February 28, 2007

Wine dinner with London Broker

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I was invited to a dinner at the China Club today hosted by one of my wine brokers from London. They have just posted someone to Hong Kong and wanted to meet some of their clients. It was a casual BYO event so it was interesting to see what people were bringing. I invited my friend Riz to come along and it turns out my regular tasting friend Kevin was also present.

The wines were:

Billetcart-Salmon NV Brut Blanc de Blancs - reasonably easy to drink

Dom Perignon 1996 - always a pleasure to drink and the color remains incredibly light

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling (forget which vintage) - a bit harsh I thought and overly oaky, not made in the Alsace/German style which I enjoy

Grand Puy Lacoste 1996 - classic Bordeaux claret which the brokers described as the most underrated Pauillac on the market, along with Pontet-Canet. I think they are probably right but it's not made in the style that I really like

Mouton Rothschild 1996 - this is much more to my liking as it was a bit more opulent and open

Leoville Las Cases 1990 - not bad but didn't make as much of an impression on me. We discussed our common disappointment with the '82 (how could Parker rate it as a 100 pt wine?) and that we both liked the '85 as a good value wine

Araujo Eisele Vineyard 2000 - this was very elegant and opened up well, very French with grassy overtones

Pahlmeyer Red 1995 - I brought this bottle to dinner and was very much disappointed, as it clearly did not open up like my previous bottles

DRC Romanee Saint Vivant 1991 - this was nice but a bit disappointing, as I felt the nose had a bit of cooked fruit and indicated perhaps poor storage conditions? The label was stained

Emanuel Rouget Echezeaux 2000 - honestly a bit disappointing as the nose faded fairly quickly and the alcohol/minerals became a bit sharp

JL Chave Hermitage Rouge 1983 - this was clearly the wine of the evening for me. The nose was gorgeous and it really showed what a good Rhone should be

Overall it was a good evening...look forward to more of them!

February 21, 2007

Robouchon: a second sample

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Went back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon last week with the parents for a second try. Overall experience was still pretty good, although I was less impressed than the first time. I think my choices on the first visit were probably the best ones.

I started with the spaghetti, which was simply topped with shaved Parmesan, a poached egg, and reasonable amount of shaved black Périgord truffles. It was pretty nice as the flavors blended well together, but of course it had better be at US$90.

Next was la tête de veau, and I was curious whether it would work out as well as the pig's head at the Fourth Floor at Harvey Nick's. It was interesting but I didn't like it as much. Basically two large balls of skin from the veal's head, kinda done like the Chinese pig trotters but without the soy sauce. The balls were stuffed with ground veal, and topped with a combination of dill, parsley, capers and green peppercorns soaked in vinegar. Not something I would have again.

Finally I had the lamb chops, which were simply nice and crispy - nothing but a bit of salt and a sprig of rosemary on the side. A spoonful of the rich potato purée was the perfect accompaniment.

Once again I had a very nice dessert, which came off a totally different dessert menu from my last visit less than 2 weeks ago. The grapefruit jelly with lychee sorbet and a touch of rose (seemingly a favorite ingredient of the pastry chef) was delightfully refreshing after my last two courses.

The parents had an adventure - a rare occasion where dad's choices were far better than mom's. Mom complained immediately about her foie gras ravioli in chicken consommé - apparently the ravioli was tiny and she never tasted the foie inside, so all she got was a bowl of soup.

The coquilles Saint Jacques were better - at least she got three of them and they were substantial/visible enough - but she was not impressed.

The poached seabass came wrapped in another pasta skin, proving to her once again that ordering anything ravioli-like is a mistake.

Dad started with the cod, which seemed to get praises from both of them. He next took le caille on my recommendation, and seemed satisfied enough even though he didn't realize that the stuffing was foie gras...

The last course was the mini burgers (as I expected), and he passed on the two pieces of pan-fried foie to mom and gave her a happy ending.

A pistachio soufflé was shared and she declared it to be the best she's had in the 12 years since her meal at La Petite Auberge in New York. Apparently no one knows how to do soufflé in Taipei...which is not a surprise since there is only one high-end French restaurant in the city I would ever patronize.

BTW we had a half bottle of '97 Troplong Mondot and it drank beautifully.

February 6, 2007

Progress after 1 month: -3kg

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Have been faithfully working out at the gym for the last month, going 2-3 times a week regularly. I'm now down 3-3.5kg from the peak in December...I probably would be even slimmer if it weren't for all the rich meals I've had in the last 2 weeks. Oh well, must persevere!

L'Atelier de Robuchon in HK

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I decided to give this new restaurant a try since it's been open for a couple of months. The reviews have been good so far despite the drawback of not being able to BYO.

The space if very modern and rather dark - mostly black and grey granite. As you enter you pass thru the wine cellar with a showcase display rack (more about this later). What follows then is a winding path around several corners of the "show kitchen" where patrons sit on high chairs much like a sushi bar and face the chefs as they prepare the food. Finally, you walk past a private room and enter the main dining room, which is actually considered Le Jardin.

We sat at a table for two (banquette seating for one person) and noted that space was rather cramped. The interesting thing is that if the waiter stood between tables to serve the customer sitting on the banquette, s/he would have to carefully maneuver out of the tight space like putting a car in reverse and walking backwards.

As you would expect, there is a tasting menu which featured creations in small portions. As our reservation was rather late, we decided not to go for this option. What is encouraging is that half of the à la carte menu is made up of items in tasting portions (some of which are identical to courses in the tasting menu), so you can create your own tasting menu by choosing exactly the items you want as well as the number of courses. This is very much like some of the restaurants in San Sebastian where everything is available in half portions. I chose 4 tasting portions - all meat based and all were very good.

The pied de cochon was made into a rillette and served on baguette slices with thin wafers of black Périgord truffle and parmesan on top.

The foie gras d'oie was a very smooth mousse (I would have preferred a slightly viscous, richer version) served with the usual gelée, thin slices of black Périgord truffle, and plenty of gold foil on top.

The caille came in two pieces - a cute, sausage-like cut of breast stuffed with foie gras as well as the leg with the bone protruding out (reminding me of the quail at per se in NY), and the creamiest of potato purée topped with ground black truffle.

Finally the ris de veau came in one rather large chunk which was quite creamy, although I would have preferred smaller pieces and slightly more crispy on the outside. The single leaf of romaine lettuce covered tiny cubes of cooked ham, and was flavored with the juices of the ham.

BTW the calamar was also excellent, as the flavors blended well with the chorizo

Dessert was excellent and I highly recommend the white chocolate pastelle, which was a blend of white chocolate / caramel mousse served with a rum sauce and thin, flavored wafers of white chocolate.

For those who prefer rich desserts at the end of the meal, the chocolate vanilla is perhaps a better choice, although the vanilla cream is a bit heavy for me.

Now the wine list. It is simply amazing and no doubt the best in Hong Kong, and probably second in Asia only to Robuchon a Galera in Macau. The list is extensive with many trophy bottles, and a good selection of half bottles among the Bordeaux and some Burgundies. Prices are quite reasonable and appears to substantiate the rumors that they transported these in from Macau. This is the reason for not allowing BYO, as there is definitely enough of a choice for most of us.

As I stood by the display rack after the meal, I first came upon one corner of the cellar displaying vintage port. Several bottles of Quinta do Noval Nacional '63 and '70 were in full view, as well as 2-3 bottles of the Quinta do Noval '31 (NOT the Nacional but just the "regular" bottling from this most famous of port vintages).

Next was the "Burgundy wall" and everything from eye level down was DRC and Leroy, which a few Ramonet Montrachets and Coche-Dury whites acting as "filler". I didn't bother to look at the "Bordeaux wall" as it was just rows of Petrus, Mouton and other first growths. But as we were heading for the door, the last side/corner of the cellar caught my attention. Numerous bottles of vintage sherry (similar to ones I had seen at Macau Duty Free) were displayed, as were rows of Yquem. I was curious about which vintages were stocked, and to my absolute surprise I counted three bottles of the legendary '21 Yquem... What I wouldn't give to sample this amazing nectar that one London brokers lists for a mere GBP 6,000+ in bond...

Anyway. Looks like I will be returning to this establishment very soon.

February 4, 2007

Some thoughts on HK's new restaurants

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A number of world-class restaurants have opened in HK over the last few months, thanks to a roaring economy and booming stock market. I finally paid some of these a visit and thought I'd give a quick review...

Nobu has been a big name in fusion Japanese for over a decade. However his creations have never quite caught my fancy. My limited experience at Nobu Next Door in NYC years ago wasn't quite what I thought it would be, so my expectations weren't high going to the new Nobu at the InterContinental in HK.

Nobu took over the space formerly occupied by Yu, and it's a pretty large area. There is a bar/lounge area as you come in, and the whole decor is pretty modern. Most of the seating at the restaurant (other than the sushi bar) gets you a fantastic view of Victoria Harbor. The staff/customer ratio is pretty high and there are lots of people dressed in black running around. We chose to sit at the sushi bar and watch them prepare the food.

We chose the omakase for $888 (chuckle, chuckle...) to see what they have in store. What followed was a 5-6 course meal which was reasonably good. As you would expect it wasn't very traditionally Japanese, what with lots of salads/greens and intresting jalapeno sauces. The ingredients were very fresh and delicious, although the soy sauce made the beef a bit salty.

The dessert was simply divine - layers of cappuccino ice cream / coffee cake / ground coffee beans / meringue all topped with Suntory whiskey foam... I'd go back just for that.

But at the end of the day, this still isn't my cup of macha. If I wanted Japanese, I'd probably still end up at Imamura where I'd get the freshest live botan ebi and nama toro.

I finally decided to give Pierre a try after a few months. I must say that, other than the special menus tailored for some wine tastings, this is probably one of the best meals I've had in HK. Once again I went for the degustation menu to see what the chef can deliver. Almost every course was very delicious, with the best ingredients.

One curious observation was the the unusual taste of "bitterness" (as opposed to sweet, sour...etc) featured prominently during the meal. Quite a few courses had elements which were slightly bitter, although they actually enhanced the overall experience.

The beetroot/celeriac starter was very interesting, and the scallops were sweet and tender. The sweetbread was unusual but nice and creamy, and the lamb loin was a bit more "lammy" than usual but I loved it. And they do have a lovely selection of cheese.

What followed was dessert, which was listed on the menu was "Les desserts de Pierre Gagnaire". This was deceiving because what followed was FOUR desserts. We started with an unusual set of petit fours, and ended with a rich chocolate/hazelnut combination.

Unfortunately this was a bit too much for me, and I felt a little unwell at the end of the meal. Having said that I think this is still a wonderful meal, and I look forward to returning for many meals in the future.


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