had never been to St. John and not actually experienced it for myself - and I don't own one of his cookbooks - I didn't feel qualified to interview him.  It was good enough for me to be at the restaurant eating the food.

    I don't think I've ever seen so many familiar faces at the same restaurant in Hong Kong…ever.  Lots of friends came to pay their respects to the chef.  As we greeted friends who were coming out from the first seating, the inevitable question of "How was it?" was posed to a number of them.  The cryptic responses - or worse, a complete lack of response - from every single one of those asked certainly had us worried.  No one seemed to be beaming with happiness.

    Our big group sat down at our long table, and we were presented with the menu for the evening.  Thanks to the lack of adequate lighting, I could barely read the menu by candle light.  I was somewhat thankful for being close to the open kitchen, as the lighting level would be even worse otherwise.  I always wonder why restauranteurs insist that we eat without being able to see our food…

    I swear the hospitality industry in Hong Kong is onto something here… Once again ILoveLubutin found herself without a fork (and also a knife this time) in front of her.  The restaurants in town must have come to the realization that she is No Fork Use!  Or maybe they all realized that she'll just eat with her hands anyway...

    Baked quail egg / trotter - this was pretty good.  The combination of chopped pieces of trotter - with nice, soft collagen - and the tomato-based sauce kinda reminded of trippa alla Romana... with parsley on top.  Very familiar and comforting.

    Next came three different starters for us to share.  I assumed that each "piece" was the right portion for one person...

    Pressed pigs ear / chicory - us Chinese are no stranger to pig's ears, and in fact looked downright familiar!  I loooove the mix of textures from pig's ears, since it is at once soft and crunchy.  Only thing is that this was a little bland compared to what I'm used to.  The chicory was a little bitter.

    Tomato / little gem / anchovy - this was pretty ho-hum and forgettable.

    Ox tongue / green sauce - the ultra-thin slices of ox tongue were very, very tender and delicious.  I decided to be a good boy and just like half a slice, but in retrospect I should have had more... since I loooove ox tongue.

    Then the two mains followed.

    Crispy pigs jowl / dandelion - this was like a big pile of salad, and left me wondering if I'd be hungry at the end of the meal.  I've never had dandelion before, so this was an interesting experience.  The pieces of pigs jowl were heavenly.  The meat was incredibly soft and tender, sometimes rich to the point of almost being mushy and melt-in-your-mouth.  The crackling turned out one of two ways: either it was hard and kinda stuck to your teeth when you bit down on it, or it was somehow like layers of puff pastry from a millefeuille that had been soaked in sauce - soft and ethereal.  While this "salad" didn't look substantial enough, I kept spooning more of it onto my plate and eventually ate enough to be happy.

    Deviled lamb kidneys / mash - not a fan.  At all.  I love gamey meats and go out of my way to find very gamey lamb.  I also eat kidneys and just about any type of offal - growing up eating pigs kidneys in Chinese cuisine and learning to appreciate veal kidneys at an older age.  This, however, was over the edge for me.  I honestly felt I had been transported to a zoo, and was standing in a pen amongst the droppings and urine of a herd of goats.

    Ginger loaf / butterscotch sauce / vanilla ice cream - this was pretty tasty.  The loaf was pretty dense and had light ginger flavors, while the butterscotch sauce was sweet and yum.

    I was always gonna bring wine for the gang, but a few people actually wanted to start drinking early... so we popped open a bottle of Guigal in my office before joining the rest of the group.

    1999 Guigal Côte-Rôtie - big, ripe, fruity nose that was slightly alcoholic and sharp.  A little smoky, and later chocolate notes.  Clearly from a big and ripe vintage, and not yet mature.

    2002 Pontet-Canet - my glass was the last pour from the bottle.  Reasonable concentration, so-so on palate.

    2002 L'Evangile en magnum - riper, sweeter with black cherries and a little cedar.  Softer and rounder.

    Unknown Prosecco - very peachy, flinty, oaky.  We each got a glass as part of the meal.  I don't normally drink Prosecco, but I can see why chicks dig this kinda stuff...

    Surprisingly, I wasn't hungry at the end of the meal.  (OK, I had 2 small slices of bread but I doubt that was the deciding factor.)  I thought most of the dishes were fine and tasty enough, and all-in-all my first encounter with Fergus Henderson's nose-to-tail cooking worked out pretty well - although perhaps it wasn't the best value-for-money one could get.  However, there was no "Wow factor" tonight, and I think that sentiment was shared by most of us at the table.  The conspicuous absence of roast bone marrow was a very big disappointment.  Yes, we can have similar dishes at any number of restaurants in town, but I wanted it from Fergus.  It's like going to a Sarah Brightman concert and not hearing her sing The Phantom of the Opera, or Neil Diamond showing up at Fenway but refusing to sing Sweet Caroline - the crowd just isn't gonna be happy unless they get it.

    The unhappy feeling was made worse by sightings of some bone marrow dishes coming from the kitchen - and going to different tables but not to ours.  While I didn't visually track the paths those dishes followed, it made us wonder whether the billionaire tycoons, politicians and veteran bankers in the private room next to us were treated to something a little special.  While we have chefs and food and wine journalists known to the restaurant among our group, there was no doubt that being a billionaire was much, much more special…  As there were also 4 bloggers amongst us, we did wonder whether shouting "I AM FOOD BLOGGER!" would have made any difference...

    I didn't really get a chance to say much to a beaming Fergus Henderson as he made the rounds and came to our table, but I'll be sure to stop by St. John on my next visit to Rosbifland.

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    Finally... the third installment of my week at Seventh Son (家全七福).  This dinner came about at the instigation of a chef friend, who responded to a thread on FB by suggesting that I should share my wines with friends like Da Jam.  I wasted no time in rounding up a few people who are all friends with Da Jam - who would also drink a reasonable amount - and it was suggested that we they check out Seventh Son.  At the time this arrangement was made, I had no idea that this would result in my being here three times in a week...

    The date was chosen because it was the earliest date that all of us would be available, and I had given absolutely no thought to the fact that it was to be Thanksgiving evening - having gotten used to not having much turkey for the last 2 decades.  Once I realized the coincidence, I knew exactly which dish to pre-order for us...

    Pan-fried minced pork and lotus root patties (香煎蓮藕餅) - these were pretty good.  There was enough diced bits of lotus root inside to be noticeable and give it some degree of crunchiness, but it was still mostly a pork patty.  I thought it was better than what I had at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), but still prefer the really crunchy version at Guo Fu Lou (國福樓) for now.

    Deep-fried frog's legs with garlic and chilli (椒鹽田雞腿) - better than the moist and almost soggy ones I had last time.

    Sautéed pig's stomach tip (炒肚尖) - I wasn't a big fan of this dish from my last visit, but I was happy to give it another try.  The pieces here are somehow not as springy and crunchy enough, and a little more old-school.  We were all wondering what 肚尖 is in English - other than a literal translation - but I'm guessing it's something like the pyloric canal just before the pyloric sphincter... right before going to the small intestines.

    Marinated cucumber (拍青瓜) - with minced garlic and peanuts...

    Barbecued whole suckling pig (大紅片皮乳豬全體) - needed to make sure the others tried this and see for themselves.  Actually I now like this better than Fook Lam Moon.  The crackling's just as good, and for the first time I had a taste of the ribs, which were not over-seasoned like they have been at FLM.  Interestingly the piggies here are from Yunnan (雲南) and not Vietnam.

    Steamed tonguesole (清蒸金邊方利) - hours before dinner, a message suddenly popped up from David, saying that he's got a fish for us.  I know he's got good sources when it comes to fresh seafood, especially those caught in local waters, but I was wondering if the restaurant's BYO policy extended to something like fish... But I need not have worried about the chef's connections.  He dropped this off at the restaurant in the afternoon.  There was no doubt it would be something special...

    This had to be one of the best soles I have ever had.  The fish was incredibly silky and tender, which reflected both its freshness as well as the skills of the chef in steaming.  Simply amazing.  About 2 catties (斤) shared between the 6 of us.  An incredible treat.

    Steamed duck stuffed with various fillings (蛋黃八寳鴨) - this being Thanksgiving and all, it just wouldn't feel right if we didn't have a stuffed birdie.  Having tried this on my first visit, I felt pretty confident that the gang would be happy having this tonight.

    Eight-treasure duck (八寳鴨) is meant to have 8 different ingredients, so there was chestnut, Jinhua ham (金華火腿), barley, salty egg yolk, lotus seeds, shiitake mushrooms and one other ingredient I couldn't recall other than the duck.  Very, very tasty.  One of the chefs said this reminded him of cassoulet, and I can kinda see what he meant.

    Chrysanthemum greens in superior broth (上湯茼蒿) - it's winter and chrysanthemum greens are in season.  I thought having it in superior broth was pretty nice, and softened the relatively strong flavors of the veg a little.

    Stir-fried pea shoots and winter bamboo shoots (冬筍扒豆苗) - very good in terms of the ingredients, as they use the very tips of pea shoots and bamboo shoots.  The only drawback is that they used too much starch tonight, and I didn't need the extra calories.

    Claypot rice with duck and preserved meats (煲油鴨腊味飯) - 'tis the season and we must get as much of this in as possible as I fatten up slim down for winter.  The preserved meats here are soooo damn good... but I held back and only had 1 serving tonight... I think... as far as I can remember...

    Having had the rice crispies (飯焦) in soup a few nights ago, I asked for the same preparation tonight.  The kitchen made sure that the claypot was hot enough to give us extra rice crispies, which was then cooked tableside in superior broth.  Wow!  This was just... I would've been happy to take another 2 bowls of this!

    The ambitious ladies pre-ordered dessert before they realized they were stuffed by the rice, but I took them on even though I was already full.

    Sesame sachima (芝麻沙琪馬) - you don't get this as many restaurants, and ILoveLubutin No Fork Use wanted some.  Pretty good, I gotta say...

    Steamed traditional brown sugar sponge cake (欖仁馬拉糕) - we justified ordering this because, as you can very well see, it's mostly air and not much substance to give it enough calories...  This was really good.

    Leaf wrapped glutinous dumpling with red bean paste (豆沙蘋葉角) - another old favorite from FLM.  Mmmmm... lard...

    The owner's daughter stopped by to say hello to one of my friends, and I think she knows that I'm a fan now... after seeing me for a second time in a week.

    But we mustn't forget about the wines - without which this dinner wouldn't even have taken place.  I think we did better than I expected, with the 6 of us polishing off 6 bottles.  Even Da Jam was drinking a little... but I failed in my objective in getting him toasted.  Ah well, there's always next time!

    1999 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Riesling Auslese-trocken - mineral, white pepper, petrol, a little floral, big and ripe on the nose, and also ripe on palate but without the sugar.  Not bad at all.  I had originally wanted to grab a much older bottle, but took this by mistake...

    1985 Hospices de Beaune Mazis-Chambertin Cuvée Madeleine-Collignon par Bouchard - decanted for 30 minutes prior to serving.  Plummy, stewed fruits.  Not bad but seemingly a little tired.  Nice on the palate, though.  I tried to be a little more conservative tonight after over-breathing this wine the last two times I served it, but maybe next time I just have to decant just before I serve it...
    2004 Ponsot Chapelle Chambertin - a little vegetal, un petit bouchonnée.  But still drinkable.

    2000 Coche-Dury Meursault - served after opening for 2 hours.  Really lovely nose, big and toasty, with lots of toasty corn and minerals.  This may not be an elegant wine, but it sure got the power!

    1996 Guigal Côte-Rôtie Château d'Ampuis - a little minty, pretty sweet.  Nice on the palate, but this can develop a little more.

    1996 Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon - a little green, which led me to think that it was also un petit bouchonnée.  This would be the second consecutive bottle of 1996 Chapoutier Ermitage that I've opened this year that was corked.  WTF is going on with the sourcing of his corks that year?!  Otherwise the nose was smoky, lean, savory like black olives, animal and leather.

    A very, very good dinner...  I must come back again soon... but preferrably not too soon!

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    It's now 4 months since I started on my diet, and I've made a little more progress during the last month, which is meant to be the "maintenance" phase of the program.  I was, of course, not really interested in just maintaining my weight, and wanted to keep going down.

    Weight loss so far: 8.5kg.
    Unlike the first three months when I was losing 2.5kg a month consistently, this past month has been much more difficult.  My weight's basically been like a yo-yo... swinging up and down within a range while trying to push lower.  A string of big dinners - three over the course of the week, all at the same restaurant - really didn't help.  I had lost up to 9kg the very morning before the first of those three meals, only to experience the biggest spike up during the last four months.

    During the maintenance phase, my daily ratio had actually increased slightly - especially my intake of oils.  My nutritionist is also prepping me to integrate other, more "fatty" foods.  Foods that were off-limits during the weight-loss period are now permissible, although on a limited basis.  That's good to know.

    Well, Imma keep going.  I'm still some ways from my goal, and I ain't stoppin''till I get there!

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