March 17, 2011

French Concession in Hong Kong

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I met up with some friends tonight who introduced me to a new private kitchen.  Fa Zu Jie (法租界) is in the heart of Lan Kwai Fong, accessed through a dark and narrow alley whose existence I never took note in all my years here.  My friend knows the partners and suggested we check it out.

We were the only table for this evening, and the place was nice and tastefully decked out.  The spiffy open kitchen - stocked with Siemens appliances and a large, marble island - looked less like a professional kitchen and more like it belongs in a luxury apartment.  The menu is folded inside a small picture book, and is read by opening the volume.  The descriptions are poetic.  Everything here screams artsy.

Bamboo shoot.  A Double Life.  (翡筍. 兩生花)
I. Jade (翡翠) - this is actually celtuce stems (萵筍), marinated in Japanese vinegar and topped with pesto sauce.
II. A small Chinese artwork (小品中國畫) - basically braised bamboo shoots, like the ones mom makes at home.  Unfortunately the shoots are a little old so part of it had chewy fibers which I didn't feel like swallowing...

Miss Quail. Mr. Sanuki. Wax apple. Wolfberry.  All are half drunk.  (鵪鶉小姐. 讃岐先生. 蓮霧. 杞子. 都半醉了) - basically a Shanghainese-style drunken quail, in a broth with 8-year old Huadiao (花雕), which gave everything a slightly bitter finish.  There were lots of spices used, with the flavors of cloves being the most prominent.  While I am sure the chef knows the ingredient he's using, I always thought that thin, flat udon (うどん) like this would be inaniwa udon (稲庭うどん), as sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) tends to be much thicker.  In any case the cold udon was chewy with lots of bite, as it should be.  Not quite sure why the wax apple was used... but the sweetness did neutralize the bitter flavors from the Huadiao.

Yellow croaker soup with leafy mustard (雪菜黃魚湯) - this wasn't on the menu but the chef was kind enough to serve it to us.  Very traditional Shanghainese flavors served straight up.

Yellow croaker: tempura outfit (穿上天婦羅的黃花) - yellow croakers have been one of my favorites since childhood, but... deep-frying this fish is a bit of a waste.  We started with fillets sandwiching some "old mushrooms (老香菇)" and wrapped with perilla leaves (紫蘇).  We then moved on to some boney bits.

It's been a long time since I last had yellow croaker eggs...

These deep-fried pieces of yellow croaker liver were very, very yummy.

Seasonal "old school" vegetable.  From Shanghai. Stir-fried (舊上海的鮮時蔬) - baby spinach. 

Prawn. Sticky (大蝦. 糕) - these prawns were flavored just the way mom used to make it... with a mixture of soy sauce and tomatoes (from Italy, apparently).  Stir-fried with glutinous rice cakes.  More childhood memories.

Wonton. Soft and sweet (雲吞. 軟甜的) - a single ravioli filled with red bean paste and custard sits in soup flavored with ginger and osmanthus.  Unfortunately the ginger completely overpowered the fragrant and delicate osmanthus, reducing the latter to mere decoration...

Osmanthus meringue - a nice way to end the meal.

2004 Ponsot Morey Saint Denis Cuvée des Grives - I brought this bottle without knowing what kind of place we would be going to, so it kinda didn't match the food.  Nose of leather, game, red fruits like strawberries, mint and exotic spices.  Lovely to drink but slightly acidic on the palate.

Overall this was a nice and relaxing meal in a comfortable setting.  Very Shanghainese in flavor, but with light touches from other cuisines.  While this was by no means expensive, it actually cost a tad more than the huge feast I had last week at Hong Zhou Restaurant, so I guess we did pay a little for ambiance tonight...

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