March 11, 2013

HK Chowmeet part 1: Above Kowloon

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Two years on, a bunch of foodies gathered in Hong Kong again for a meal.  For a select few this has been a tradition going back to 2008 (or was it 2007...), over a meal which I was unable to attend at the time.  We had two good meals in 2009, another two in 2010, and I was able to make it to one in 2011.  I'm glad to be able to make it to one of the gatherings this year.

Each year the group keeps growing, with a few core members returning while new friends manage to join us.  In addition to those of us in Hong Kong, this year we had people flying in from Toronto, Tokyo, Seoul and Singapore - a total of 14 of us.  Not too shabby for a little gathering...  I guess some poeple will fly a long way just to go eat!  I know I would.

The organizer had read my posts on Above and Beyond (天外天), and after some discussion the other candidates for the venue were tossed out in favor of this one.  It would be my first experience with dinner here (both previous visits were during lunch), and I was looking forward to the menu put together by Susan and David.

Chinese specialty platter (江南四小碟):
Barbecued suckling pig (化皮乳豬件) - oh this was very, very good !  Crispy skin with just a nice layer of fat underneath.  Totally not happy about only getting two small squares of this!

Crispy five spice sliced angus beef brisket (五香脆安格斯腩片) - not as good as I remembered from my first visit.  Today this was a little dry and cold by the time I got to it.

Smoked egg with Oolong tea leaves and black truffles (黑松露茶薰蛋) - oh this was real good… I expected the smoky flavors but didn't count on the acidity that came with the little bit of black truffles on top.

Suckling pig knuckles in abalone sauce (鮑汁豬仔腳) - not sure I picked up the abalone sauce, but never mind… Oink, oink!

Wok-fried crystal king prawn with honey-glazed Yunnan ham (蜜汁雲腿伴玻璃蝦球) - ho-hum.  Yes, the prawn was big… and yes, the chef had scored it so that it resembled a flower - like a peony or a rose.  But it tasted kinda bland.  This was a dish that I stopped ordering at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), and this isn't better than the one at Tim's Kitchen.

The Yunnan ham here also didn't really do it for me.

Double-boiled chicken soup with fish maw and coconut (椰皇花膠燉土雞湯) - this was some delicious chicken soup!  Love the unexpected layer of coconut flavor.  However, the fish maw was VERY fishy… in fact I've never ever had it so strong.

Wok-fried Canadian scallops with black truffles and sea urchins (黑松露海膽帶子皇) - the execution of the scallops themselves were absolutely flawless - leading to a texture soft and tender.  Was there sea urchin in this?  I had no idea… since I couldn't pick up the taste.  Obviously there was some crab meat, and the strong flavors from the ginger, spring onions as well as the pea sprouts overwhelmed everything else.

Wok-fried spotted garoupa fillet with Yunnan ham and spring onion (腿茸薑蔥爆東星斑球) - I'm biased here because I don't think good fish should be prepared as fillet… but in all honesty this was not bad, and I found myself eating up all the spring onions.

Crispy-fried chicken with Oolong tea leaves (脆皮茶薰雞) - the skin was crispy and yummy, but the underside - where the bones are - was very, very salty.

Steamed coral crab with glutinous rice (紅蟳米糕) - this had gotten cold by the time it was plated for us, so I didn't like it as much as last time.

It just didn't pack the same amount of flavor… and it was just cold and mushy.

Caramel brûlée (焦糖燉蛋) - actually nice with vanilla, but just too sweet… even for a guy with a sweet tooth.  I think most others felt the same way.  And the portion was way too big for something this rich and sweet.

Baked egg custard tartlet (酥皮蛋撻仔) - this was too small, and I felt the crust was too thick and threw the custard/crust ratio out of whack.

Chilled jelly with wolfberry and osmanthus (杞子桂花糕) - interesting that you get the flavor of osmanthus but the flowers themselves have been filtered out.  That single wolfberry was looking awfully lonely there…

I had offered to bring wine for everyone, and listed out what I could bring for the party in the email chain.  One by one, people raised their hands and said that they weren't gonna drink, so I shouldn't bring too much wine.  Reluctantly, I cut down on the wines I planned to bring… until finally I only brought the equivalent of 3 bottles…

1993 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abtsberg Auslese 83 - nose of polyurethane, minerals, white flowers, and plastic.  Still got acidity here despite the sweetness.

1985 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendages Tardives en magnum - what would normally have been a beautiful wine was… bouchonné!!!  Initially there was a whiff of white grapes and lychee.  Then the nose faded quickly.  There was some sweetness on the palate, but it was mostly bitter, and had no length.  Another diner and I quickly agreed that the wine was gone.  It wasn't as undrinkable as it could have been, but it gave me no pleasure to drink the wine.  I apologized to the crowd for the unfortunate occurrence.

Dassai Junmai Daiginjo 39% (獺祭「純米大吟醸」磨き三割九分) - nose of bananas, tropical fruits and sticky rice.

1983 Delamaine Grande Champagne Cognac - lots of caramel in the nose.

The food was pretty good in general, although there were a few things that perhaps needed tweaking.  The important thing was that it gave us all an opportunity to dine together, to celebrate old and new friendships.  I look forward to more gatherings in the next year and beyond.

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