March 22, 2015

The end of a chapter

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At a dinner earlier this month, I received word that Chef Hideaki Sato was leaving Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), a restaurant much beloved by myself as well as the Tiggers.  This came as a big shock to me, and I immediately checked with Chef Sato on his departure date.  When I was told that he was due to leave at the end of the month, I quickly organized a last dinner with the Tiggers.  It is, after all, their favorite Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong.

Tonight's menu read a little like a "greatest hits" collection, with a number of my favorite dishes sampled over the last 3 years.  I was only too happy to be able to taste them again one last time...

Deep fried sea urchin from Hokkaido wrapped in seaweed (レアに仕上げた浜中の "海水雲丹" サクサク磯辺揚げ) - I've had this before, and didn't really like it on previous visits.  Sandwiched between nori (のり) seaweed and then wrapped in rice paper before deep-frying.

March 19, 2015

Neighborhood madam

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I had the pleasure of entertaining someone special tonight.  Big Sister Madam has been out of town for a while, and I felt pretty privileged when she agreed to let me take her out for dinner over a bottle of wine.

Our dinner reservation was a late one, so we met up at the Amber Bar for a drink.  I was curious about their wine cocktails, and ended up ordering one using Stonier's Pinot Noir as a base while adding crème de cassis, crème de lychees, and orange.  Not surprisingly this tasted very sweet, and with a few chunks of orange peel floating on top, this tasted a little like a very sweet sangria...

Having been responsible for introducing Big Sister to On Lot 10, it was no surprised that she requested to go to Neighborhood.  It's actually been a while since I was last there, and I was ever so happy to show my friend David Lai some love!

We weren't in the mood for a feast, so we just picked up a couple of "simple" dishes that struck our fancy...

Rocket/pigsear salad - I wanted something with veg, and at the same time I could never resist the lure of pig's ears... especially when there are also croûtons and chopped bits of lardon thrown in.  Love the sharp acidity here.

March 16, 2015

Chef Talks: sustainable consumption

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Tonight I attended a talk at the Fringe Club organized by Slow Food Hong Kong.  It's part of a whole series of talks featuring prominent chefs in town, and tonight there were two featured speakers - my good friend David Lai from Neighborhood (and formerly of On Lot 10), and Nurdin Topham from NUR.  The two of them took turns talking about their experiences in Hong Kong, focusing on their use of sustainable produce.

Nurdin Topham is a relative newcomer to Hong Kong.  He talked about how the 10 years he spent with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons have shaped him, especially the philosophy of using high quality, organic, sustainable produce.  In the short period that he has been here, he spent a good deal of effort trying to make sure his ingredients are seasonal and come from local sources - as much as possible, anyway.  This was something I pondered while dining at NUR for the first time just a few days ago.  While proteins - especially meats - are hard to source locally, fruits and vegetables are a little easier... but even those can be challenging given the quality of sustainable and organic local produce.

March 13, 2015


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NUR was always a restaurant I would have loved to trash for a number of reasons.  First, the PR machine made a big deal out of Chef Nurdin Topham's time at Noma - where he staged briefly, then spent a few months interning at the Nordic Food Lab.  I used to say that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli", and nowadays that phrase is certainly applicable to Noma.  I'm not saying that Chef Topham's experience at Noma and the Nordic Food Lab wasn't revelatory or had influenced his cooking, but the guy spent a decade with Raymond Blanc, and nobody seemed to be interested in that piece of info.  That's perhaps understandable, I guess... because how many restaurant PRs in this town actually know who Raymond Blanc is?

The second reason there was an open invitation to trashing was the PR spin about the restaurant's stated policy of sourcing ingredients locally - getting on the "local farm-to-table" bandwagon.  Now, I'm not pooh-poohing the movement.  I do support it and feel that it is best to eat things sourced locally - both from a freshness point of view and also from a carbon footprint angle.  But I was browsing through pages in blogosphere, and everywhere I looked there were things like Irish salmon, Gillardeau oysters, Stockyard wagyu, Taiyouran egg... etc.  So what, exactly, was being sourced locally, other than the few herbs and veg?!  Was this yet another case of PR spinning a story and hyping it up?!

Whatever the case, I ignored most of the reports coming out from the initial flood of invitational meals and decided to stay away.  I wasn't invited anyway...  Over time, though, more friends whose opinions I trust delivered positive feedback.  Then Rubberman decided to give these guys a macaron at the end of last year, and that finally piqued my interest.

So when I Love Lubutin asked whether I had any interest in checking out the place, I didn't hesitate to say yes.  She promptly called the restaurant for a booking, only to receive a confirmation e-mail that started by saying "Dear Mr. XXX"...  We both lamented that in the 21st century, there are still plenty of restaurants in this town where the staff assumes that a woman calling to make a reservation must be a secretary calling for her male boss.  It wasn't the first time, and it ain't gonna be the last...

I arrived at the restaurant first, and immediately the staff assumed I was said Mr. XXX... I, of course, couldn't be bothered to correct them.  It is what it is...

We were lucky to be seated in the alcove by the entrance, which appeared to have the best lighting in the entire restaurant.  However, I quickly realized I was surrounded by a ton of large glass jars, some of which contained liquids or items soaked in liquid.  With the way the jars were lit by spotlights underneath the jars, they actually created eerie glows within the jars.  I felt like I was in a biology lab looking at jars of specimens in formaldehyde... or maybe I was Steve Martin in the movie The Man with Two Brains.  Either way, it was a little freaky to me.

The restaurant only offers a single tasting menu, so after confirming to the staff that I had no allergies or preferences, there wasn't much to do except wait for the food to arrive.

First up was a trio of nibbles.  From the left:
Beetroot taco - with beetroot chutney and watercress emulsion.  Sweeter than expected.
Dehydrated candied carrots - with carrot powder on the side, along with cumin powder on sour cream.
Melon with pickled cucumber - paprika on top.

March 12, 2015

Flavors of Niigata

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The latest victim I chose to skewer review for the South China Morning Post this month was Ebi-no-Hige (海老の髭) - the first Hong Kong outpost of a hospitality group from Niigata (新潟).  The izakaya features a good selection of dishes that includes regional specialties, which both No Fish and I found interesting, so we picked this place over a couple of others.

The set menus didn't look too interesting as they didn't feature much in the way of Niigata specialties, so I decided to order à la carte instead.

Our server came and plopped the appetizer onto the table and left without any word or explanation.  I guess this is what we should expect from izakayas... or is it?  As it turns out, this was pretty much the case throughout the entire dinner - just about every dish came without any introductions.  I guess since I had ordered every single dish off the menu myself, the staff figured that was no need to point out the obvious...

Anyway, one quick glance and it's obvious why we got this as the appetizer.  After all, the name of the restaurant literally translates to "shrimp's beard", and those are some long antennae!


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