April 30, 2016

Spoiling the parents

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I'm back in Taipei spending a long weekend with the parental units.  I didn't get to spend their anniversary with them last year on account of my banishment, and since they decided to take short trip without me for their anniversary this year, my only recourse was to move my celebrations up by a couple of weeks.

We've been spending the last few celebratory dinners at STAY, and since mom's been pretty happy with them so far, I didn't feel the need to change to another venue.

For the very first time, I actually contemplated seriously about taking one of the set menus here - since the shorter set actually offers the one dish I always order here.  But something else caught my eye and it wasn't on the same set menu, so in the end I went back to ordering à la carte...

The amuse bouche no longer came as a "trio".  Instead we had smoked salmon with brunoise of pickled cucumber, French leeks, and lemon crème fraîche.

April 28, 2016

Boss in the 'hood

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The boss is back in town so it was time again for a long-overdue team dinner.  This time around I made an executive decision to take the team to Neighborhood, since it was close to the office and I really, really wanted some of the seasonal dishes.  I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce the team to Neighborhood after the closure of On Lot 10.

I had pre-arranged a couple of the specials with the restaurant, so I just picked out a couple of starters while we waited for the big guns to show up.

30-month culatello di zibello "Massimo Spigaroli" - seriously good shit.  Need to revisit more often for more of this.

April 27, 2016

Three star Chinese menu for gweilos

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A globe-trotting foodie was coming to town, hitting all 6 of the Michelin 3-star restaurants in Hong Kong and both of the 3-stars in Macau in the span of four days.  I figured it would be interesting to meet someone who was close to his goal of having eaten at every single one of the 3-star restaurants in the world, so I invited myself to dinner at Lung King Heen (龍景軒) tonight.

Most of my friends know of my opinion about this place.  Yes, it's a good Cantonese restaurant, but it was never a 3-star in my book... and the only time it came close was a particular dim sum lunch about 5 years ago.  Maybe I am unfairly unprejudiced against this place, but I was never 'wow'ed come dinner time.  I wanted to give the place another try and see if I'd feel differently.

Unfortunately, things went the other way.  I came away from dinner fuming.

However much I bash this place about their food - or about their undeserved 3-star status - I have to give them credit for service.  I'm lucky enough to know both of the restaurant's sommeliers, and once I was recognized, we were pampered for the rest of the evening.

Ordering for Chinese food is never easy for small groups, and given there were only three of us - with two of the three being Caucasian - it was natural for the manager to suggest that we take their Chef's Tasting Menu.  This was when I experienced a bit of sticker shock.  The price of the menu was a little bit more than HKD 2,000 per head.  Another set menu - with bird's nest and braised abalone - came in around HKD 2,700 per head.

Now, I'm not really known for being stingy when it comes to paying for food, although I generally eschew the "big five" of expensive Chinese ingredients due to my inability to fully appreciate them.  I've shelled out this kind of price before for a Chinese dinner, but I was somewhat skeptical after taking a look at the list of dishes.  In the end, as the visitors seemed to have no objections - and I would never have taken a menu like this under normal circumstances - I decided to go with the manager's suggestion so that I could finally have a similar experience to what overseas visitors are likely to get when they come here.

Crispy Scallop with Fresh Pear and Yunnan Ham (龍帶玉梨香) - this is one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I had it at my very first dinner here.

April 24, 2016

Macau Michelin tour 2016: breakfast and sights

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In case anyone gets the wrong idea, it wasn't all fine dining on this weekend trip.  We did get a chance to hit some breakfast spots and also walked around a little - seeing a little bit of Macau that people who only spend time in hotels and casinos don't get exposure to.

We got up pretty early the first morning and headed to Mercado Municipal Horta da Mitra (雀仔園街市) for some breakfast.  The grandma who runs Lung Kei (隆記) had just arrived and hadn't set up her stall for the day, so we asked her to save us some bread and went in search of coffee.

Café T.H.S Honolulu (檀香山咖啡) has a branch just around the corner.  For a modest-looking, local coffee shop, I was surprised to see these guys with almost 30 different single origin coffees... so I's got to order me one!

The Arabica Ethiopian Sidamo was pretty nice.  I could smell it as soon as the cup was brought to the table.

Macau Michelin tour 2016: not spicy Sichuan and Hunan

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It's our last meal on our Michelin tour, and thankfully it is also the most casual... as we were down to only three mouths.  I had never heard of Feng Wei Ju (風味居) at the StarWorld Hotel before, and apparently it only opened at the end of 2014.  It is therefore quite an achievement for this restaurant serving Sichuan and Hunan cuisine to nab themselves a Michelin star within a year of its opening.

As I'm not very fond of spicy food, I had very low expectations coming into this dinner.  I was also grateful to the Great One for accommodating my weak palate, as she definitely tried to steer clear of dishes which were bound to deliver intense heat.

We weren't expecting to get an amuse bouche at a place like this, but the spiced duck tongue was nice.  I didn't touch the pickled Chinese onion (蕎頭).

Macau Michelin tour 2016: dim sum menagerie

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Less than two hours after an old school dim sum breakfast, we found ourselves seated for the main event of the day - a dim sum lunch at my favorite Cantonese restaurant.  Ever since my first visit 5 years ago, my love for The Eight (8餐廳) at the Grand Lisboa has never wavered.  It's certainly the finest Cantonese restaurant I have ever visited, and its location within the Lisboa gives it access to one of the best wine lists in the world - and perfect for a Riesling lover like yours truly.

I insisted that we come for lunch on this trip, because my last few visits have all been at dinner time, and that means I didn't get to enjoy any dim sum items - because the dim sum chef doesn't work at night, and he refuses to have the kitchen serve any dim sum when he's not around.  I'd been seeing some really cute pictures of dim sum in animal shapes, so I was determined to try them out.

As usual we were presented with two little nibbles as amuses bouches, and they haven't changed much over the years...

Abalone with plum jelly

Wagyu beef cubes with pine nuts and celery in crispy bird's nest

April 23, 2016

Macau Michelin tour 2016: Iberico char siu showdown

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We were joined by the Fergies for our third formal meal on this trip, making this a real party.  Having had a pretty good dinner at the restaurant's invitation last year, I was looking forward to going back to Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) - especially since they had gotten themselves a second macaron since my visit.  Since Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國峰) had, after my last visit, very kindly offered to put together a menu for my next visit... I decided to reach out and ask him to do just that - with the view of trying different dishes.  The PR team at the City of Dreams also very kindly arranged a private room for us.

We were first presented with two bite-sized amuses bouches:

Yuzu kumquat jelly

Crabmeat spring roll - with a little aged vinegar and a sprinkle of chili powder.

Macau Michelin tour 2016: another bargain Tasting lunch

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Our only non-Chinese meal this trip was today’s lunch at The Tasting Room in Crown Towers. The Great One had insisted on this stop as she had yet to visit the restaurant, and quite a few of us have delivered positive feedback.

We had chosen to come for lunch because of the excellent value offered by the set lunch (3-, 4-, or 5-course options are available), so as it turns out, we would miss the dinners with guest chef Thierry Drapeau from Vendée – with two Michelin stars to his name. Quel dommage!

I was flattered to be recognized by Manager David Bassaluy as soon as I walked in. This time, though, I decided to keep things “light” and stick to the set lunch menu… instead of following his suggestion last time of taking the set dinner at lunch.

David very kindly offered complimentary glasses of bubbly for all of us to start, and the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs went down very smoothly, with a nice degree of ripeness and less acidity than I remembered.

The Great One was going for the 5-course lunch and naturally tried her damnedest to persuade us all to do the same. I initially wanted a smaller meal but eventually relented. I guess we’d be doing a lot of walking today and can probably burn off the calories from the extra dish… maybe…

The amuse bouche was an Alaskan king crab salad with cucumber gelée, yuzu sauce, green apple sorbet, and caviar.  There were little bits of crunchy cucumber peel as well as finely diced onions for some texture, as well as some coriander to give a little extra flavor.  I didn't get any hint of flavors from yuzu, but the whole dish was already refreshing enough.  A lovely start to our lunch.

April 22, 2016

Macau Michelin tour 2016: anything but Cantonese

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We’re on a mission this weekend. The Great One is writing some articles about restaurants in Macau with Michelin stars, so I helped her organize a “hard-core” eating trip to the city – with 5 meals at starred restaurants in 2½ days. And since we were hitting mostly Chinese restaurants, I even rounded up a couple of extra mouths so that we could sample a wider variety of dishes.

First stop was Golden Flower (京花軒) at the Wynn Macau tonight. Because we were starting dinner a little late, I thought it would be better to order our dishes as soon as we arrived at the restaurant. So I browsed through the restaurant’s menu online, narrowed down to a shortlist, and worked out the final choices with the Great One on the ferry ride – while trying to ensure that we get a decent sampling of the three non-Cantonese cuisines offered by the restaurant.

After sipping on the very fragrant welcome tea, we were presented with an amuse bouche of marinated cucumber with shredded spring onions the raspberry pearls. The sesame oil was very fragrant, and the spring onions were dipped in spicy chili oil, while popping the raspberry pearls released a little bit of sweetness to temper the heat.

April 19, 2016

Firestorm in a wonton noodle bowl

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So... there's been some furor in the local Hong Kong media over the last few days, and a group of people - restauranteurs, the press, pundits, netizens... have gotten their panties in a bunch.  All over remarks by a local tycoon, gourmand, and restauranteur.

A little background is in order... but first of all, lemme declare that I haven't seen the movie Ten Years (十年), which recently won the Best Film Award (最佳電影) at the Hong Kong Film Awards (香港電影金像獎).  Therefore I have no idea if it is a good movie, and can offer no judgement on whether or not it truly deserved the award.

As I understand it, the movie is seen as localist and anti-China by large segments of the population.  The political sensitivities at present are such that the movie has been banned in China.  In fact, mainland Chinese media have exercised self-censorship to the point that not only did they choose to forfeit broadcasting the awards ceremony for the Hong Kong Film Awards this year, but when reporting on the winners of the awards, they left out any mention of the Best Film Award altogether.

A number of film industries insiders have come out to criticize this choice of the Best Film Award, and among them is Uncle Peter - who runs a prominent production company in town.  Given his political leanings, many of us weren't surprised by his first round of comments, which were to the effect that he didn't think Ten Years deserved to win the award.

A couple of days ago, though, Uncle Peter decided again to touch on the subject.  This time, he said something to the effect that "If I told you that a wonton noodle shop was the best restaurant in all of Hong Kong, would you buy it? (如果我話畀你聽,有一間雲吞麵舖係全香港最好嘅餐廳,你會唔會服氣呀?)"

An uproar ensued immediately.  Tons of people - foodies and restauranteurs especially - immediately criticized Uncle Peter for his remarks.  There are few things more iconic in Cantonese cuisine than wonton noodles, and the public rose to defend the virtues and worthiness of the humble wonton noodle.  The China-bashing media were only too happy to take things out of context and lead the public to jump to the conclusions to suit their own interests. The argument became, as is typical in Hong Kong nowadays, extremely politically charged and has gotten completely out of hand, with many netizens completely missing the point thanks to their inherent bias...

So lemme take a step back and try to comment from a relatively neutral point of view - leaving aside all the political aspects.

April 16, 2016

A feminine touch

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It's been a while since I last saw My Aussie Cousin, so I was pretty happy that she came to town for a couple of days and gave me the chance to meet up with her... as well as My Birdbrain Cousin.  Not surprisingly I was tasked with choosing the venue for our dinner, and I was choosing between a couple of places that I wanted to revisit.  In the end I decided to go back and have another nibble of Tate Dining Room and Bar.

Chef Vicky Lau was in the house tonight on my second visit, looking pretty focused.  Something that I noticed on my last visit - which became all the more obvious tonight - was that the interiors of the space definitely had the feminine touch.  It's no secret that most fine dining establishments are run and likely financed by men, so it's kinda nice to find subtle evidence of the mistress in charge.

This was my third evening in a row dining out, so I decided once again to choose the shorter Sensualist Menu - despite the fact that the longer menu had carabinero as one of the dishes.  I figured the Bresse chicken and the Alphonso mango would make me happy enough...

Amuse bouche tonight came in a very different presentation compared to my last visit.  The shiso and apple kombucha in the test tube - also flavored with jasmine - was pretty sour on the palate and made me wince a little.  The tomato panna cotta was alright, and the green pea tartlet was pretty tasty.

April 15, 2016

New seasonal Quest

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My friend Ninja and I have been meaning to catch up, but we both have fairly busy feeding and travel schedules.  We finally got together tonight and I suggested that we go back to Quest, since Chef Que has now switched back to an Asian-themed menu.

Squid noodles, chilli tomato jelly, squid ink pearls - so squid noodles seem to be the flavor du jour...  The bottom of the bowl has a layer of the chili tomato jelly, which was surprisingly spicy.  There was some cucumber below the squid that added a little crunch while delivering some clean and refreshing flavors, and it's always fun to pop those flying fish roe (とびこ) in the mouth.  I didn't get any distinct flavors from those squid ink pearls, and I thought the texture was a little too solid and hard.  But the yuzu (柚子) sauce poured on top of the spring onions was a nice touch.

April 14, 2016

Occupy Amber day 3: another first-timer

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It's Babu's birthday, and time for me to take her out for another dinner.  I was somewhat surprised when I found out that she's never been to Amber, so I took Mrs. Tigger's suggestion and got us a table there.  Chef Richard Ekkebus is away doing a guest chef stint in Seoul, but I figured Chef Maxime Gilbert would have no trouble holding down the fort...

I chatted with both Maxime and Hector a little, and in the end I decided to leave the choice of dishes up to Maxime - with the proviso that we must have the signature Hokkaido sea urchin dish... and that it comes in a bigger portion than what we got at my last dinner.  I also let Maxime know that we wouldn't want to stuff ourselves with so much food tonight.  As it turns out, what we ended up with was essentially the spring menu with a couple of extras...

First came the nibbles, which are now completely different...

Even the welcome tea has changed, and is now basically a liquid ratatouille.  Kinda interesting.

Buckwheat toast with avocado purée, fennel, lettuce, seaweed, and edible flowers - very pretty.  The toast was a little hard and crunchy.

April 8, 2016

Cow eats goose

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Just a few days after we last met up in Tokyo, my friend Cow came into town to hang out with some of her friends.  She remembered me talking about my favorite roast goose, so I took time out to introduce her and her friends to the delicious offering from Yat Lok (一樂食館).

Five of us gathered in front of the restaurant at the appointed time.  I told the boss lady that the sixth was on her way, and being a long-time regular - I've been going for about 10 years - she very kindly allowed the five of us to be seated first... which is quite a privilege since she normally doesn't let people do this.  We've got a few hungry mouths to feed, so I decided to order up a storm.

Roast pork belly (燒肉) - I normally don't get to any other roast meat other than the goose, but if you had to, the roast pork belly is a pretty good choice.  It's not overly salty, and the crackling was pretty crunchy.

April 3, 2016

Three-eighths lunch

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The Man in the White T-Shirt pinged me.  Would I be free for lunch today?  I had plans to be somewhere during the day, but I figured that my plans could be rejigged.  After all, he usually calls me when there's a guest chef around at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  And sure enough, André Chiang from Restaurant André is in town for a couple of days.  So I made sure I was available for lunch.

A quick glance at the menu today confirmed that I hadn't had any of them before, which was a relief.  It's been a couple of years since I was last at André, and it's good to see what he's come up with during this time.

Stone crab and sea urchin tartar, elderflower-pickled cucumber, ice pebbles of cucumber drops - from the 'puréte' side of André's Octaphilosophy, most of the ingredients here were raw and retained their purity of flavors.  Compressed cucumber discs, cucumber flowers, cucumber sorbet made into ice pebbles, raw rings of (pearl?) onions, sea urchin, crab meat, fromage blanc, and even a little spring of sansho leaves (木の芽) as garnish.

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