March 29, 2018

They knew who we were

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A dinner was arranged for a couple of friends who were in town, and since we could always use an extra mouth at a Chinese meal, I happily agreed to join them at Xin Rong Ji (新榮記).  The restaurant had been open for about 3 months, apparently, and this would be my first opportunity to get a feel for this import serving cuisine from Taizhou (台州), Zhejiang Province (浙江省).

Upon arrival, it was immediately apparent to me that the restaurant knew exactly who we were.  I spotted 2 bottles of DRC as soon as the staff opened the door to our private room, compliments of the restaurant owner.  Hmmm.... now what exactly did we do to deserve this treat?

Strawberries - these were pretty good, and a great way to start us off... especially with the bottles of Champagne we popped.

Saito without Saito

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I have never been privileged enough to sit in front of Saito Takashi (齋藤孝司), let alone step into either the current or the old address of Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう).  Truth be told, I don't go back to Japan that often - certainly not as often as many of my friends.  And whenever I do go back to Tokyo, sushi isn't always at the top of my dining priorities.  So perhaps it isn't surprising that I have yet to be able to "tick the box" on this one.

So I was pretty excited when word spread last year that Saito-san was opening a branch here in Hong Kong.  I was even more excited when I learned that the local partner was none other than the group responsible for highly-regarded Japanese restaurants such as Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), Ta Vie旅, and La Bombance.  Having maintained a good relationship with chefs at those restaurants over the years, I was given the privilege of being among the first group of people to pre-book my preferred dates during the soft-opening period - which started 2 days ago.  So I booked 3 dates within the space of about 2 weeks.

Chef DaRC and I dutifully showed up about 10 minutes before noon, as we had been advised to arrive early so that service could start promptly at 12:00 p.m.  It would appear, though, that not everyone got the memo... as three ladies-who-lunch showed up only after we've had our first couple of bites.

Only half of the U-shaped counter is currently open, cutting the seat count to just eight.  Itacho (板長) Kobayashi-san would be the only itamae (板前) for now.

We started with a pair of otsumami (おつまみ).

March 28, 2018

The Asia's 50 Best chef's table

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With the festivities around Asia's 50 Best Restaurants over, it was time to pack up and go home.  But for some of us, we still had one last, highly-anticipated dinner to take in before boarding the ferry back to Hong Kong.

Sing Gor Private Kitchen (勝哥私房菜) is a place I had heard about from The Man in White T-shirt as "next level Cantonese cuisine"... whatever that means.  This was of course confirmed by Chef Tam at Jade Dragon when I visited him in January, as he was the person who introduced the place to Mr. White Tee.  So a couple of us had planned to tag along to a group dining here tonight.

The list of attendees grew quickly, and Chef DaRC, The Great One, and I were asked to splinter off to a second table and fill it with our own friends.  We gradually contacted friends who we knew were gonna be in Macau for the festivities, and soon we had our "kiddie table" filled with people who had never been here.

The place is actually housed upstairs in an apartment building, so the bunch of us who arrived with our luggage in tow were kinda holding up the elevator traffic for residents who live in the building.  But I'm sure they knew what was going on when a bunch of foreigners suddenly show up...

And this would be turn out to be a star-studded evening.  With us tonight were 6 chefs from 5 different restaurants on this year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, a former Asia's Best Female Chef, as well as two regional chairs from The World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy.  Plus a straggler like myself.  Two real "chef's tables".

I was already in Macau and had drunk the Champagne I brought last night, so I had to rely on the kindness of friends for some alcohol... Gee... I wonder where the magnum of Delamotte Blanc de Blancs came from??

When one comes to a place like this, one encounters dishes that are so old school and uncommon nowadays that if there was no one around to explain the story behind each dish, most of us would have no idea of the kind of skill required for the execution.  Thankfully those of us at the kiddie table got a lesson from Spam Bro, with the occasional annotation from The Man in White T-shirt.

Crispy chicken (炸子雞) - this is normally served much later during the meal, but for some reason the kitchen decided to split one chicken between the two tables and used it to whet our appetites... Yes, this chicken was damn good.  And the skin was paper-thin and crispy.

Hits and misses in Macau

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We've been attending events associated with Asia's 50 Best Restaurants over the last few days, and it's very tempting - for someone like me, especially - to stick to the fine dining establishments inside the casino hotels here.  Apparently The Great One felt the same way, so we made plans to escape and explore the rest of Macau a little...

While I did sample some of the finger food being served at the party after awards ceremonies last night, The Great One spent some time filing her article right after the announcement and Gaggan's press conference.  So she came back to the pool deck starving, and as lots of people were going out for supper, we figured we'd go and grab a bite, too.

I had long heard about mud crab congee (水蟹粥) as one of the famous supper items in Macau, but I have never had the stomach space for it when in Macau.  So I was pretty determined to get me some tonight.  After consulting KC's Macau dining guide, the 5 of just jumped into taxis and headed for Yat Gor Gourmet (一哥美食).

I was in the second taxi to arrive at the restaurant, and I found myself facing this...  They were filming the cook who was making steamed rice flour rolls (腸粉).

March 27, 2018

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018

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After donning my brand-spanking-new penguin outfit (the invitation specified "black tie or cocktail"), I strolled downstairs to the pool deck of Wynn Palace, got my wristband at the media check-in desk, and joined the cocktail party for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2018, sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Aqua Panna.

This annual party is a good chance to catch up with some friends - chefs, fellow foodies, as well as the media.  Social media has lit up over the last few days with posts by people attending the festivities, so we kinda have a sense of many of the chefs who have made it to the list.  What we don't know is the positioning of each restaurant... which would only be announced later in the evening.

The chef I'm most happy to see here tonight is none other than The Man in White T-shirt.  I have often introduced him to people as a "chef's chef" - meaning when chefs knock off and wanna go eat somewhere on their own free time, they go and eat in his restaurant.  After years of being a favorite of local foodies in Hong Kong, it would seem that Neighborhood has made it on the list!

Eventually we moved into the Grand Theater, took our seats, and waited the the countdown to start.

The clarity of the wave

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After a day in the office, I'm back in Macau again for 2 days to join the festivities for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants.  As the event is held at Wynn Palace in Macau, the official venue sponsor was extremely generous with the attendees and rolled out the VIP carpet for us.  In addition to offering accommodation, we were also invited to dine around at many of the restaurants within both Wynn Palace as well as Wynn Macau.

I got off the ferry and took the bus to Wynn Macau.  I chose Mizumi (泓) in this property - as opposed to the one in Wynn Palace - because it's the one restaurant within the Wynn properties with a macaron which I have yet to visit.

The restaurant is normally closed at this time, so when I arrived a few minutes before noon, I was the first and only one to be seated at the sushi counter in front of master sushi chef Fujikawa Hideki (藤川英樹).

Some bubbly to start us off...

Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs - pretty easy to drink.

I heard the staff informed Fujikawa-san that my neighbors had no dietary restrictions.   Curiously, he did not ask me whether I had any...

Deep-fried firefly squid (蛍烏賊) - these are in season, and I don't seem to remember ever having them deep-fried.  Of course, deep-frying just about anything makes for a tasty morsel, and here the chef has chopped up fresh firefly squid - along with their insides - and made it into a very tasty sauce with plenty of inky flavors.

March 25, 2018

(Gre)GohGanDen

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I'm back in Macau on a day-trip (my fifth trip in 2018) for a very special lunch.  Ahead of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards in Bangkok last year, I attended the first four-hands collaboration between Gaggan and DEN (傳).  Subsequently I also attended the two GohGan collaborations between Gaggan and Goh-san from La Maison de la Nature Goh - in Seoul and Bangkok.  All three have been very interesting dinners for me.

Two months ago, in between bites of roast suckling pig at Seventh Son (家全七福), Gaggan told us about their plan to do a new variation of GohGan - by adding DEN into the mix.  We knew that this would take things up a notch, so we were pretty ecstatic when the invitation came to join the event in Macau.

Hello Kitty and I dragged our butts out of bed early in the morning, and took the ferry to Macau.  We arrived at Wynn Palace a full hour before lunch started, so we strolled around for a little lèche-vitrines before becoming one of the first to arrive at Mizumi (泓).

The three chefs were still busy doing their thang, so I waived Vladimir Kojic over and handed him the bottles of wine that I had brought him and Gaggan - including a bottle of natural wine bong water that I planned to drink with him.  This was gonna be fun!

When enough people had arrived, we took our seats next to The Great One and Sweetheart, plus a couple of other friends of Gaggan we had seen at the GohGan in Seoul.  A cozy group which made for good conversations.



March 24, 2018

Earth Hour 2018 - my 10th year

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It's Earth Hour again, and once again Hello Kitty and I planned on participating in this global effort to raise awareness about doing something to help save our planet.  After attending a cocktail event at La Rambla in IFC, I met up with Hello Kitty and rode the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to the waterfront.



One by one, the commercial office buildings and hotels turned off their main lights and signage. Some were slower than others, and the Hong Kong Observation Wheel next to the Central Piers finally went dark about 10 minutes after Earth Hour started.

March 22, 2018

Pure, simple, seasonal

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We finally caught up with Babu again after a couple of months, after serving her some of my expired beluga caviar back in January.  I only have a handful of restaurants where I'd like to take her, and tonight it became Ta Vie旅's turn.  Of course, the fact that it is right across the street from my office had absolutely no influence on my choice of restaurants...

As usual, Sato-san and Takano-san knew of my dietary preferences and automatically switched out the ingredients for one particular dish, so I was getting a different printed menu from Babu.  I am ever grateful for their attention to detail.

Caesar salad topped with hotaru squid, hotaru squid caesar dressing - it's firefly squid season, so I was very, very happy to kick off dinner with this.  The tiny squids were packed with delicious goodness, and basically exploded in the mouth once bitten.  The shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, croûtons, Japanese spikenard (独活), and pepper chiffonade (糸唐辛子) on top of half a head of romaine lettuce was made perfect with a little dab of firefly squid caesar dressing on the side.  SLURP!

March 20, 2018

Buried by the wave

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No Fish is back in town for a few days, and I was glad to have a chance to catch up with her.  It's been a while since we were both at Ronin, so it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit.  I also roped Hello Kitty into this dinner, at No Fish's request...

We took the first seating and decided to go for the "market tasting".  Previous experience tells me that we'd get pretty full.

Kale flower, dashi, yuzu - this was OK.

Kumamoto oyster, mozuku, apple, ginger vinegar - to my great surprise, the Kumamoto oyster was a lot more briny than I'm normally used to.  The mozuku (モズク) was nice, and the green apple purée on top delivered a hint of sweetness and acidity - which melded very well with the briny flavors.

March 15, 2018

Eating with chefs: that Cronut guy

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It's been almost 8 years since I first met Dominique Ansel in Hong Kong.  At the time he was still in the kitchen of Daniel, and we showed him some classic Cantonese cooking before going off to do a little partying.  After he started his own bakery, I managed to catch up with him a few years ago in New York - after lining up for hours for his famous Cronut.  It was good to see him before he expanded his empire to include Tokyo, London, and L.A.

He's back in town for a couple of days after a long absence, so The Great One and I rounded up a few friends, and took him for more classic Cantonese.  I passed up the opportunity to have the suckling pig with him at Seventh Son (家全七福) yesterday, but that was because I was already taking him to my favorite Cantonese private kitchen tonight.

But disaster struck before dinner even started.  I had recently switched to shooting with a Sony A9 from my old Canon 6D, and the battery life on Sony just sucks.  While I normally have a habit of bringing a spare battery, for some reason it wasn't in my bag today.  So when I turned on my camera to find that the battery was at 7%, I knew I was gonna have to shoot with my iPhone tonight...

Pan-fried medallions with birds' nest (琵琶燕窩餅) - I told Dominique that these were "savory madeleines", which weren't far from the truth.  These were made with egg white, crab meat, birds' nest, and some finely diced ham and spring onions.  The texture was fluffy as usual, but tonight they seemed more wet and greasy than usual.

March 8, 2018

A tale of two livers

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Following an epic wine dinner last year, a few of us decided to get together to catch up.  After rescheduling a few times due to conflicts (it's surprising how tough it is for 4 people to find a date for dinner...) we finally met up tonight at Neighborhood.  I couldn't believe that I hadn't been back here in almost 2 months!

I didn't pre-order anything, and figured I would just pick a few items off the menu.  For the first time since I started coming here - and I've been here a few times - I discovered that I had pretty much tried every single item listed on the menu.  And this was in spite of The Man in White T-shirt frequently rotating the offerings based on seasonal ingredients.  So... for the first time, it would seem that there were no new dishes for me to try.

Thankfully, The Man in White T-shirt did have a couple of extra tricks up his sleeve...

Fried padron peppers / dried flounder salt - I've had padron peppers here plenty of times, but tonight instead of having a cheese dip, these came with bits of dried flounder.  Pretty interesting.  I still didn't get a spicy one, though...

March 4, 2018

Bday in Macau: no more Bordier

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After a reasonable night's sleep for once, we got up and went out for our morning rounds.  Knowing what was to come once we sat down for lunch, we wanted just enough nourishment to keep the hunger pangs at bay.  Margaret's Café e Nata is just a stone's throw away from the Grand Lisboa Macau, and seemed like the perfect place for us.

It had started to rain this morning, and we were pretty lucky to get ourselves seats at one of the tables under the awning.  We were pretty disciplined and decided to take just one pasteis each, washed down with coffee.

March 3, 2018

Bday in Macau: suckling pig maki

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A few hours after we kicked off the weekend with a delicious lunch, and after the ladies had finished their spa session, it was time for dinner.  For this we would pay a visit to Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國峰) at Jade Dragon (譽瓏軒) in the City of Dreams.  The restaurant very kindly seated the four of us in one of the private rooms - in fact the same one that I was in on my last two visits.

I had pre-ordered a couple of items with Chef Tam, and picked out a couple of dishes from the menu, and then left the rest up to him.  One is usually not disappointed when such arrangements are made by a top chef.

First to arrive were two amuses bouches:

Corn spherification - with pop rocks on top.

Pan-fried radish cake (香煎蘿蔔糕) - with a sakura shrimp (桜海老) on the side.

Bday in Macau: dim sum menagerie, part 2

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It's My Birdbrain Favorite Cousin's birthday, and I decided to organize a weekend of wine and dine for her.  We would revisit 3 of the best restaurants in Macau and get pampered the whole time.  And to make it easy on ourselves, we decided to stay at the Grand Lisboa Macau for the night - my third stay this year...

Our first stop would be at The 8 (8餐廳) in the Grand Lisboa.  Hello Kitty had suggested that we come here for dim sum so that we could order a particular item for My Favorite Cousin.  I was, of course, only too happy to oblige...

Given that there were only 3 of us today, I figured we wouldn't need to be tucked away in a private room... and I would finally have a chance to sit in the main dining room.  But as usual Nigel was too kind to me, and we ended up in a private room anyway.

I ordered mostly dim sum today as I wanted to try out a few more items, but first we started with the usual two amuse bouche:

Stir-fried minced chicken with pine nuts and capsicum in crispy bird's nest

Abalone with yuzu jelly

Steamed "Shanghainese" dumplings with chicken essence and vintage dried tangerine peel (老陳皮雞汁小籠包) - I've always loved this both for the delicate wrapper and for the smoky flavors coming from the aged tangerine peel.  Slurp.

March 1, 2018

Pizza fight: sausage edition

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So... there are a few more rounds of chefs vs. food media battles in the The Great Pizza Bake Off.  I supported a friend during one of those rounds last year, and this time around I'm here to support another old friend.

Believe it or not, I showed up at Mercato Hong Kong two days in a row for this.  I had dinner here last night, but chose to show my support for Gourmet KC by only ordering the pizza from his team.  It was good enough that I roped in Fergie for another round at lunch today - which was exactly what I did last year...

So the current battle is between Olivier Elzer - formerly of Seasons by Olivier E., L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, and Pierre - and the team from Fancook Productions (飯局製作公司).  Coincidentally, both teams used Cantonese preserved sausages on their pizzas, so this should prove interesting!

Yun cheung pizza, by Fancook Productions - with foie gras sausage (鵝膶腸, actually made with goose liver), marinated Japanese Nanko plum (南高梅), preserved pork belly (臘肉), and Mozzarella.  This was so good that I had to come back for another round.  I looooove liver sausage, and I already have a stash of the same goose liver sausage at home.  The flavors are heavy, but nicely balanced by the sweetness and acidity of the marinated plums.  It also helped that there wasn't a whole lot of cheese on the pizza, so the crust stayed crispy and crunchy.

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