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.

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