December 31, 2016

The best dishes I had in 2016

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I've never had the urge to follow in the footsteps of others to do these year-end "best of" lists, neither for restaurants, meals, nor dishes.  Heck, I haven't even done a "top 10" list of my favorite restaurants since the middle of 2009.  But as 2016 drew to a close, and similar lists from friends and others started popping up, I started to wonder what a "best dishes" list would look like for me.

Well, the last week of 2016 wasn't a particularly busy one in the office, so I started browsing through all my posts during the year to try to narrow down to a "reasonable" list.  I knew it would take a lot of effort to narrow down to just 10 or even 15 dishes, and at the same time leave out a number of memorable experiences, so I decided not to restrict myself to an arbitrary number like that.  Instead, I'd take a hard look and pick out the ones that had the most emotional impact and gave me the most pleasure - not necessarily only the most "fine dining" or "high end" dishes.  Many of these dishes are ones that I'd be happy to eat an enormous quantities of... or ones that I'd be happy to eat day after day.

The following list isn't ranked, and are listed simply by chronological order.

Sliced whelk in consommé (清湯螺片) from Howard's Gourmet (好酒好蔡), Hong Kong - I've never been a fan of whelk, as I could never appreciate this ingredient enough to justify paying the price commanded.  This dish changed how I look at whelk, and was the single most elegant whelk dish I have ever had.

December 28, 2016

A winter's feast for foodies

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The year end holiday season brings with it lots of visitors from around the world, and among them foodies who come to see what Hong Kong has to offer in the way of dining options.  As I had done last year, I decided to meet up with a group of them - actually two separate groups that we combined together - and arranged a dinner together.  I also invited a couple of local foodie friends in town to join us.

Now, it's rare that we can get such a big group of visitors in town at the same time, so I figured I'd pull out all the stops by letting them experience the very old school, high-end Cantonese cooking at my favorite private dining facility.  Half the visitors are of Chinese (and in fact Cantonese) ancestry, so I figured they'd have some exposure and would have a better appreciation of the dishes.  The other half was coming in from Sweden, and although I had assumed they were well-travelled, I was still a little apprehensive...

Given my limited knowledge about classic Cantonese food, I was very thankful to have had KC with us tonight.  Even though I had been here many times and have had all of the dishes on multiple occasions, there was still a lot of background info that KC would be better placed to deliver to the visitors.

When I received a copy of the menu from the chef about a week ago, I was ecstatic.  It was pretty much a collection of my favorite dishes, and featured two of the most special items in the chef's repertoire...

Crystal king prawn (玻璃大蝦球) - this is so classic that everyone needs to try this at least once... And it's always impressive when a whole plate of these show up on the table.

Late lunch with the boss

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The boss is in town for a surprise visit, and while staying at the Langham Hong Kong, discovered to his surprise that there's a 3-star restaurant in the hotel.  He decided to treat the team to a nice lunch as it's the end of the year.  However, due to the last-minute nature of the booking, we had to wait until 2pm to get seated.

Guess who was tasked with ordering, again?  But this time, the boss kinda skimmed through the Internet and suggested a couple of signature dishes that he had read about...

Steamed shrimp, crab meat and spinach dumplings (菠菜蟹肉餃) - with shrimp, crab, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach.  Very tasty.

December 25, 2016

The last of the fortysomethings

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It's Christmas Day, and that means one of MNSC's own is celebrating his birthday... and it's a big one this year.  As one of us noted tonight, the eight of us are now finally all in our forties - but only for the next 4 months or so - until the big handle changes for one of us.  So this is a really special time!

Following tradition, the birthday boy hosted dinner at the Hong Kong Club.  The menu is kept pretty simple, and in any case the evening is all about the wines for us.  The better halves were invited to join us this year, and we ended up having separate boys' and girls' tables tonight.

Roasted Australian quail, braised baby roots, pomegranate jus - this was a lot bigger and a lot more plump than I had expected.  Just look at that ass!  You'd think you're staring at Nicki Minaj or Kim K...

December 24, 2016

A very lobster Christmas

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Continuing with the tradition of cooking at home on Christmas Eve, we ordered another shipment of live wild Atlantic lobsters from Nova Scotia, and our lobster supplier picked them up at the airport in the wee hours this morning.  We met up in Central in the middle of the day and divvied up the critters among a few friends, brought our share of the haul home and put the guys on ice.

As usual, we steamed the lobsters in a pot.  These live and wild lobster are really special.  They've got a wonderful firm texture when biting down, so you know these guys were lively.  Really delicious, and I didn't need any seasoning or sauces whatsoever.

December 22, 2016

Beef and red wine

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I'm back in Hong Kong, and it was time to do a year end catch-up with Rice.  We wanted to go somewhere simple where we could just open a bottle or two, and after much procrastination - with the two of us kicking the ball back and forth - I finally suggested that we try out Beefbar.  The menu looked simple enough... just some meat 'n' potatoes and stuff.  And I haven't yet been disappointed by the food in one of Uncle Peter's restaurants...

I didn't want to eat too much after a few days' of stuffing myself in Vietnam, so I kept things simple and "light".

Our amuse bouche tonight was veal with wakame and wasabi mayo.  I didn't see any wakame, but I think the green stick may have been a salicornia?

December 20, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 5: phở and bánh mì day

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It's our last day in Vietnam, and our last chance this trip to hit all of my planned stops in terms of sights and eats.  And yes, we woke up early once again... without the need for an alarm clock.  So we got up and went out for breakfast.  Since she didn't get her phở fix yesterday, Hello Kitty insisted that we pass up the bún chả I had planned for us.

So we hopped in a taxi and headed to Phở Lệ on Nguyễn Trãi.  The place is pretty easy to spot, and was doing business at 9 a.m.  Downstairs was already full so we were told to go upstairs... which was also pretty full.

December 19, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: Monday night lights

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We hung out for a little while in the afternoon, as the weather had turned a little and there was some drizzle.  We finally ventured out of our hotel when the rain stopped, and walked over one block to check out a couple of sights featuring colonial architecture.

The Saigon Central Post Office is one of the most popular sights in the city.  It was built at the end of the 19th Century when Vietnam was a French colony, and is painted in typical pastel yellow like so many other colonial government buildings in Vietnam.  Beautiful design by Marie-Alfred Foulhoux.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: password is... porkbelly

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As someone who really enjoys fine dining, I was spending a lot of time looking into options at the higher end in Ho Chi Minh City.  Unfortunately there seems to be a dearth of fine dining options when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, and I certainly wasn't gonna waste precious stomach space and money to have French food in Vietnam.  Most people who write about their food experiences in HCMC seem to focus on the cheap and cheerful stuff, which was a little disappointing for me.

Very few people who write about food seem to have been to Xu Restaurant and Lounge.  It looked interesting and the menus seemed to have been well thought out, presenting traditional Vietnamese flavors with modern ingredients - the kind of stuff that I really dig.  I was having trouble finding meaningful reviews of this place - especially since I can't read Vietnamese - until Hello Kitty pointed me to TripAdvisor.  Normally I stay away from crowd-sourced review sites when it comes to restaurants, but in this case TripAdvisor gave me enough info, both positive and negative.  Fearing the experience to be a disappointment, I asked our hotel concierge to book us for lunch instead of dinner.

We should have come for dinner.

We got ourselves a table in the lounge downstairs, which was almost empty.  Cigar smoke lingered in the room, which was just as well since it covered some of the unpleasant smell of the space.

We asked for the password to the restaurant's wifi network, and we were told that it was "porkbelly".  This was obviously cheeky, and instantly earned brownie points with us.

We decided to order one set lunch plus a couple of dishes à la carte and share everything.  This worked out reasonably well for us.  I had asked the staff if we could have the dinner tasting menus at lunch, but unfortunately this was not possible.

Gỏi cuốn cá chẽm - the fresh seabass spring roll was stuffed with rice vermicelli, coriander, and other herbs, and served with sweet and sour nước mắm.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 4: unsatisfying breakfast

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We kept waking up early in the mornings on this trip, which in theory gives us a head start on the day.  We have a limited amount of time in Ho Chi Minh City, and I had already mapped out all of our meals here - including breakfast.

Hello Kitty wanted phở, so we took a taxi to Phở Hòa Pasteur for breakfast.  When we arrived at the address, we saw a construction site where the restaurant was supposed to be, with a sign outside...  Merde!

Of course, why should anyone expect that in Vietnam, renovation that was supposed to be completed by yesterday would actually get done on time?!  From what we saw, it would be more than a few days before this place would be up and running again.

December 18, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: dinner under the stars, part 2

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After vowing never to return to Hotel Continental Saigon, we still needed to find a place to have dinner in Ho Chi Minh City, so we decided to walk over to the Rex Hotel.  Cung Dinh Restaurant was the other recommendation from Foodie Baba, and I had originally made a dinner reservation for tomorrow night, but hey, we needed a contingency plan... and this was the best option when you're walking around town without access to Internet or Google Maps.

Walking into the lobby, the location of the restaurant wasn't apparent, so we asked staff at the reception for directions.  The helpful gentlemen came out from behind the desk and showed us the way.  We walked over and found - to our utter amazement and disappointment - that there were no customers in the restaurant.  The restaurant was busy catering for a wedding in the adjoining hotel courtyard... the same situation as the Continental Palace Restaurant we had just left!

We tried to get someone's attention, but were ignored by the restaurant staff.  We went back to the hotel reception and once again asked for help to confirm our dinner reservation tomorrow.  This time the helpful staff escorted us to the restaurant, and found someone from the restaurant who reassured us that our reservation for dinner tomorrow is still valid, as there is no wedding scheduled.

But our problem remains unresolved.  Where would we eat tonight?  As we were about to head back to our hotel for Internet access so that I could pull up addresses of restaurants on my hit list, Hello Kitty came up with a brilliant idea: why not head to the Rex Hotel's famous Rooftop Garden for drinks and a few bites?  That would certainly take the edge off what was turning out to be a frustrating start to our stay in HCMC...

We got ourselves a table on the edge of the rooftop, right next to the stage and overlooking Ho Chi Minh Square.  There was a lot of activity going on down on the street, including a pretty good band singing live.  Soon that would be drowned out by the live band performing right next to us...

We started with a round of drinks to unwind from the stress.  I know that both drinks look green, but one of them is more girlie than the other.  Guess who had the girlie drink?

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: the most ridiculous service ever

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More than 4½ hours after leaving Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa, with a detour to Tan Son Nhat International Airport to drop off the others, we finally arrived at InterContinental Asiana Saigon.  We checked in, changed to dressier clothes, and walked over for our dinner appointment.

Before leaving home, I had send emails to the concierge at InterContinental Asiana Saigon and asked that they help me make reservations at several restaurants in the city.  The concierge team was highly efficient and confirmed my bookings within the same day.

So you can imagine my surprise when I stepped through the front doors to the Hotel Continental Saigon and found that the courtyard that was supposed to be the Continental Palace Restaurant being occupied by a wedding party.

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 3: a walk in the garden

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It's our last day at the Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa, and there were still places needing exploring.  Unfortunately we woke up to the sound of rain, and it looked like we were gonna be stuck inside our villa.

But first, some breakfast.  We took an umbrella, walked through the gardens and made our way to the restaurant.  Sustenance is needed.

Our amuse bouche today was a ginger and passion fruit juice, along with a slice of watermelon.  Always nice to start with some fruit in the morning.

This morning I decided that I needed to try out the range of jams from Le Fruit, since they are all made with tropical fruits.  I took a piece of brown toast, tore it into pieces, and spread a little dab of each jam.

December 17, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 2: dinner under the stars

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I wasn't very hungry yet.  After all, it's only been 4 hours since we finished our late lunch, and I haven't done very much other than getting myself a massage, and hanging out by the plunge pool of my villa while tuning the pictures I had shot earlier today.

But Michael had prepared a treat for us tonight.  One of the specials at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa is the barbecue dinner on the beach, featuring a range of local seafood as well as other meats.  As much as I had wanted to try out more Vietnamese dishes they had on offer on their menu, dinner on the beach was something I hadn't done in quite a few years.

The setting was really lovely, and we were literally just steps from the surf.  Listening to the sounds of the waves while feeling the cool breeze hitting my face was a pleasure I'd not had in quite some time... and it felt really, really nice.  Now, if only this had been a table set just for Hello Kitty and I...

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 2: hello, Buddha

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After a pretty good night's sleep, we woke up early, took a quick dip in the villa plunge pool, and headed out to the restaurant for brekkie to begin our second day at Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa.

December 16, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Vietnam day 1 - long journey for Princess

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After getting four hours of sleep after our evening of live wild-caught Atlantic lobsters washed down with Champagne and sake, our alarm clocks went off shortly after 5 a.m.  We were taking a morning flight to Ho Chi Minh City, as I accompanied Hello Kitty once again on a work trip - this time to check out a beachfront resort at management's invitation.

After an hour's delay, we landed in Ho Chi Minh City and were picked up by Be from Princess D'Ân Nam Resort and Spa.  We'd been told that the travel time to the resort would be roughly 3½ hours, but the four of us were pretty comfortable in the minivan from the hotel.  The best thing?  After failing to rent a wifi router from one of the telecom providers at the airport, we were relieved to find wifi in our minivan.  The long journey suddenly became less tedious.  So thankful for small mercies...

A few of us got a little hungry at the start of the ride - as it had been a few hours since our breakfasts at the airport lounge - so Hello Kitty whipped out the lobster rolls that she had prepared using our shipment of live wild Atlantic lobsters.  Now THAT's what I call a sandwich!

About halfway through our journey, we came to a rest stop so that we could have some lunch.  Quán Com Lê Hoàng is a simple place, and everyone orders a bowl of phở.

Wanting to be a little different everyone else, I decided to order pork phở .  The slices of pork were overcooked and a little tough, and the broth tasted so sweet that I was sure a lot of nước mắm has been added.  Not the best phở I've had, but I didn't have any expectations.  A glass of cà phê sữa đá was sure to be the first of many Vietnamese coffees I would have on this trip.

December 14, 2016

Expensive goose

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Quick lunch at my favorite Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝), probably my last this year.

Rice flour noodles in soup with roast goose drumstick (馳名脆皮燒鵝脾瀨粉) - this is my go-to item here, but I suffered from sticker shock today. This was never cheap, and prices have been going up ever since they started getting into the Michelin Guide. Now it costs a whopping HKD 102 for this bowl.  Damn!  But still very, very tasty, though...

December 13, 2016

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, deluxe edition

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A few weeks ago my caviar supplier pinged me and asked me if I would be interested in taking some beluga caviar.  I've bought stuff from him sporadically for the last year and a half, and in all this time he's never offered me any beluga.   My interest was piqued, and after checking with a few friends for interest, I placed a small order and arranged a couple of tasting sessions.

We were supposed to do the tasting at our friends' place tonight, but due to unforeseen circumstances we needed to find another venue.  This usually means asking a chef or a restaurant for a favor, so I pinged my go-to chef for stuff like this - the Man in White T-Shirt.  Thankfully he was amenable to such requests.  After all, he himself has BYO'ed fish and chicken to other restaurants...  So we took the second seating at Neighborhood, and asked the boss to join us for the tasting.

December 7, 2016

White truffle send-off

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The time is finally here.  My dearest godson Bear is moving away, and I would have one last dinner with him before he leaves.  I'll see him next summer, but the next few months are gonna feel a little weird...

Babu wanted to do a white truffle dinner at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana, but since none of us are regulars, we didn't even bother to call the restaurant during their busiest season.  My favorite Neighborhood was booked out for a private event tonight, so we couldn't go and shave to our hearts' content.  As a consolation prize, I found out that there's also a white truffle menu at CIAK - In the Kitchen, so we booked an early table to suit Bear's schedule.  This dinner ain't gonna be cheap...

Scrambled egg and Alba white truffle - this was Babu's starter, but she insisted on sharing it with us.   Very fluffy and tasty eggs, with lots of truffle shaved on top.  Yum.

December 6, 2016

Recovery lunch

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It's December, and my friendly neighborhood prime broker has kindly arranged another lunch to close out the year.  This year, they've decided to do the lunch together with another firm that we are friendly with, and suddenly we found ourselves sitting around a rather big table for a change - this time at Duddell's (都爹利會館).

Dim sum combination (點心拼盤) - three little items to start:
Steamed shrimp dumpling (鮮蝦餃) - this was some sort of shrimp dumpling, which was pretty good.


Steamed vegetable dumpling (蒸粉果) - all veg inside, which was just fine with me.

Chicken spring roll, garlic (蒜茸雞絲脆春卷) - pretty decent.

December 5, 2016

BYOB(irds) dinner

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After a few months' absence, I was back at my favorite private dining facility.  The crew tonight was largely the same as this dinner last month, and most of us are already regulars here.  What we were all excited about, though, was the fact that it is now winter... and a couple of game specialties are now in season and available.

There was 16 of us tonight - the biggest group I'd ever been part of.  So all the dishes got supersized, and some of us who brought wines brought two bottles of the same wine.  This was gonna be fun...

Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - one of my favorite dishes here, and always great to start with this.

December 1, 2016

A fiery and sweet dinner

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I needed to meet up with the Great One to hand over all the goodies we had brought back from Singapore - including some of her favorite instant noodles - so she roped me in on one of her reviews.  Tonight's victim was Samsen, and since I know next to nothing about Thai street food (I refuse to eat it on account of hygiene fears dating back to the '80s), I figured I would also rope in my Thai foodie friend.

I arrived late, a few minutes late after the official opening time of 6:30 p.m.  The space was almost full, and the Great One had done her first round of ordering.  I happily sat and waited for the assault...

Green mango salad w/ tiger prawns, crispy shallots, chili and coriander - this was a little spicy for me, but very nice.  I especially loved their use of dried shrimps, as they had a lot of flavor and also provided a contrast to the fresh prawns.  Flavors were well-balanced here.

November 26, 2016

Local beef hotpot

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Tonight we celebrated the birthdays of two good friends.  Fergie and Cha Xiu Bao have their birthdays just two days apart, so they have a habit of doing a joint birthday dinner together.  This year a group of us tagged along to make it more of a party.  Someone suggested that we go to this place for their hotpot, featuring cuts of local beef.  That sounded pretty good to everyone, so a table was booked and a menu was written up - with seafood dishes for the first half of dinner, and hotpot at the end.

The only problem is... a bunch of us didn't really check the location of this restaurant.  We knew it wasn't fancy, but it turned out to be in an industrial warehouse in the boonies.  Sure, there was public transport, but the walk from the train station turned out not to be a short one.  Then there was the unfortunate fact that it was pissing cats and dogs all day, which made it very difficult to grab a taxi.  In the end, it took some of us almost two hours just to get to dinner...

So a few of us were thinking: "This dinner had better be fucking worth the trek!"

By the time I arrived, some of the seafood was already laid out on the table.

Deep-fried squid and tofu with salt and pepper (椒鹽鮮魷豆腐) - these were OK.

November 25, 2016

Sine Qua Non toast, part 1

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Tonight's dinner has been brewing for a few weeks.  Knowing my fondness for the wines Manfred Krankl makes at Sine Qua Non, I was asked to join a few fellow aficionados for an evening where we delve deep into SQN territory.  As the day approached, however, a few friends had to drop out due to more pressing engagements, so we ended up with a smaller crew and, consequently, a much less crazy list of wines to go through.

Our organizer suggested that we do the dinner at Table - Ingredient Based Cuisine - 淨化海鮮, which took me by surprise.  While I had not tried their cuisine, the limited exposure I had based on social media posts pretty much all focused on the fact that they "purify" seafood by putting them in holding tanks for a few days.  But given our red-heavy lineup, we were obviously gonna need a good amount of meat...  Our organizer assured us that he's had some fantastic beef here, so I figured I'd go along.

Our amuse bouche was made with... hell, I can't remember... but it was pretty tasty... given that it was battered and fried.

November 24, 2016

Altaya at 15

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Not having grown up here, I'll admit that I haven't known my friend Paulo for as long as many others in town.  I met him in early 2001, at the very beginning of the formation of what would soon come to be known amongst our friends as the Monday Night Supper Club.  Coincidentally, it was also around the time when he was starting up a little wine business that he would come to call Altaya Wines.

I remember our first meeting vividly.  Along with quaffing down bottles of Bordeaux such as 1982 Figeac while getting our fingers greasy with roast pigeon, Paulo casually showed us his first wine list.  Three pages of computer print-out.  Forget the 1982 First Growth Bordeaux... at the top of the first page were wines like 1900 Margaux, 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, 1947 Cheval Blanc, 1947 Petrus, and lots more.  These were wines that James Suckling had called "Wines of the Century" in his piece written for the Wine Spectator, and here was a 24-year-old who had all of them in his inventory.  And he also knew exactly who to sell them to.

WHO IS THIS GUY??

Well, it's 15 years later, and Paulo had very kindly invited me to a dinner celebrating the 15th anniversary of his little company.  From its relatively humble beginnings, Altaya has grown to become a major player, and not just in Hong Kong.  The last time Decanter published their Power List in 2013, Paulo was ranked No. 42 out of the 50 most-influential people in wine.  Incidentally, this was 3 places above Stephen Browett, the Chairman of Farr Vintners, whose company Paulo had tried to buy before starting Altaya Wines.  At least that was the story that Frédéric Engerer, CEO of Artémis Domaines, told the crowd tonight.

There were lots of people in attendance tonight - dignitaries, clients, friends, winemakers and representatives from Bordeaux.  The entire first floor of the Hong Kong Club was filled with people.  As I stepped off the elevator, I went to the seating chart to find my table.  The Ox and I had been placed in "Central Otago", while a few others of MNSC were placed in "Burgundy".  I guess that means the Taiwanese contingent had been banished to Siberia...

There were a couple of speeches tonight, but the entertainment was provided by the duo of James Suckling and Frédéric Engerer - who recounted their respective early memories of Paulo.  These two have gotten to know Paulo very well over the years, and certainly had enough stories to draw a few laughs from us.

We started the evening with some bubbly, of course...

November 22, 2016

Occupy Amber: Amber x Central

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About 2½ hours after our flight from Singapore landed in Hong Kong, we had refreshed up and gotten dressed up for dinner at Amber - a meal I have been eagerly anticipating for the last two months.  The reason?  Virgilio Martinez from Central is back in town to do a 4-hands dinner with Richard Ekkebus at Amber.  This was not a dinner I was going to miss.

After meeting him at his pop-up last year, we discovered that we shared a mutual friend.  As I plan ahead for a possible trip to Peru, I figured it would be good to catch up with Virgilio again.  Of course, Hello Kitty and My Favorite Cousin were only too happy to see the "handsome chef" again...

November 21, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 4: Fuk-ienese star

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This was another itch I had to scratch.  A chain restaurant serving Hokkien cuisine being awarded a macaron by the Rubberman.  The temptation was simply too much, and I just had to check it out for myself.  So I called in reinforcements and asked my friend L and her hubby to join us, and as it turns out, their young son also wanted to come and dine at one of his favorite restaurants...  So we trekked a little further from our hotel to the Putien (莆田) on Kitchener Road.

The complimentary preserved radish was pretty decent, but the other bowl of peanuts was almost empty when I arrived...

Pork belly with garlic (蒜泥白肉) - Hello Kitty's oft-requested dish.  The pork came in very thin slices, and were nicely done.

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 4: remembrance of things past

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I didn't have any firm plans for lunch today, as I was expecting to be by myself while Hello Kitty spent her day working.  I was kinda thinking of getting my hae mee tng (蝦麵湯) fix, but the lunch place suggested by Chubby Hubby wasn't open today.  When Hello Kitty decided to join me for lunch, and mentioned Chatterbox in passing, I figured we could get two birds with one stone...

Chatterbox at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore (formerly the Mandarin Singapore and subsequently renamed the Meritus Mandarin) is a Singaporean institution.  The hotel was brand-spanking-new when I first arrived in Singapore as a young child, and the cafe was famous for its Hainanese chicken rice during my early years.  By the time I was back in Singapore during my teenage years, the Mandarin was a place for us to take our dates - both to Chatterbox and also to Top of the M.  I continued to patronize Chatterbox as an adult, even though my palate had developed and newer outlets had popped up serving better versions of Hainanese chicken rice.

It's been more than a decade since my last visit, and I figured I'd walk down that memory lane again.

But things are no longer the same.  The hotel has undergone yet another renovation, and Chatterbox has been relocated from its street level location facing Orchard Link to Level 5 in the Mandarin Gallery.  The surroundings were no longer familiar to me.

The menu also went through changes - and the prawn noodle soup had been taken off.  I was disappointed that I wouldn't get my fix today.  So I dutifully ordered up the cafe's signature dish...

November 20, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 3: dinner with baba

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I found out that a friend from KL was also in Singapore this weekend, and we agreed to catch up over a meal.  When he suggested that we go check out a relatively new Peranakan restaurant for dinner, I didn't hesitate to say 'yes'.  After all, my friend is a baba... and it would be a real treat to dine with a foodie who knows what he's talking about when it comes to Peranakan cuisine!

The Peranakan is at the western end of Orchard Road, inside the newly-renovated Claymore Connect shopping mall.  This is an area I was pretty familiar with, given that dad's office was in Orchard Towers for a while (along with the former infamous "four floors of whores").  I'm glad to see that the mall below the Orchard Hotel has been given a makeover, and as we approached from street level, we could see a number of kebayas being hung in the restaurant's windows.

I was a little startled by the abundance of Christmas decorations inside a restaurant purportedly serving Peranakan cuisine, but I was reassured once I saw my friend.  Since I'm dining with a baba, guess who's NOT doing the ordering?

First we were given small baskets of hae bee hiam rolls.  These were soooo good and a perfect way for us to start our meal.

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 3: death by chili

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Hello Kitty wanted to have some of the famous Sri Lankan crabs while we were in Singapore, as she's heard about people having black pepper crabs.  The reality, though, is that the national dish is in fact chili crab, and I was thinking about a place which would make a good introduction to this dish.  I wanted somewhere a little different from all the popular places frequented by tourists and locals alike.

She also wanted to have laksa, which got me thinking about Violet Oon.  As it turns out, National Kitchen by Violet Oon has chili crab on the menu, and it would also give me a chance to have another bowl of that awesome dry laksa that I love so much.  So I booked us a table for lunch, and went on a quick visit to the Peranakan Museum before walking over to the National Gallery for a bite.

Given that we were ordering a Sri Lankan crab, I kept to just 3 dishes.  This turned out to be just the right amount for us.

November 19, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 2: new digs for new star

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Visiting Singapore usually means meeting up with Mr. and Mrs. Ho, as long as they're in town.  After a disastrous dinner on my last visit, Mrs. Ho took the initiative to suggest that we go back to Candlenut - the place where we have shared a number of happy meals together.  They've recently gotten themselves a shiny Michelin macaron, and have also managed to move into new digs - much to my dismay.

As usual I started the evening by visiting the kids, and Mr. Ho again generously opened up a bottle of his favorite white wine at home.  Unfortunately, this particular bottle of 2006 Beaucastel Blanc Rousanne Vielles Vignes was too advanced and oxidized.  Nose showed marzipan and acetone, and the palate was a little flat and short.  It wasn't corked, but it has aged far beyond the other bottles in the same case.  Oh well...

Candlenut's new digs in Dempsey were certainly spacious, and the high ceilings with soft and diffused lighting were certainly comforting.  The move would have cost a pretty penny, and it appears to have been reflected in the new pricing.

Thankfully they are no longer forcing everyone to take the "ahmakase menu" at dinner and we can cherry pick à la carte, but it would seem to have had a lasting effect... as the portion sizes are now significantly smaller than before.

We were surprised to see our favorite dish absent from the menu, so we checked with the staff.  We were told that the menus now change daily - and in fact from lunch to dinner - depending on the available ingredients that day.  If an ingredient isn't deemed good enough, then certain dishes are taken off the menu.  So... while we were a little disappointed that we weren't able to have the choking sotong, you gotta respect Chef Malcolm Lee for his principles.

Didn't ask what type of crackers these were, but we were all hungry and these disappeared in no time.

November 18, 2016

Plus 1 trip to Singapore day 1: Australasian fine dining

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I'm back in Singapore for a few days, this time tagging along with Hello Kitty on her business trip.  We are staying for a couple of extra days to see friends and, of course, to eat.  It's a trip that both of us are kinda looking forward to.

But the trip started off badly.  Some idiot (that would be yours truly) decided to leave behind a big care package destined for three of my friends.  After having boarded the plane, I realized that the bag was nowhere to be found.  Naturally we weren't allowed to get off the plane to look for it, although CX ground staff did help - including looking for it in the lounge, and notified us while we were in the air that the package could not be located.

I was pissed.  There were valuable goodies that I had spent time, effort, and money to gather.  Now I would have to tell three different friends about their impending disappointment... and my stupidity.

Anyway... We arrived at the Oasia Downtown Hotel and checked in without a hitch.  We had a little time before dinner, so Hello Kitty checked out the Red Dot Design Museum.  It's been 6 months since my last visit, and I think they managed to change about 95% of the exhibit - which is pretty cool.

Dinner time rolled around, and I went to meet my friend Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife S.  Thankfully, this time he was in good enough shape to see me.  I had suggested a few places that I wanted to check out, and we settled on Whitegrass.  I had heard positive feedback from a couple of friends, and I was curious about it after seeing some very pretty pictures.

I was kinda starving since I didn't eat much on my flight.  So I dug in to the goodies on the table right away...

I love it when a restaurant gives you lardo.  This was perfect with the sourdough bread.

The butter was pretty good, too... and came in ceramic containers that looked like mushrooms.

After getting an explanation regarding the two options available, S graciously agreed to join the rest of us for the larger, 8-course "discovery menu".  This was gonna be fun...

November 16, 2016

Swissitalian dinner

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This dinner has been two months in the making.  At our last gathering, for some reason our conversation touched on my birthday dinner at Spaghetti House.  I decided that I would organize a dinner there, seeing that the others haven't paid a visit to this Hong Kong institution for quite a while - more than a decade for two of them, in fact...

Things got a little more exciting when, as I browsed the restaurant chain's menu online, I realized that they had introduced a whole new menu featuring fondue.  Not just any fondue, but fondue supposedly made with 24-month Comté.  Now THIS I gotta try!  The recipe was supposed to have been put together by a certain chef named Stanley Wong.  I, of course, have no clue who he is, but my dining companions have.  Whatever.

I debated about booking ourselves a table, but got laughed at by the others when I realized that I hadn't done it.  In retrospect, I should have.  Even though there was plenty of space at the restaurant, there was a limited number of booths... and they never seemed to be available while we were there.  Gotta remember that next time!

Premium gold cheese fondue - as the song from Calvin Harris says... THIS IS WHAT WE CAME FOR.  The staff laid it all out on the table, and we came to the realization that this was how much food HKD 398 buys us...

November 14, 2016

Gettin' piggy with it

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Tonight I was invited to attend an event entitled "A Tribute to Pigs".  Held at La Paloma, it was a battle of eight different restaurants - each presenting a different dish using pork as its main ingredient.  The organizer has had some experience putting together a few of these "battles", and I was curious to see what it would be like, so I accepted the invitation to be a "judge".

We were given a score sheet and asked to grade each dish on presentation, taste, juiciness, and creativity.  The group of us - who took up almost half of the restaurant's space - sat right outside the open kitchen... and I gotta say that the smell of good food covered us the entire time...

November 13, 2016

Wine, truffle and fish

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As we reach the middle of the last quarter of the year, we are now in the season where, traditionally, 3 MNSC dinners get crammed into the span of 2 months.  Tonight it was once again Lord Rayas' turn to play host, and he took a page out of Pineapple's playbook by rounding us up at the Hong Kong Club.

Our host deliberately kept the menu simple tonight, but we weren't about to complain when we saw our first course...

Scrambled Italian farm eggs with Alba white truffle - we had a choice of pan-fried or scrambled eggs, and I opted for the scrambled version for its vibrant color.  A beautiful golden hue, and absolutely delicious - with a small square of toast underneath.  It's pretty tough to beat white truffle shaved over scrambled eggs...

November 11, 2016

16 hands with 20 stars

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Tonight I had the privilege of attending the first gala dinner organized by the Michelin Guide and Robert Parker Wine Advocate for the launch of the 2017 Hong Kong Macau Red Guide.  Word came two months ago that a dinner had been organized to feature 7 chefs - 6 of them with a collective 20 Michelin stars at their restaurants - with decent wine pairing to boot (now that RPWA is in partnership with Michelin Guides).

The price of MOP 5,750, while not exactly eye-popping, was certain to make people think twice - at least for mere mortals like myself.  It wasn't the most expensive dinner I've ever attended and paid for, but it certainly came in at above average.  I considered the concept of a dinner where each chef only contributes one dish - one chance to impress the diners - then the fact that each chef would be serving a large quantity of the dish at the same time, and decided that the cost (together with the time required to travel to/from Macau) was above my comfort level.  The chance of not performing up to my (admittedly high) expectations was too great.  So I was happy to sit this one out.

Then I received an unexpected email from the PR team at City of Dreams, with an invitation to attend the gala dinner at Studio City.  I would have to leave the office early and take the ferry across to Macau, but this wasn't an invitation one turns down lightly.  So I happy accepted their kind invitation, took Friday afternoon off, went home to change into my penguin outfit, and boarded the ferry.

I arrived at the Grand Ballroom at the start of the cocktail hour, took the opportunity to thank the people at the City of Dreams, and also met up with friends doing PR for the event.  They very kindly asked if I wanted to interview any of the chefs, but I told them that "I'm just here to eat."  The chefs were already being hounded by the media for photos and interviews just before dinner, and I wasn't important enough to make further impositions on them.

Not-so-light lunch before the feast

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I had scheduled lunch with a friend today long before receiving an invitation to attend a feast tonight.  Thankfully we had picked Mercato as our lunch venue, and I figured we could go easy and have a light lunch.

It's been more than a decade since I last stepped foot in a restaurant under Jean-Georges Vongerichten - when Vong occupied the top floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.  I haven't spent as much time in New York in the last decade as I would have liked, and for one reason or another have prioritized other restaurants on my visits, so I never found myself at a table at Jean-Georges in New York.  And since I usually focus on Shanghainese food in Shanghai, I've also never given any business to Jean-Georges in that city, either...

So I was kinda looking forward to lunch today.  I even did some homework and checked out Hong Kong Tatler Dining's review, which led me to salivate over the pictures...

November 5, 2016

Another Great birthday

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The Great One was out of town on her birthday, so we had to wait until she got back to do a belated celebration with her.  Surprisingly, she wanted to try out my new favorite Shanghainese/Huaiyang restaurant - Jiang Su (江蘇薈).

I left the ordering up to Kung Fu Panda and Da Jam, as I didn't want to keep ordering the same dishes whenever I'm here, but Hello Kitty did want to make sure she got her usual dose of veggies...

Marinated celtuce stem with spring onions (香蔥萵筍) - Hello Kitty can't get enough of the cool and refreshing crunch, but I think most of the dish was devoured by the two of us.

November 4, 2016

Lobster feast, 2016 edition

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After our wonderful dinner with wild Canadian lobsters last year, we decided to place another order as they come into season again.  Our first attempt for the feast last month fell through at the last minute, when Hurricane Matthew disrupted the flights coming out of the Eastern Seaboard... and the lobsters got stuck.  It took us a month to reschedule, and the day finally arrived.

I opened up the large styrofoam box, and found my 12 babies inside.  They've travelled a long way from home, and have been kept docile with the use of ice packs in the box, but I could see that they were all still alive, and hear the bubbling noises as they breathe.

After giving away 2 of the babies to the Great One, I took the rest of them to Hello Kitty's place.  We had invited a few people to join us in our lobster fest, and the four of us should be able to polish off 10 of these 1-pounders, right?!

November 3, 2016

Pizza with the boss

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The boss is in town for a quick trip, and took the opportunity to have a couple of meals with the team.  I figured we should take him for some non-Chinese cuisine, so we got ourselves a table at CIAK - In the Kitchen for lunch.

While the others went for the lunch set, I decided to order up one of their very delicious pizzas.

Norcina | homemade sausage, mushroom and mozzarella - this was really, really good.  I love a good Italian sausage, and the mushrooms were very fragrant.  The mozzarella melts and becomes very, very stretchy.  Definitely my favorite pizza on the menu.

November 1, 2016

A very belated Tasting

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I had heard the Great One raved about Tasting Court (天一閣) some time ago.  Then I heard about it from the Man in White T-Shirt, who also mentioned the background of the owners.  A few chances have come up for me to try the cuisine here, both before and after its closure - which turned out to be a relocation.  But for one reason or another, I have never managed to make it here.

So when I was asked by a friend to fill in on a feast that has been organized, I hesitated for a while but grudgingly agreed to join them.  The reason I say "grudgingly" has no reflection on the company nor the cuisine.  My feeding schedule had simply been too full lately and I badly needed a break.  And that was before I even found out about the last-minute staycation at the Peninsula Hong Kong - where I stuffed myself with 7 meals over 2 days...

I rolled in to the room with my suitcase - having just checked out of the hotel this morning - and found myself a seat next to the organizer who put the menu together.  He would proceed to tell the story of the dishes throughout the evening for our benefit.

When I agreed to join the party, I was somewhat alarmed by the length of the menu - which featured 15 courses.  But it would seem that I was dining with a bunch of greedy piggies, and nobody thought it would be too much food.  I figured I'll just restrain myself and nibble...

Pickled ginger with century egg (子薑皮蛋) - very young pickled ginger.

October 31, 2016

Pen Stay(ca)tion: old and new classics

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A staycation at the Pen wouldn't be complete without dining at the grande dame of French restaurants in this town, so a mere three weeks after our last visit, we were back at Gaddi's for dinner.

As luck would have it, Kung Fu Panda was also in the house tonight.  She's a regular here and seems to know everyone.  But as she was dining with her mom and her mom's friends, we kept to ourselves and only exchanged a few words when she came over.

As I had already gone through the tasting menu earlier in the month, I decided to give it a pass tonight.  It's also a little early in terms of white truffle season, so I also passed up the white truffle tasting menu or any of the truffle dishes.  There was a certain itch I needed to scratch tonight, and I was determined to get it done.  So à la carte it was, then.

Once again, our amuse bouche was a cube of confit chicken with ham in parsley cream sauce, topped with a wafer of Parmesan.

October 30, 2016

Pen Stay(ca)tion: The 21-year wait

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When I arrived in Hong Kong in the middle of 1995, I was taken almost immediately to Felix at the Peninsula Hong Kong by my architect friends.  It was new, and designed by Philippe Starck - of whom my friends and I were big fans.  The place had an incredibly cool vibe, and would remain my go-to bar to take visiting friends for that million dollar view of Hong Kong.

But in the 21 years since my very first visit, I have never eaten at Felix.  The reputation of the place has always been as a place for drinks, and no one I know ever raved about its food.  Since there are plenty of places in Hong Kong serving great food, I always chose to dine elsewhere.

That all changed tonight.  As part of our staycation, we booked ourselves a table at Felix for dinner.  None of the tables by the window were available, but that didn't matter much to me.  We ended up at a table on the stage behind the white sheer curtains, which offered me marginally better light for photography.

We decided to go for "The Felix Experience", as a quick glance through the menu didn't yield anything that particularly stood out.  But there were some pleasant surprises coming our way...

Skipjack tataki and poached eggplant with miso dressing, purple shiso and spring onion salad - this didn't look like a very promising start to dinner, especially when the toppings on one of the skipjack slices fell off before the dish got to me.  Not surprisingly, the ponzu (ポン酢) jelly on the side worked well with the skipjack tataki (タタキ), but the slices of eggplant underneath didn't seem to jive with the rest.  Lots of raw Japanese leeks on top of the skipjack, which gave a certain amount of kick that kinda overwhelmed the saffron chips on top.  The puffed rice on the side was on the sweet side, and the baby red perilla leaves and perilla flowers added some nice fragrance to the dish.

Pen Stay(ca)tion: Pink afternoon tea

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Less than two hours after finishing lunch, we sat down again at another one of the Peninsula Hong Kong's F and B outlets.  Knowing that we wouldn't be able to put any more food into our stomachs, we called for reinforcements for our afternoon tea session at the Lobby.

As we exited the elevator on the lobby level, we saw a very long line of people waiting for a table, and found our friends at the very back of that line.  We quickly pulled them away and marched towards the front of the line.  After all, we were in-house guests who have a confirmed booking... so there was absolutely no need to line up.

Pen Stay(ca)tion: Damn tasty XLB

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A few days ago, Hello Kitty informed me that she had booked us a couple of night's stay at the Peninsula Hong Kong.  Unlike some of my friends, I'm the type of cheapskate who never splurges money on staycations, so this was a really nice surprise.  So we packed our bags and checked in to the venerable Pen - the grande dame of Hong Kong hotels.

We asked for a lunch table at Spring Moon (嘉麟樓) upon check-in, and this being Sunday and all, they were only able to squeeze us in shortly before the time for last order.  We didn't mind a late lunch, so we showed up around 2pm when quite a few tables had already cleared out.  We would pick a few dim sum items as well as a few classics.

Having been here only once in the last 15 years or so, I had forgotten about the customized chopstick rest.  Such a cute little detail.

October 28, 2016

Eat with Gaggan

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I'm a terrible friend.

A group of old friends - all of whom have known each other for 15-20 years - got together for one of several annual birthday gatherings tonight.  The dinner was fixed about a month ago, and I was looking forward to catching up with the boys (and girl) over some delicious yakitori.

Then the Great One pinged me and told me that our friend Gaggan Anand is in town, and he'd like to go out for a Cantonese dinner tonight.  Since a proper Cantonese meal - unlike some of those single-portion tasting menus offered by certain hotel restaurants - require more than a couple of mouths around the table, I decided to bail on my old friends on less than twelve hours' notice to accommodate Gaggan.  I was out of town and missed the opportunity to join the party when Gaggan came to town last, and I didn't want to miss it a second time.  Besides, I figured (perhaps it is presumptuous of me) that my old friends would forgive me for ditching them...

Coming up with an interesting venue for Cantonese food on same-day notice is tough, especially when it's Friday night.  None of our favorite high-end private kitchen could be secured on short notice, especially when there were so few of us.  We tossed out another couple of popular options, and I suggested Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房).  The food there can be interesting, especially with off-menu items that we won't find on many of the high-end restaurants in town.  So the Great One arranged a table with the boss.

I was the last person to arrive at dinner, and I could see that owner Lau Kin-wai (劉健威) was already seated at our table, sipping from a wine glass.  I greeted our guest of honor, plopped my bottle of wine on the table, and waited for our food to arrive.

Barbecued pork with honey glaze (蜜汁叉燒) - these were really, really good.  Mr. Lau is proud of the fact that, unlike many other restaurants in town, they use neither red food coloring nor any tenderizers to treat their pork.  They also use the tips of the pork shoulder (脢尖) - where the marbling naturally makes for a very tender texture.

Relaxing 3-star pop-up lunch

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A few weeks ago I was browsing on Facebook when a promoted ad caught my eye.  The Shangri-La Hotel group invites guest chefs to do pop-up events at their hotels around the world, and I know from reading about them in the past that these have included some of the world's celebrated chefs.  I got a little curious and clicked on the ad, and soon I found myself rounding up a few friends to have lunch at a restaurant I haven't stepped foot in a long time.

Petrus at the Island Shangri-La is hosting Frédéric Anton, who has been with Le Pré Catelan for nearly 20 years and helped it acquire three of those coveted Michelin stars.  I've long heard the name but never had the opportunity to visit, so this would be my chance to get a sense of what it might be like to dine there.

We had a choice for each of the three (or four) courses, but I really wish that I could have taken every single one of them, since they all sounded really delicious.  Indeed, the courses I ended up not choosing all looked really good.

L'aubergine, préparée en caviar, huile au parfum de curry, oignons frits, caviar de France - the eggplant caviar seasoned with curry oil was very, very delicious.  But the strong flavors from the curry completely overpowered the French caviar until the salinity became the only detectable trace from the eggs.  The deep-fried onion chips added a nice touch, though... both in terms of texture and flavors.  A nice start to my lunch.

October 27, 2016

A lunchtime pampering

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I met up with my globe-trotting foodie friend for a second day in a row, but in a much, much nicer setting today.  When I got in touch with him a few weeks ago and inquired about his plans for eating around Hong Kong, I wasn't the least bit surprised to hear that the only reservation that he made was at Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  Naturally he invited me to join him there for lunch.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I could see that my friend was already chatting with Chef Chan Yan Tak (陳恩德).  Knowing my friend's history with the restaurant and the hotel, I had no doubt that we would be well taken care of today.  Sure enough, restaurant manager Simpson Yeung came to greet us shortly, and asked whether we'd like to have Chef Chan do something special for us.  We set some broad parameters but left the rest up to the chef.  We would start with a few dim sum items - and a few of them would appear to be off-menu (hence the generic descriptions here).

I mentioned that I'd perhaps like a glass of Champagne, and moments later sommelier Billy Yeung came over with the Champagne trolley.  He very generously offered each of us a glass of 2003 Tarlant La Matinale - a brut nature with zero dosage.  That much was obvious, given the noticeable acidity on the palate.  The nose was nice and toasty, and a little yeasty.  Full-bodied with a nice and long finish.  A lovely wine for us to start our meal with.

Steamed lobster and water chestnut dumpling in fermented bean sauce (豉汁龍蝦馬蹄餃) - you can tell this is a very luxe item by the gold foil they put on top...  and of course the fact that the filling includes lobster.  Nice flavors here, and the inclusion of diced cucumber and water chestnut definitely provided a much crunchier texture.

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