December 31, 2014

Japanese countdown

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Being single, unattached, and away from family has its downside.  On certainly holidays when one sees families and friends gather to celebrate, the possibility of spending it with Me, Myself, and I will inevitably cross one's mind.  I'm past the age where counting down on NYE is still a big thing, so I normally don't make a fuss about how to spend it.  In fact, there have been a couple of years in the recent past where I did spend it with Me, Myself, and I.

This year, the Great One took pity on me and invited me to join her family and friends at Sake Bar GINN.  I don't normally frequent wine and sake bars, preferring to imbibe my own collection over dinner.  But I didn't have anything planned for the evening, the prospect of doing it Japanese-style with osechi ryori (おせち料理) intrigued me, and best of all - the price just seemed unbeatable.  There seemed little reason not to say 'Yes'...

About an hour and a half before the party was due to start, I received word that one of us had arrived "a little early" to beat the crowd that was inevitably going to swarm to Lan Kwai Fong.  Not wanting the poor soul to hang out alone, I decided to head to the bar a little early - only to find myself alone for the next half hour while the bar staff continued to prep for the party.  Ah well... at least it smelled good while I waited!

These strips of dried kelp (昆布) were pretty nice as a snack.  There's just enough umami without being too salty.

December 30, 2014

A date with Uwe

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Chef Uwe Opocensky has been pretty nice to me over the last couple of years, having orchestrated a number of really fun and memorable dinners for my friends and I.  We've been talking about getting together for a drink for some time, but someone in his position is understandably very busy... Well tonight he finally found some time to chew the fat with me, and I promptly fished out a special bottle from my cellar for him.

We started the evening on his turf, grabbing a drink and some nibbles at the Mandarin Grill + Bar.  In spite of my protestations about being happy just to drink Krug Grande Cuvée, I was happy to be sipping on 2003 Krug.  The nose was surprisingly floral, although that could have been partly due to the scented candle on the table...  The wine was deep and rich on the palate, young and vibrant while not aggressive.  Acidity balance was just about perfect for me.

Cured ham - very nice.  Toast had a surprisingly pronounced smoky flavor.

Cooked ham - apparently this was from the same pig as the cured ham, but with different preparation.  Inhaled in 2 bites.

Last star of 2014

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I admit I've been on a tear lately. Sometime in November I was asked how many (Michelin) stars I have "collected" this year.  Well, I know I do tend to frequent high-end restaurants and many of them do have stars bestowed on them, but I never consciously went out of my way to "collect" them.  It did get me thinking, though... and I decided I should go out and revisit a bunch of places I haven't been to in a while... and see how much I can squeeze in before year end.

So when it came time to meet up for one last lunch with my friend, I offered him a choice of a sushi restaurant or Upper Modern Bistro - which had just gotten themselves a star.  It's been a few months since I was last here, so I was happy to come back for a relaxing meal...

December 29, 2014

Mushy dim sum

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A friend is in town for a short trip and wanted to meet up for lunch.  Dim sum was requested, which made sense given the lack of decent choices in Taipei.  Given my friend was coming in from the airport, I figured I'd pick a place near the Airport Express Station in Central... and I decided to check out The Square (翠玉軒) after being away for a few years.

We opened up the menu to find only about 8 dim sum items available on weekdays.  This was very much unexpected, and kinda defeats the purpose of coming here.  My friend jokingly (or maybe she was serious?) suggested that we get up and go somewhere else, but I decided to stay put.  What a mistake this turned out to be!

December 26, 2014

Cheesy and creamy Boxing Day

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It's Boxing Day, and after being cooped up at home for a day, the Specialist decided to go out and stretch her legs a little.  It's been a while since we last met up, and I suggested that we check out a place she's been wanting to try - ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge.

I had turned down her suggestion (as well as other people's suggestion) to try this place earlier, but what I couldn't tell them was that I had scheduled to review the restaurant, and in fact I had already paid them a visit a few days ago.  It is uncharacteristic of me to want to visit a brand new restaurant so early, and even more unusual for me to pay repeat visits in short succession.  However, I've got full confidence in the team behind ON, and after my visit a few days ago, it's clear that there is absolutely no reason to wait...

We kicked off the evening with an ONegroni in the lounge upstairs.  Having tasted it a few days ago, I definitely wanted more.  This was just sooooo smooth... and packs a big punch, too!

December 25, 2014

Christmas Day feast

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It's Christmas Day, and that means one of the MNSC boys is celebrating his birthday.  This year he's decided to host his dinner on his birthday, and extended the invitation to the other halves.  It's almost become tradition that we gather at the I Hate the Handover Hong Kong Club for this last feast, where the menu is simple but Cheetah more than makes up for it by the amazing wines he serves us.

I was a little surprised to find everyone seated at the same table instead of the usual arrangement of separate tables.  What hasn't changed, though, is that the ladies were still being served different wines than the boys... and although some of the ladies complained about the different treatment, I'd be pretty happy drinking their FX Pichler and 1971 Palmer any day...

French pigeon confit and ravioli, puréed parsley, sous vide poached egg, pinot noir reduction - wow!  Am I getting this right?  Sous vide comes to the Hong Kong Club?!  Are we gonna see spherification next?  Anyway... the pigeon was very, very good... and it went very well with the pinot noir reduction, naturally.  The pigeon ravioli was not bad, and of course the sous vide egg just made everything a little better...

December 24, 2014

A little star for Christmas Eve

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It's Christmas Eve, and I'm happy to find myself with dinner plans with my adopted family.  We are apparently having a turkey feast, with delivery from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.  I'm not usually a big fan of turkey, so let's see what happens...

For lunch, though, I met up with a couple of ladies at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).  It is Christmas Eve, after all, and I'm gonna have myself some tasty bird instead of turkey!

December 22, 2014

The best pigeon in Hong Kong

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Now that the powers that be have decided that they'd like to see me continue skewering reviewing restaurants for them, it was time to pick another one.  Fortunately for me, one of the new places which has just opened up around here happens to be ON Dining Kitchen and Lounge - where two of the partners are people I've known and admired for a long time.

This being a review and all, I didn't want to alert anyone to my presence, so I had my dining companion make the reservation.  As we rounded the corner on the lounge level just before slipping quietly down the staircase, I caught a glimpse of my good friend Jeremy Evrard... and kinda hoped that he didn't see me.  Truth be told, any attempt to be incognito here was always bound to fail miserably, because before I even sat down at our table, Chef Philippe Orrico saw me and came over.  Ahhhh well, I tried...

Soon Jeremy came over to greet us, and wondered why he hadn't seen my name on the reservations list...  I'm glad to see my old friend, looking very chic and relaxed without his trademark suits.  The place is buzzing and I have no doubt they will be even more successful here than at Upper Modern Bistro.

We each got something to drink to start us off.  While my friend asked the sommelier to recommend a glass of red, I decided to try out the ONegroni that I've been reading about.  How many places have you been to where the barman (or shall we use the more chichi term of "mixologist"?) serves you a drink made from his own liquor (vermouth in this case)?  This was made with Mancino Vermouth, and left in clay pot to sit for a day.  This is said to allow the different elements to mesh together, and I gotta say... the result was stunning.  It really was much, much smoother than your average negroni - which could be aggressively bitter.  I didn't want to get buzzed quickly, so I nursed this over the course of dinner.  Very satisfying...

December 19, 2014

Little Serge

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I was getting together with a friend for dinner, and thanks to my incompetence, our original choice of venue became fully booked.  I didn't want to beg Harlan G for a table, so after scrambling for alternatives, we somehow ended up at Serge et le Phoque.

The menu has changed somewhat, and there were no longer à la carte courses listed.  Instead, diners now have a choice between "Petit Serge" (5 courses) and "Grand Phoque" (7 courses).  We decided to go the "little" route...

First the nibbles came.  Focaccia that I dipped into some nice olive oil.  Gougères made with Cantal and poppy seeds.  Dried fugu skin, undoubtedly marinated with mirin (味醂).  But the best part was the little bit of wasabi-flavored miso... which had such a wonderful kick on top of both sweet and savory flavors.

Year-end team lunch

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'Twas the last Friday before Christmas, and the guys wanted to do a team lunch together.  As usual I let them pick what they wanted to eat, and someone decided it was a good idea to go to Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬)... OK, so I know these guys wouldn't want to be taken out to Tsui Wah (翠華) or Kau Kee (九記)...

Once again I took the traditional sushi set (織部 握り), and asked them to change out any tuna in the set.  They do use domestic Japanese tuna (本マグロ) caught around Hokkaido, so I'm glad I insist on not having any...

As usual, a steamed egg custard (茶碗蒸し) to start us off...

Striped jack (縞鰺) - with a little relish made of horseradish, leeks, and bonito flakes.

December 18, 2014

A shocking revelation about Cantonese restaurants

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Tonight I met up with a friend from college on his first trip to Hong Kong.  I haven't seen Mike since our days back in Spittsbush, and not surprisingly, I was antisocial enough to have never met his wife on campus.  It was a rare opportunity to catch up with people I knew from yesteryear...

I picked them up at their hotel, hopped into a cab, and headed for the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong.  It's been a while since I was last at Tin Lung Heen (天龍軒), and I figured it would be a nice place to take my visitors.  The views from just the hotel entrance - never mind that from the 102nd floor - were spectacular.  I did tell my visitors that the place would be bling, and so I was a little disappointed that no one showed up in gold lamé or sequins as promised...

Dinner was little more challenging than usual.  I was told in advance that my friend's wife's dietary restrictions included "no creatures of the forest or meadows" and no shellfish, but that fish, vegetables and carbs were fine.  After further inquiries, I was told that even meat stocks - which are sometimes used even in vegetable dishes in Cantonese cuisine - would be no-no.  I initially told Mike that it would be a "piece of cake", since many Chinese are vegetarians - especially the devout Buddhists among us.  But I decided to be very careful while ordering, and was very specific about these restrictions to the staff who took my order.  Thankfully we were at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a 5-star hotel!

Our amuse bouche came in a little bowl, and contained deep-fried anchovies with pumpkin in black vinegar.  The fish tasted very familiar, and I found that they were actually Osbeck's grenadier anchovy (鳳尾魚) - little fishies that I grew up eating out of tins.

My favorite golden pasta

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It's the end of the year, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker decided to shower me with some love by taking me out to lunch.  It's no secret that 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana is a popular spot for business lunches, so I wasn't the least bit surprised when it was chosen as today's venue.  I would, of course, not complain too much about coming back here...

Having had a sinful breakfast hours ago at my favorite daipaidong near my office, I wanted to keep things simple - and not appear to take advantage of someone else's entertainment budget.  I do love going back to basics when I come here...

I took a green salad at the staff's suggestion, since I wanted a "light" lunch and this would avoid the awkwardness of watching the others eat while twiddling my thumbs.  I'm glad I got some more greens in at lunch.

December 14, 2014

Classic Chiuchow + classic wines

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It's nearing the end of the year, and that means we get a series of MNSC dinners bunched together.  Tonight it was Juli's turn, and we are back at Chiu Tang (潮廳) - arguably the most exclusive Chiuchow restaurant in town.  The karaoke session of our neighbors next door was already in full swing, and over the course of the evening we would be treated to some pretty off-key tunes every time the door to our private room opened...

There was a lot of food tonight, which was ruining my week of weight loss... Oh well, first world problems!

Chiu Tang appetizer platter (潮廳四彩盤)

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.

December 1, 2014

Reptile night part 2: was the master beaten?

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Ever since the reptile night I organized over a month ago - when I tasted the best snake soup I've had in memory - I have been wanting to pay Cuisine Cuisine (國金軒) a return visit.  It's been years since I last had the famous snake soup here, and I needed to refresh my memory.  I was also curious to see how the two different snake soups would compare.

I called up the restaurant and specifically requested that they put together a menu consisting of Chef Lee Yuk-lam (李煜霖)'s specialties.  Years ago I was told that if you wanted to make sure that Chef Lee personally took care of your food from his separate kitchen, you booked yourself a private room.  This time around the restaurant staff who spoke to me over the phone told me that it wasn't necessary to book a room, that I could still enjoy Chef Lee's dishes even out in the main dining room.  Whether this was really true or not, I don't know.  But I did spend a little time going back and forth to work out our menu, and hoped that Chef Lee was around.

Suckling pig with foie gras and crispy rice (乳豬鵝肝醬窩巴) - this was an interesting dish.  A crispy suckling pig crackling and a piece of crispy rice cracker sandwich a slice of soft and smooth foie gras pâté.  What could be better than three layers of fatty goodness?  Having it with a perilla leaf adds the distinctive fragrance to the mix.  The only thing that stopped it from being pure perfection was the fact that this was served kinda cold.

November 29, 2014

White truffle for mom, 2014 edition

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I'm back home this weekend to exercise my constitutional rights and fulfill my civic duties.  Yes, I flew back to Taiwan to vote in the elections today.  While mom was initially not hot on the idea of me making the trip back, I insisted that I would not give up on my rights.  My vote is just as important as anyone else's and I wouldn't dream of giving up my right to vote.

For a change, I asked the parental units to come and hang out at my place, since I wanted to cook dinner in my kitchen.  After last year's rather unsuccessful attempt to cook a decent dinner for mom, I was determined to try again.  Since it's white truffle season, again, I dropped by Neighborhood and asked David to sell me a little tuber that I could take home to mom.

This year I decided to do risotto instead.  Gary had just posted a mushroom risotto recipe on his blog recently, so I figured I'd try it out.  I knew I didn't have time to shop for ingredients in Taipei, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to find everything I needed, anyway... so I brought a bunch of key ingredients with me from Hong Kong.

It's been a few years since I cooked my last risotto, and that attempt didn't end well.  So this year I decided to take things a little slower... making sure it was medium to medium low heat, and adding my stock in one ladle at a time per Gary's instructions.  I probably could have prepped a little better, and didn't exactly get my mis en place all done before firing up the stove, but it went fairly smoothly. Although I did scramble a little while trying to sauté my shimeji mushrooms (しめじ茸) and stir the risotto at the same time.  And mom helped by dicing the rehydrated porcini for me.

November 27, 2014

Week of not collecting Michelin stars: infine, tre stelle

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I used to really like going to 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana.  There was a time when I kept returning for wine dinners there, as I fell in love with some of the dishes that Chef Bomabana offered there and the corkage policy was pretty reasonable and fair.  I would also pop by for a casual lunch sometimes, especially after a friend told me about the off-menu carbonara.

Then the restaurant was given three macarons by the Rubberman.  I'm happy that the chef has gained that level of recognition, even though many of us privately (OK, sometimes publicly, too) disagreed with the Rubberman.  Well, reservations became much harder to come by, and one would often need to book weeks in advance.  After a few unsuccessful attempts of trying to book even 2 and sometimes 3 weeks in advance, I gradually gave up altogether.  I simply chose to dine elsewhere.

It's white truffle season, and many in town have traditionally come to Chef Bombana to get their fix.  While I've been lucky to get my truffle at a multitude of places this year - including David Lai's Neighborhood - I still needed to come back here at least once.  So I rounded up a few of the most discerning palates in town, and booked for lunch 4 weeks in advance.

While nobody at the restaurant knows who I am, Chef Bombana certain knows my dining companions well.  He came over to greet us, and asked whether we would prefer to order à la carte or whether we'd prefer he put something together for us.

When a chef of this caliber puts something like that on the table, who in their right mind would say "No"?!

November 26, 2014

Week of not collecting Michelin stars: Bo Confusion

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I've been a long-time fan of Alvin Leung's cuisine, having first visited his place at Gilman's Bazaar back around 2004.  It's also one of the restaurants I often recommend to visitors.  But for someone who's supposedly a fan, I certainly haven't been there much lately.  In fact, my last visit was more than 4 years ago, so a return visit is certainly long overdue.

The PR for the restaurant has been kind enough to extend me invitations for visits, repeatedly over the last few months both for Bo Innovation as well as MIC Kitchen.  Unfortunately timing has never worked out for me, and in any case I am more than happy to go on my own dime.  After such a long absence, I kinda wanted to go in under the radar... and check things out as a "regular" diner.

But with this restaurant, it's not always easy finding a dining companion.  People either love or hate the food, and people also either love or hate Alvin.  And with the pricing of the various set menus, it's a little expensive for someone to bet on.  Fortunately My Favorite Cousin is always up for some good food, so I had no difficulty in roping in my accomplice for this mission.

I was running late and arrived a few minutes after my cousin, who was seated but hidden from view.  The staff at the entrance didn't seem too keen on the idea of me going around the place looking for my cousin, so they asked for the name of the reservation.  I told them my last name and also spelled it out.  They can't find it.  Was I sure about the name? Then they repeat my name back to me, with the wrong vowel.  I repeat my name again.  Eventually they managed to find my name on their clipboard, and lead me to the right table.  When a restaurant with Michelin stars can't find your reservation - even after someone else from the same party has already arrived - you kinda get the feeling that there's more trouble ahead.

I had checked out the menus on the website, and while I preferred the Tasting Menu myself for some of the items listed there, I wanted to see if my cousin could order the Chef's Menu, so that we could swap dishes and taste a greater variety.  Well, apparently that is simply too difficult for this 3-star kitchen to handle.  If we wanted to take different menus, we would have to take the Chef's Menu and the Chef's Tasting Menu - the more expensive two out of the three - because there was more overlap between those two.

Well, I didn't feel like paying an extra USD 100 for a more expensive menu simply because the kitchen couldn't be bothered to time themselves better, so I decided that we'd both take the cheapest Tasting Menu, without any extra dishes requiring supplements.

Our amuse bouche came in a paper bag, and we ripped it open to reveal Alvin's version of one of Hong Kong's beloved street foods - gai daan jai (雞蛋仔).  These egg waffles were slightly sweet, but with bits of Yunnan ham (雲腿) and spring onions inside.  These were a little greasy and pretty finger-licking good.  The only issue we had with it was that the two "halves" didn't stick together and separated.

November 25, 2014

Week of not collecting Michelin stars: my favorite roast goose

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I'm back in Hong Kong today and looking for a quick dinner near the office before heading home with my luggage.  So I decided to walk to my favorite place for Cantonese roast goose - Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).

I've been coming to Yat Lok for my roast goose since 2006 when a former colleague introduced me to the place.  I've long thought that they offered one of the best Cantonese roast goose in town, and a few years ago I even did a face-off between Yat Lok and the much lauded goose from Yung Kee (鏞記酒家).  Needless to say Yat Lok won that round.

They've been included in the Rubberman's guide for the last few years and chosen as part of their Bib Gourmand section, which is basically good eats and reasonable prices - something I wholeheartedly agree with.  For the 2015 guide, though, some idiot (maybe the same idiot who decided to give a star to Din Tai Feng (鼎泰豐) and Tim Ho Wan (添好運) starting from the 2010 edition) decided to give these guys a star.  Now, I'm one of the biggest fans of this place, but a freakin' Michelin star?!  Dude, this is a place where just about everyone spits their goose and chicken bones onto the table, and there's about maybe 10 cm between me and my neighbor.  WTF are these Michelin people thinking?!

OK, enough ranting... or e_ting will remind me again of my promise a few years ago to stop saying WTF when the annual list comes out...

November 24, 2014

Week of not collecting Michelin stars: Indian surprise

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I'm back in Macau today for a board meeting with the boss.  Given that we were staying at the Venetian, had limited time for dinner, and there were only two of us, the choices were woefully limited.  We had casually strolled into one of the Chinese eateries and sat down, but after noticing a certain look on the boss' face, I suggested that we could go somewhere else if the food wasn't to his liking.

As soon as we walked out the door, the boss surprised me by saying: "Let's try the Indian food (with Michelin stars)".

Really?!  That was the last thing I thought would happen tonight.

Well, Golden Peacock was pretty close by, and within a couple of minutes we were seated and flipping through the menu.  The good thing about tonight was that I didn't have to do the ordering, and the boss ended up picking a bunch of more interesting dishes than I would have myself.

First came some traditional snacks like papadum and what looked like murukku and namak para, served with dips and chutney.

Scallop ambot tik - apparently a Goan specialty, these Scottish scallops were very good.  Cooked mi-cuit, the spicy tomato jam provided both a nice acidity and the spicy kick.  Little puris were served on the side with garnish.  Interestingly, the fine, colorful curls which at first glance looked like rubber bands turned out to be capsicums...

November 23, 2014

Getting drunk at The Porn

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Another month has gone by, and now it was Lord Rayas' turn to host his dinner for MNSC.  No one was surprised when The Porn Pawn was announced as the venue this year.  After all, the place had just re-opened weeks ago to much fanfare after 3 months' of renovations, and now they've got Tom Aikens on board.  True to form, I've deliberately stayed away during the initial opening period - not wanting to pass judgement on the new operation.  Tonight I finally got my chance for a first nibble.

I had seen pictures of the interior posted online by others, and it seems the renovation has met with mixed reactions.  They did manage to rip up the interiors again, and this time the look is decidedly updated and modern.  We naturally found ourselves in the the private room, and with its black marble walls and tables, the mirrored entrance arch, and the newfangled lighting, I think it's only fitting that we now call it The PORN...

November 22, 2014

Old school Hong Kong day part 2: village wedding

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After bidding farewell to my visitors, I hopped on the train and slowly made by way to the northwest corner of Hong Kong.  One of my friends - who is an indigenous inhabitant (原居民) - is throwing a wedding banquet in her ancestral village in the New Territories.  This was a rare opportunity for me to see a part of Hong Kong that many of us don't get much exposure to.

A couple of years ago, I had asked my friend about the opportunity to visit her village so that I could have the opportunity to sample the famous poon choi (盆菜) offered in the New Territories during the festive season.  Well, I'm glad I finally got that invitation, and even happier that it's for her wedding banquet!

After a short bus ride from the nearest train station, I followed the signs in the direction of my friend's village in Ha Tsuen (夏村).  I soon started seeing various signs and posters they put up to guide us in the right direction, so it turned out to be pretty easy for me to find my way... whereas a bunch of people who drove had a lot more trouble than I did.

When enough people have arrived, the bride (the groom did show up, eventually...) led us on a tour of the village.  First stop was this landmark which announced that one is now in Ha Tsuen.

Old school Hong Kong day part 1: morning tea at Lin Heung

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I had a couple of visitors from out of town this weekend, but unfortunately my schedule was too busy to take them out properly... so in the end we settled for "morning tea (早茶)" at a Hong Kong institution - Lin Heung Tea House (蓮香樓).

We arrived just after 10:30 a.m. on this particular Saturday, and not surprisingly there was not an empty seat in sight.  The reason why this was only my third visit to said establishment in almost 20 years of being in Hong Kong - never mind that my office has been within walking distance for quite a few of those years - is I never wanted to spend time waiting for a table.  My last visit was with Sheets, and since his family owns the place, there was naturally no need to wait for a table...

Well it took the three of us a while, including me trying to not get into an argument with some locals - but we did eventually manage to find 3 empty chairs to settle our butts into.  After rinsing our tea cups, bowls, chopsticks and spoons in the bowl of hot water provided, I grabbed our stamp card and went to look for our food.

As I would remark later to a couple of Caucasians at the same table, you gotta fight for your table and also fight for your food here.  Depending on where you find your seat, it may be unlikely for the dim sum carts to ever reach you... so you just gotta go find the ladies with the carts and bring the food back to the table.  And on most days like today, there's gonna be a mob surrounding the cart as soon as it comes out of the kitchen.  In fact, a bunch of people and I were kinda standing around waiting for the cart to emerge, and would pounce on the poor cart lady within seconds - almost like a feeding frenzy of piranhas or sharks...

November 21, 2014

Wine and Chinese medicine dinner

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A couple of days after an unexpected big night out, here I am seeing some of the same people again... for a big birthday bash.  This was always gonna be a highlight on my wine calendar, as my generous friend brings out a string of big and interesting wines to share with us.  I fell asleep at the table last year, and was trying to make sure that the same wouldn't happen tonight...

We're back at Seventh Son (家全七福) - not just because our host is friendly with the owners, but because the food here rarely disappoints.  I saw the lineup of dishes before I came to dinner, and it just looked like a full onslaught of deliciousness - so I tried to have some discipline about having seconds.

We started with four appetizers:

Deep-fried chicken barbecued kidney in egg custard (雞子戈渣) - definitely tasted the chicken broth.

November 19, 2014

Let it snow

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White truffle season is in full swing, and I'm back at Neighborhood to take advantage of their incredible promotion.  Just like last time, my first order of business was to pick out our very own white truffle.  This time, though, I didn't pick based on size.  We actually sniffed each truffle and picked the most fragrant.

There were only two of us tonight, and we weren't too greedy... so we picked one that was just over 34 grams.  The aroma was simply incredible, and this enveloped us throughout our dinner as the truffle sat on the table for the next couple of hours.

November 15, 2014

A much better sushi lunch

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I'm meeting up with the Specialist for lunch today, even though I hadn't planned on eating out much this weekend.  The original suggestion of going to Upper Modern Bistro - which both of us really like - was flatly rejected by yours truly.  Why?  Because I really didn't want to eat a lot today, and I feared that if Jeremy saw me there, there was no way I could escape without having a ton of cheese... So I needed to go to a place where they don't know me, so that I could eat as little as I wanted to.

The solution turned out to be Sushi Sase (鮨佐瀬).  Long considered one of the best places in town for sushi, I have very fond memories of my only visit a few years ago.  I was only too happy to check it out for lunch.

I settled for the traditional sushi set (織部 握り), which comes with 10 pieces of nigiri (寿司10貫) and a roll (巻物).  When I told our chef that I did not wish to have any type of tuna, he informed me that normally the roll is a fatty tuna and scallion roll (葱トロ巻き), but he would try to substitute that for me.

We started with a chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).

Halibut (鰈) - slightly crunchy.

November 14, 2014

3 Dutchies in Hong Kong

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A week after my fantastic long lunch with game meats, I'm back at Amber for dinner tonight.  Once again I'm tagging along with the boys from QLI, which means I was with not one but three Dutchies tonight.  If you thought Chef Richard Ekkebus was tall, lemme tell ya... I felt like I was in a show called "My Life as a Midget" tonight!

Our welcome drink tonight: Silver Needle (白毫銀針) tea, with cucumber marinated in soda water, a dollop of Granny Smith apple sauce, and a sliver of lemon zest.  Nice and refreshing.

Richard also started us with a glass of Champagne...

Alfred Gratien Cuvée Brut Classique - very ripe on the nose, ripe mid-palate but the acidity comes out on the finish.  Lots of toasty oak, with minerals and sweetness on the nose.

November 13, 2014

Eleventh at 10

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I'm back in Hong Kong but the eating continues.  Tonight I'm back at On Lot 10 for the 11th time in as many months, meeting a bunch of knowledgeable "foodies".  The Great One was kind enough to invite me along, and despite the calories I had already accumulated this week, I was only too happy to go for another round at my favorite restaurant in town.

Once again David decided to send out way too much food for our party... He must think that our stomachs are actually twice their actual size! A couple of us had discussed before dinner to coordinate the wines we were bringing tonight, and I think it worked out OK...

Salted cod, truffle potato / "taoyoran" egg / truffle sauce - I really liked this the last time, and it was very simple yet enjoyable tonight.  I normally don't eat much potato, but I found myself unable to resist the acidity in them tonight, which worked wonders with the salted cod.

November 12, 2014

Macau tour 2014: nibbling at Golden Flower

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My last dinner on this short trip to Macau took place at Golden Flower (京花軒) in the Wynn Macau.  The QLI boys had checked into their rooms at the Wynn, and we were shown to the restaurant by the hotel's PR.  Golden Flower showcases a mixture of Tan (譚家菜), Shandong, and Sichuan cuisines, and honestly I have never had any experience with Tan cuisine - given its relatively short history (just over 100 years) and the fact that it is hardly ever found outside Beijing.  Given that the Rubberman has decided to give this place two macarons, I was naturally curious to see what the hubbub was all about.

We started with a cup of flower tea, which was a blend of chrysanthemum, osmanthus, magnolia and Oolong.  Served traditionally with the smelling cup (聞香杯) and tasting cup (品茗杯) combination.  Very light and elegant, naturally.

The amuse bouche was a poached abalone with oyster sauce.  The flavors were rich but not too heavy.

Macau tour 2014: view from the Dôme

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After the cellar tour, our day continued with lunch at Robuchon au Dôme - one of the finest restaurants in the region.  I didn't have any breakfast this morning so that I could save some stomach space for what was bound to happen at lunch...

The boys decided that they didn't want to share their food with me.  No half- or third-portions of anything.  So I decided to just order the 4-course lunch - one fewer than usual, and also one fewer than the boys.  For once I wanted to be able to eat dinner after surviving lunch at this place, without feeling like I've swallowed a giant boulder...

First things first.  Buttah.  The first trolley - and there is a whole series of them in this place - to show up is the butter.  Not just any butter, but from Bordier.  We all asked for the salted version, and watched as our waiter carved it out from the mound with a dinner spoon.

That's a real pretty sight.  Funny how something so simple can manage to make one so happy.

The next trolley to show up is, naturally, the bread trolley.  They have already placed a section of them on our table, but wanted to see if there was anything else we wanted...

Macau tour 2014: still the best cellar in Asia

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Three years ago I was lucky enough to have visited what I believe to be the best wine cellar in Asia, which belongs to Hotel Lisboa.  The boys at QLI remembered my post, and during dinner last night they asked if a visit could be arranged.  Thankfully the hotel was extremely accommodating, and promptly arranged a tour for us this morning.

Initially I was rather less interested in another visit to the cellar, as I had already seen the scope and some of the gems before, but I tagged along anyway.  I would quickly realize what a good decision that was.

The collection has gotten bigger since my last visit, and now encompass more than half a million bottles with over 14,000 labels - which probably puts it among the top 3 restaurant cellars in the world and probably the largest in Asia.  They now have around 22 cellars of varying sizes spread throughout the complex - in addition to the racks placed at each of their fine dining restaurants - although only 6 of them are of considerable size.  They've built new ones and reorganized their collections, and the result was stunning.

November 11, 2014

Macau tour 2014: 76 at Eight

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I'm back in Macau on a 2-day eating trip, this time tagging along with a couple of guys from QLI.  They're here at the invitation of a couple of hotels, and were kind enough to ask me to join them.

Their day actually started with lunch at the Tasting Room.  As much as I liked my dinner there early this year, I decided it would be a bad idea to join them for that particular meal given my full feeding schedule for the week.  I will just have to go back another day on my own dime.

So I would start this trip with dinner at The Eight, which is my book is the only 3-macaron Chinese restaurant around.  The friendly PR team from the Hotel Lisboa set us up in a private room, made the introductions, and left us in the good hands of the appropriate people.

The amuses bouches, as usual, came as a pair - but one was hot while the other one cold.  The little abalone sat on top of a layer of pomelo jelly.  The sautéed pork neck with bell peppers came in a little bird's nest.

Steamed cristal blue shrimp dumplings in goldfish shape (藍天使蝦金魚餃) - I've always loved their shrimp dumplings here, but now this is even better with the blue shrimp from New Zealand.  Definitely tastier.

November 10, 2014

Another salty evening

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Another month, another gem to unearth victim to skewer.  It's been a challenge trying to find the right restaurant that has just opened so that it's pretty much brand-new, yet interesting enough both to me and the general public.  It was harder this month than the last two, as timing changes meant I couldn't try a couple of the really interesting spots.  In the end I settled on Chez Didier Bistro - a reincarnation that has sprouted up in an alley in North Point just a stone's throw away from the MTR station.

There were only two tables occupied when I arrived at the door.  And I stood in the doorway for perhaps up to a minute, wondering if anyone would bother to come up to greet me, while the chef's wife decided that she would much rather keep chatting with the customers at one of the tables.  Eventually a waitress emerged from the kitchen and led me to a table.

It's pretty obvious from the menu that the chef comes from Provence, since Provençal specialties dotted the menu in addition to the "French classics".  Had I done a little more research on the background of the chef, I probably would have ordered a little differently and chosen.  Years ago a friend had introduced me to the chef at Cafe des Artistes, but I had never had the good fortune to taste his bouillabaisse before the restaurant's demise.  And I decided not to order it tonight.  Oh well...

Escargot persillade - my dining companion went for the "safe" choice, and this was pretty decent.  Lots of garlic, parsley and butter.

November 7, 2014

Game preview

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It's been a few months since my last awesome meal at Amber, and I was looking forward to returning with a couple of out of town guests next week.  While discussing my upcoming visit at a dinner last week, Chef David Lai mentioned that he'd like to come along and see Chef Richard Ekkebus... especially after Richard was snubbed by that stupid red book yet again recently.  It was time to show him some love, so I pinged a few people and rounded up a quartet for lunch today.

It's game season, so I checked with Richard about what was on offer, then chose both partridge and wild hare after consulting the gang.  I understand that Richard does a different version of lièvre à la royale every year, so we were definitely looking forward to that!

About an hour before lunch, I Love Lubutin pinged me to tell me that a big deal's come up and she had to work through lunch.  That's obviously a real bummer for all of us, as we would miss her company - and another opportunity to watch the famous finger at work.

I took a look at our menu upon arrival, and I knew that I was in trouble.  There were 5 courses - plus the amuses bouches and petits fours.  This was gonna be no short lunch, and I would have to carry my stomach outta here...

First we started with a drink... a little bit of ice-cold Silver Needle (白毫銀針) tea, with a piece of cucumber, a bit of Granny Smith apple sauce, and a tiny sliver of lemon zest.  The tea was certainly fragrant, but so delicate and elegant... not at all in-your-face.  A wonderful start to our lunch.

Then the nibbles started coming our way...

The wooden masu (枡) had a layer of pumpkin seeds, on top of which sat a squid ink pita bread filled with celeriac purée, topped with a slice of autumn truffle.  Very nice.  Beside it was a crispy rice cracker, with dots of apple and pumpkin purée.  Not bad, either.

November 6, 2014

Not exactly Chinatown

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One of the most talked about hyped up openings this year has to have been Mott 32.  Named after a historic address in New York's Chinatown, it would be easy to assume that this is another gweilo-friendly place to have bastardized Chinese food in an expensively decked out setting.  I have been told that it isn't, but I never had the opportunity to check it out for myself.  I had missed out on attending the opening party, and then had to cancel another dinner I had planned there.

So when my friendly neighborhood prime broker sent out an invitation for a roundtable lunch here, I wasted no time in accepting that invitation.

This was a work lunch and the menu was preset.  The bunch of us squeezed into the smaller of the private rooms, and I was more than a little embarrassed when my host kept asking if the food was up to my standards... Am I that much of a food snob??  No need to answer that question...

Pork belly salad rolls, garlic and chilli dressing (蒜泥白玉) - not bad.

Dry fried squid, sweet chilli and lime zest sauce (香檸甜辣鮮魷) - I was wondering why the batter was pretty dry and hard, since the texture was very different from the deep-fried squid I normally enjoy.  I guess this was done in one of those "air fryers", albeit a "professional" version?  The garlic powder must have gone though the same process, as it was much more "powdery" than usual.  The garlic flavor actually wasn't so in-your-face, although it was still strong.  Definitely the "healthy" version as it wasn't nearly as greasy.

November 4, 2014

19 grams

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A couple of weeks ago, my friend David Lai announced that he was running a white truffle promotion at his restaurants "at cost" to celebrate the opening of his new joint Neighborhood.  I had missed out on some great value truffles at a dinner last week due to a missing shipment, but I was determined to get some, so I roped in My Favorite Cousin - who's always up for a good meal - and another friend and headed back to Neighborhood.

I saw a few familiar faces as soon as I walked through the door.  The boss lady was in the house, and there was also Dashijie and her hubby at the table next to ours.  I later found that another friend had been at the restaurant for the first seating.  Looks like many of us simply couldn't pass up this great deal!

First order of business, before we get to anything else, was to go pick out our truffle.  Diners get to pick out their very own whole truffle, have it weighed on a scale to figure out the cost, then brought to the table with a shaver... so that YOU could DIY and decide how much to shave over which dish.  Being a greedy bastard, I naturally picked the biggest piece on offer.  This little baby weighed in at just under 57 grams, which worked out to about 19 grams for each of us.  That seemed like a pretty decent amount...

November 3, 2014

Lunch on the rocks

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I have been remiss.  It's been months since I last paid Chef Uwe Opocensky a visit, and every once in a while he'll drop hints which, over time, became increasingly less subtle.  When it became painfully obvious that Uwe was feeling neglected and unloved, I roped a friend into doing lunch with me at the Mandarin Grill + Bar, then pinged Uwe and told him I was coming.  After all, we both love Uwe's food, and really should take time to visit our friends more regularly...

After sitting down at our table by the window - which, by the way, has plenty of lighting for pictures - Uwe came over to check on us.  Now, when a chef asks you to go visit him so you could try out some new dishes, it is best to leave things up to the chef.  So we dispensed with ordering, but I pleaded with Uwe "not to kill me" with too much food - like the time when I almost exploded in the restaurant...  He promised to go easy on me.  Uh-huh.

We were offered a glass of "R" de Ruinart to start.  I hadn't planned on drinking at lunch, but decided it would be poor form to turn down the Champagne.  Nicely balanced and very easy to drink.

When the waitstaff comes over, and asks you to remove the glassware from the table so that he can lay silicone mats on the table top, you know you're in trouble.  Usually the silicone mat comes out at the end of the meal... for the grand dessert presentation that's kinda OTT... so what did this all mean?

Our "starter" was in fact a whole series of seafood, and Uwe simply called it "a taste of the seaside".

First Uwe came and sprinkled a bunch of fermented beer soil around.  Then the staff came over and laid down a bowl containing pebbles and seaweed, and liquid was poured into the bowl so that the dry ice could release the scent of the sea.  This was by now a familiar sight, and Uwe said he works with someone in Spain for the scent - which makes sense considering Azurmendi has a presentation like this.  Then someone brought a big rock and set it in the middle of the bowl, and the staff proceeded to bring out more rocks, progressively - each bearing a different type of seafood on top.

October 31, 2014

Money CAN buy happiness

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Butcher's Club Burger has generated a lot of buzz in the months since its opening, with its staple of dry-aged beef burgers along with a bunch of off-menu items on their "Secret Menu".  It's also been running a series of "Burger Takeover" offerings where different chefs around town come in and do their special versions of burgers for a limited time.  I liked the burger (actually, half a burger) I had the only time I went, and even though I was mostly drunk at the time, I remember being impressed.  Unfortunately all I've heard since then was that the lines are simply too long at regular meal times, so I never went back for another bite.

A few days ago I found out that the latest Burger Takeover features a burger put together by Gregoire Michaud, who also put together some very sinful looking bacon profiteroles that I saw pictures of.  After a few of my friends went and provided positive feedback, I figured it was time to make the trek and grab one for myself.

October 30, 2014

Another mediocre 'celebrity chef' restaurant

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Like my fellow blogger Gary, I will preface this post by saying out loud (for the hundredth time) that I've never been a fan of Dining Concepts' restaurants.  I've been to a handful of their numerous outlets over the years, and so far I have had the overwhelming urge to go back to... just about none of them.  It's not that they serve bad food, but mediocrity runs through their veins, and there's no pull factor for return visits.

Then came a string of so-called 'celebrity chef' outlets - which started years ago with Olive - probably the lone outlet of the group I have fond memories of.  Then it was Michael White's Brainless Al Molo followed by Mario Batali's widely-panned Lupa and the now-defunct Carnevino.  The latest gweilo big name to plant his flag in these territories is Gordon Ramsay, who opened the doors to Bread Street Kitchen a few weeks ago.  All of these guys inexplicably chose Dining Concepts as their partner.  Why?  Well, I'm told that when posed with the question, Mario Batali said something along the lines of "Because my good friend Michael White told me to."   Orz x10...

Anyway, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked about my experiences with the two new "celebrity chef restaurants" which opened up recently (the other one being Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian), and my standard response has been that I have little or no desire to pay either a visit.   I wasn't about to pay out of my own pocket to go there, and since the restaurants themselves would never have invited me (and I probably would have turned down those invitations anyway), I was pretty much destined to not dine at either...

...until I was asked to join a review of Bread Street Kitchen.  Being slightly higher-end than the other - and with slightly better feedback from the community - I decided to join a small roundtable for lunch.

The organizer was unable to book by phone, so CY689 arrived early and got us seated in the bar area.  We wanted to sit at a high table for four instead of at the big communal table that seats about ten, but the request was turned down.  Later on another group of four came in, and while they were initially seated at the other end of our communal table, they were soon relocated to the table which we had requested to sit at.  So... did we not look respectable enough?!  Must have been the way CY689 was dressed... Anyway, we ordered up a storm to share...

First came our starters:

Seared scallops with carrot puree, treacle bacon, celery cress - the scallops were mi-cuit and pretty decent.  Adding a little bit of bacon with molasses made it a little more interesting than usual.

October 28, 2014

Three little birds

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So here I am.  Again.  At what I nowadays refer to as My Favorite Restaurant.  Yes, boys and girls... I'm back at On Lot 10 for another dinner.  Afu was coming into town for a few days, and demanded that I take him here.  I took the opportunity to introduce him to the Great One and invited her along.  I was also originally supposed to dine with Mr. Ho tonight at a venue I haven't tried before, and since it's always better to have one more mouth at the table - and he originally wanted to come to On Lot 10, anyway - I roped him in so that we could be a table of four.  Now we have the bare minimum number of mouths to feed properly...

As usual I only pre-ordered two ingredients with David and left the rest up to him.  Upon hearing the series of dishes he had in store for us after my arrival, I tried in vain to convince him to cut down on the amount of food - knowing the beef at the end will deliver the knock-out punch.  Initially he agreed to send us fewer starters, but in the end I think he didn't listen to me at all, which was just typical...

Salted cod, truffle potato / "taoyoran" egg / espelette pepper - pretty interesting, and I'm always a big fan of salted cod.  The potatoes were surprisingly a little acidic, but I loved the black truffle and piment d'espelette used to flavor the dish.  Needless to say the Japanese egg was superb.

October 25, 2014

Reptile night

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a group of friends, trying to fix a date for our next gathering.  After a round of discussions, it was decided that we would go for some Chinese food.  I suggested we try the private entertainment facility next to my office - IF I could manage to book it.

When I called the number for reservations, the lady at the other end of the line asked me whether I had ever been there - as they are not open to "public".  When I told her that I had been there at the invitation of the organizer of my first dinner - and specifically mentioned the date - it was apparent to me that she checked the booking history to verify my claims.  After she was satisfied that I was kosher, only then was I allowed to make a booking.

A few days ago, I received a copy of the menu from the chef.  I was happy to the point of giddiness.  Listed among the other items was the snake soup that I had been longing to try - especially given the pedigree of the chef.  There was also the mountain turtle which I didn't get to have at the last two dinners, plus a host of other stuff.  When My Favorite Cousin saw the menu, her response was simply: "reptile night is it?"

Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - once again dinner started with a plate of this.  Some people complained that the char siu wasn't fatty enough, although they admitted that even the lean meat was tender and not tough.  In the end there wasn't very much left on the plate, so I guess people did enjoy the caramelized and charred edges...

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