April 21, 2017

One star food, WTF service

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

*BEGIN RANT*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, one final thing.  I know not everyone is able to the flawless pronunciation of every single term which originated in a foreign language - myself included - but I still think that restaurants need to train their staff to try and do better.  Waiters who tell their diners about the SE-VEESH on the plate will get the same reaction from me as shop assistants who welcome me to their VER-SAYS or CHANNEL store. I'll let a lot of this stuff slide when I'm at my local Spaghetti House paying 1/10th of the price because I don't have any expectations.  When you're charging USD 200 for a seat in your fine dining restaurant - part of which goes to pay for the fancy decor and the custom-designed fancy uniforms for your waitstaff - I expect you to do better.  A LOT better.

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

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

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

*END RANT*

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

April 19, 2017

Gin et Jim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2017

Mo' Unni in the 'Hood

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

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

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

April 16, 2017

Steak and red wines for Easter

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

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

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

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

Droning Boy: Easter excursion to Lantau

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for a 4K version of the video.

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