December 12, 2014

The most anticipated return of the year

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It's been way, way too long.  Up until a little more than a year ago, Caprice had been my favorite fine dining restaurant in town - a position it has steadfastly held for about seven years. But after the departure of Chef Vincent Thierry (who went to the Land of Fake Smiles in search of new adventures) followed by the departure of maître d' Jeremy Evrard (who joined Philippe Orrico at Upper Modern Bistro), the place had lost its mojo.  Both the food and the service had gone downhill in the second half of last year, and after yet another less-than-impressive lunch on the day before new chef Fabrice Vulin landed in Hong Kong, I stopped going altogether.

Early feedback on the new chef's cuisine was mixed, which made me hesitate about a quick return.  Nearly a year later, I finally began getting some more positive reports, and figured it was probably time to go and check things out for myself.  So once again I rounded up some of the most discerning palates in town, and booked a table for lunch just two days shy of the anniversary of my last meal here.  The amazing thing is that, despite all of us having been huge fans of the restaurant, not a single one of us have been back at Caprice since the new chef arrived.

The receptionists no longer recognize me by sight, but as I made my way to our table I saw a familiar face from afar.  One of the Sebastien twins - Sommelier Sebastien Alleno - came over to greet me.  It was good to see an old friend.  The other twin - Sebastien Boudon - has now taken over as maître d' after Jeremy's departure, and is also a familiar face... well, at least he knows who I am.  And I was also glad to see Timothy, who came over to say hello.  It was kinda heart-warming...

Things have certainly changed in the last year - even the bread selection.  Gone was my old favorite sesame roll - replaced by a couple of new and rather tasty options.  What hasn't changed is the Bordier butter.  It's been so long since we were last here that the new staff had no clue about the particular preferences of this crowd... and it took them a while to realize that there's no point in putting unsalted butter on the table, since nobody touches it...  They eventually caught on.

I had certainly been having my fair share of rich meals in the past month, so I was more than happy to take it easy by having the two-course set lunch.  À la carte can wait.  At least that was the plan.  But as I have remarked to friends before, if you wanna control your intake, you shouldn't visit restaurants where they know you...

December 11, 2014

A nice little macaron next door

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It's coming up to year-end, and I was going through the list of restaurants that I haven't been back to for a long time, when the name Lung King Heen (龍景軒) popped into my head.  It's the one restaurants most frequented by affluent tourists looking for Chinese food in town, yet I've never really been a fan.  Given that my last visit was more than 3 years ago, I figured it was time to pay a return visit, and see if my opinion of the place merits changing.

When I called to make a reservation, I wasn't the least bit surprised - albeit still disappointed - to be told that the restaurant was fully booked for the next month.  Given that I had already rounded up a couple of friends for lunch, the only solution was to find an alternate venue.  Fortunately we all like the food at The Boss (波士廳), so I quickly grabbed a table for us.

We ordered a couple of dim sum items, then some carbs and veg - surely enough for the three of us...

Steamed barbecued buns (黑豚叉燒包) - pretty good stuff...

As expected, the filling here ain't the cheap, leftover bits of fat, but proper slices of pork.

December 9, 2014

The noisy winter dragon

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Babu pinged me out of the blue yesterday, asking me when we would be going back to the "Japanese restaurant".  She was due to fly out in a couple of days, so I wasted no time in rounding up the troops and quickly made a reservation at Tenkyu RyuGin (天空龍吟) tonight.

Takano-san was off tonight, but I was pretty sure we would be well taken care of.  I was very much looking forward to having their winter menu for the first time.

Monkfish liver from Hokkaido and "aka" clam with spring onion in mustard miso sauce ("スペシャリテ" 北海道 "極上あん肝" と "赤貝" のからし酢味噌和え) - an interesting start, with cubes of rich and smooth monkfish liver paired with beautifully scored slices of ark shell.  Served with slices of radish, spring onions, a sauce made with white miso and egg yolk, and julienne of yuzu (柚子) zest.

December 7, 2014

An Italian in Hong Kong

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One of my favorite winemakers is back in town, and once again I had the good fortune to enjoy his company.  My friends invited me to lunch at Gradini, a relatively newcomer that is just literally a stone's throw from my office.  I was initially scratching my head at the decision to take an Italian to have Italian food in Hong Kong, but... whatever.  I was just happy to tag along!

Although it wasn't 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Marchese Lodovico Antinori seemed pleased with the venue.  He remarked that the decor seemed to be that of popular Roman restaurants in the 1950s or 60s, and seeing waiters dressed in white jackets seemed to reinforce the look this place was going for.

We took the brunch menu, which had us start with antipasto e panetterie.  I decided to be a good boy and only grabbed a small selection...

The asparagus was sprinkled with black pepper and pretty decent.  Nothing out of the ordinary for the salumi.  The mushrooms were OK.  The baby octopus salad was so-so, as was the prawn.

December 5, 2014

My new favorite snake soup

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Ever since my last dinner at the private entertainment next door, I have been wanting to introduce this place to the Tiggers - and in particular Babu.  They are lovers of snake soup, and having tasted a few different versions from top restaurants in my recent quest for the best snake soup around, I am convinced that there is no better version (for me, anyway) than this private kitchen.

I had originally made the booking for tomorrow night, but a few days ago I was contacted by the chef, and a request was made for me to move the dinner to a day earlier or a day later.  Well, it wasn't exactly a "request", but given that this is someone's private playground that he has graciously allowed others to use when he's not here, I certainly know my place and when to dutifully toe the line.  I checked with the Tiggers and moved the dinner tonight - depriving a couple of people of the chance to try this place, but making a hangry woman very, very happy as a result.

Baked stuffed crab shell (焗釀鮮蟹蓋) - one of the few dishes tonight that I haven't tried before.  Shredded crab meat is piled on top of a crab shell, and baked with a layer of what looked like Japanese panko (パン粉) - bread crumbs - on top.

As I started to dig into the pile of crabmeat, I realized that there wasn't much of anything else here.  I like the version at Fook Lam Moon (福臨門) with the shredded onions providing a little sweetness, but it appears I'm in the minority.  There was also no trace of any annoying curry powder or even a thick layer of cheese and cream - just the purity of the sweet crab meat.  With the very first, course, the chef has already won Babu over.

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