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.

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