June 30, 2011

Goodbye, Tim

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After a short break or one evening, I resumed the string of birthday/farewell dinners with another group of old friends.  The Pale Indonesian was the very first friend I ever met in Hong Kong, back in 1995, through an introduction of a mutual friend.  I met his wife shortly after meeting him, and we have known each other for a long, long time.  He likes to joke that he's been to all my housewarming parties - when I was still bothering to throw them - and yes, even the one I threw in Singapore back in 2004.  The next challenge will be my housewarming in Taipei...

Reservations were made at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源), which these days is probably the one "fancy" restaurant I dine at the most.  While I had just visited them at the start of the month, I figured it'd be good to go back and enjoy some of the signature dishes... as it may be a while before my next visit.

Unexciting pasta

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It's been a very long time since I last stepped foot in Nicholini's, and when I called up my friend and asked her to join me for lunch, she was equally excited as she was in exactly the same boat.  The sun was breaking out after a few days of rainstorms, and happily we were seated by the window and had plenty to natural light to cheer us up.

The bread basket didn't look very appealing, but I decided to try to saffron roll.  Very dry.  There was a hint of saffron, which subsequently got overpowered by the cumin seeds.

June 28, 2011

A nice recovery

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After experiencing the worst service I have ever seen in a restaurant, we went in search of a restaurant for dinner.  Fortunately the Mira is just down the street, so we decided to park ourselves at Whisk.  The place was fairly busy for a Tuesday night, but manages to squeeze us in.

The amuse bouche was a prawn spring roll.  We weren't sure what the dipping sauce was, but this was pretty tasty.

The dinner that never was

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I do think I'm a little cursed recently. I was on the receiving end of some sub-par service at one of my favorite restaurants for my birthday last week, and tonight I had the rudest service from a restaurant that I've ever had in my entire life.  For only the second time in my life, I stormed out of a restaurant without having eaten a single bite, on account of rude and/or arrogant staff.

I was very much looking forward to getting together with my friends, as I haven't seen them in over a year.  I definitely wanted to see Rickachu before I left town, and they had decided to book tonight's dinner at g.e.  (it's supposed to stand for "gastronomy extraordinary", but believe me, the only thing extraordinary about this place has nothing to do with the food...)  Anyway, I was a little curious and wanted to check this place out, as the chef is ex-Kee Club and had apparently spent time in the kitchen of El Bulli.  I will just say that I went to Kee Club for dinner once a few years ago, and had some of that "molecular" cuisine, and never bothered to return.

June 27, 2011

A little taste of home

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The birthday celebrations are stretching and merging with the farewell dinners, and my foodie gang gathered tonight at a place that was truly special.  Jin Jin Gourmet (真真美食) is a little eatery serving Hokkien cuisine, and is tucked away in the backstreets amongst numerous traditional market stalls.  Definitely a little off the foodie map...

DJ had arranged for the place to stay open to accomodate us, and also arranged for many off-menu items.  As the place serves Hokkien cuisine, many of the dishes taste similar to the local fare I find in Taiwan, so there's an instant familiarity here...

June 26, 2011

MNSC at 10: 1978 Burgundy horizontal

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MNSC is 10 years old this year.  Back in 2001, a small group of young wine lovers started getting together informally to share a few bottles together.  From our not-so-humble beginnings of tasting 1961 Ducru-Beaucaillou, 1983 Guigal La Mouline and 1983 Penfolds Grange... the core of the group was formed over the next few months.  The seven of us have been gathering regularly to taste great wines from around the world for the last 10 years, with a couple of "offsites" along the way that gradually evolved into our annual wine tasting trips.

It's not easy to find a group still hanging out together after such a long period of time, and at our annual dinner a couple of months ago, we decided to do something special this year.  As the number of gatherings are cut back due to our increasingly busy schedules, we would focus on drinking an incredibly good group of wines.  Themes like 1961 Bordeaux, 1971 Burgundy, La Tâche vertical were suggested.  The message is clear: the budget was going up by at least a factor of 3, and all the wines were going to be pretty legendary.

Our first gathering for this celebration took place tonight.  The venue was Cépage, which has a high reputation for its wine list and wine service.  The theme was 1978 Burgundy horizontal, including a truly legendary wine.  The initial line-up included another legendary bottle, but since we had already tasted the 1978 DRC La Tâche on our trip to Burgundy last year, we decided to use the budget for other wines.

June 25, 2011

Just nibbling

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A group of generous foodie friends insisted on taking me out for my birthday, despite protestations of having over-indulged and my desire for a break in my eating schedule.  In the end I relented, but requested for a venue where I could just "nibble".  After a 11th-hour mix-up, we ended up at Yi Pai Ya (一杯屋) for some meat on a stick and some ox tongue that the place is famous for.

The marinated eggplant with bonito flakes was a welcome change from the routine in the past week.

June 24, 2011

Ocean view Cantonese

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The week-long celebration continues, and tonight Mr. and Mrs. Ho treated me to dinner at one of my old favorites - Yan Toh Heen (欣圖軒).  I got to know it as Lai Ching Heen (麗晶軒) when it was still the Regent Hotel, and have loved this restaurant ever since my first visit in the mid-90s.  It's only fitting that I come back for one last visit.

My ex-Favorite Cousin, whom I fired a few weeks ago and will  now refer to as my Birdbrain Cousin, opted to join me on this particular evening instead of on my actual birthday.  And she wonders why she got fired...

June 23, 2011

Seafood galore

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Tonight looks to be my last visit to On Lot 10 in a while.  Susan had organized a gathering, and as usual had given David carte blanche on the menu.  I was only too happy to join them and count it as part of the birthday celebrations...

Tomato and basil salad with summer truffle - the different types of tomatoes were all very good, with balsamic and basil to pick up the flavors.

June 22, 2011

NOT VIP treatment

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We have finally come to my actual birthday today, and I've chosen to go back to Pierre with Tigger to celebrate.  Pierre has always been among one of my very favorite places in town, and the old team had always treated me very well.

But the front of house team completely FAILED tonight.  Was the service not friendly?  Yes, they were smiling.  Did they not greet us courteously both when we arrived and when we left?  Yes, they did.  And there were occasions when they came and addressed us by name, uttering "Mr. A this" "Mr. B that"...  but there were simply too many mistakes.  Perhaps they seem small and insignificant to the average diner, but for those of us picky eaters - and I am proud to admit to being one - these are simply unacceptable for a restaurant inside a 5-star hotel, with 2 macarons and a world-famous chef as the mastermind.

June 21, 2011

VIP treatment

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A day after I took them out for my birthday, some friends very generously returned the favor and took me out to dinner.  It's been a while since I was last at the Yung Kee VIP Floor (蘭亭閣),  and I wanted to dine there once more before leaving town.  My friends were kind to oblige me...

We arrived and were seated at the first table just past reception, against two partition walls in the narrow dining room.  We were not given menus to browse through, but a waitress came and asked what we wanted to eat.. throwing out a few suggested preparations for every food category we mentioned.  I guess that's how VIPs do their ordering, since they should know the menu by heart...

June 20, 2011

Introducing the monster

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I'm kinda doing a whole week of dinners for my birthday, and for one reason or another my schedule is completely full this week - seven straight days of dining out with friends.  To kick it all off, I've invited a few wino friends to join me at Caprice for an interesting evening.

I had long wanted to plan an evening around a group of interesting wines - getting away from the usual practice of drinking a bunch of French.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with French wines - many of my favorite wines are French - but often I hanker for the other stuff in my cellar.  To top it off, I had wanted to introduce to someone a certain wine which we had codenamed the Monster...

I put together the somewhat eclectic wine list - showcasing 5 different varietals from around the world - and asked the team at Caprice to come up with a menu to match.  Chef Vincent, Manager Jeremy and Sommelier Sebastien did a wonderful job - I was very happy with the results.

June 16, 2011

A very unhappy birthday dinner

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It was supposed to be my "birthday dinner", with just the parental units and me.  Then we added Foodie Wannabe to make it a foursome, which was fine with me as I relished the opportunity to teach him a thing or two and broaden his perspective.  Finally, I got a call as I rode the bus to dinner, informing me of the addition of another person.  My systolic blood pressure probably went above 180 during the split second that the news registered in my brain, and stayed that way for a while.

A few people close to me know that, just like them, I'm picky about who I eat with.  For casual meals I'm not really going to mind, but if it's supposed to be a "gourmet" dining experience, I prefer to eat with foodie friends who know and can talk food.  I don't want to eat with people who can't appreciate what they're eating, as it detracts from my own enjoyment.  Yes, I'm snobbish like that.  I'm willing to shell out big bucks for a good meal, and I want my money's worth.

So imagine how pissed I was upon being told that my birthday dinner, at a restaurant I had never visited but has been wanting to try out, would have the company of someone who has no appreciation of fine cuisine, has practically zero table manners, and who would on any given day rather spend 1/20th of the money to eat at one of Taipei's many night markets.  Why the fuck do I have to spend 3 hours eating with HIM?

I was still livid when I arrived at Justin's Signature - the newest of three outlets operated by Justin Quek.  I had been kinda disappointed by the other two outlets, so I was never eager to try this place out in the past.  Anyway, I sat down at the edge of the long table as I was being anti-social, and tried to calm myself down.

June 15, 2011

Gizzard, milt and other goodies

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It's kind of weird to be having dinner in Taipei with friends from Hong Kong, but that's what I did tonight.  A friend who I'll be seeing in a few days back in Hong Kong was in town, and very kindly asked me to join him for dinner.  A local wine merchant had chosen Ming Fu (明福餐廳), a local institution serving Taiwanese fare that I'd never been to.

The place is in an old part of town, and the setting is just as I expected - no decor, crowded tables, and I had to sit on a cheap stool and squeeze in.  There was a company hosting a dinner next to us, with 3 tables making lots of noise (25 or so female staff and 2 men...)  I can see why it's popular with some and not with others.

June 11, 2011

Gamey birds

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I headed out to unfamiliar territory today, venturing into the New Territories to check out Sha Tin 18 at the Hyatt Regency Shatin.  I had missed a gathering here a couple of years ago, but heard that the Peking duck is delish.  I was glad to finally have the opportunity to check it out.

I asked Big Master to come along, and he very kindly gave me a ride to the boonies.  After getting totally lost for a while - and going in circles around the neighborhood, we finally arrived at the hotel for our appointment.  We were both starving by the time we sat down.

June 10, 2011

Surf and Turf

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Another drunken birthday dinner, this time with the Specialist and friends.  There had been some debate about the dinner venue, prompting some of us to try out places like the new Brainless Restaurant.  In the end, though, we defaulted back to 8½ Otto e Mezzo... due in no small part to its generous policy on corkage.

The Specialist started early at the bar, and I joined her and a few others about an hour before dinner.  Given my limited capacity for alcohol, I was careful not to over-indulge too quickly.  I nibbled on some air-dried beef to pad my stomach lining...

June 8, 2011

Shame on you, woman!

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There has been a good amount of public furore during the last few days over a speech made on June 5th by Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching (謝凌潔貞), the Permanent Secretary for Education for Hong Kong.  The speech was given at the graduation ceremony of a local school, and the fact that it was made just a day after the 22nd anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre obviously hit a nerve.

June 6, 2011

Salty beef

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I met up with Dyson 2000 for dinner tonight at a venue neither of us have been for quite some time.  Wooloomooloo was never my type of place, as I'm neither big on steak nor do I think much of my last dining experience there.  But we decided to give this place another try.

I had made my reservation a few days ago and asked for a table for four.  I called the restaurant back this afternoon to change my reservation to a table for two.  When I walked in tonight and told the waitress my name, she stared back at me blankly.  There were two reservations in the book, and neither bore my name.  Not such a great start...

June 4, 2011

Red prawn fever

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OK, I admit it...I'm hooked.  Hooked on those carabineros from Spain.  I've had it three times in the last three weeks, and I'm still on the hunt for more.

I had lunch with Tigger and family today at 8½ Otto e Mezzo.  It's one of the few restaurants Tigger is happy to go to outside of the Mandarin Oriental, and one place I'm happy to go to as frequently as I can manage a booking.  Given my eating schedule this past week, I was determined to make this lunch a simple and light one.

June 3, 2011

A surprise visit

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After 5 big meals in 3 days, I really wasn't planning on having much of a dinner tonight.  In fact, I was planning on reheating the leftovers from last night's dinner.  Unfortunately, the leftovers would have to wait... While I was enjoying my lunch today, I received a call from my uncle informing me that he was in town for a few hours, and wondered if I would like to have dinner together.  I couldn't very well turn him down, so I booked us a table at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源).

I arrived at our early dinner appointment not the least bit hungry, so I proceeded to order the signature crystal king prawn (玻璃明蝦球) and crab claw (原隻鮮蟹鉗) for the others while sitting out the first two rounds.

From Loire to Burgundy

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I could hardly believe it... I had just finished a 2-day eating tour in Macau where I barely felt hungry during my entire stay, and here I am... going to lunch at another fancy restaurant!  Truth be told, this lunch with my friends was scheduled before the Macau trip popped up in my schedule, and I wasn't about to cancel.  After all, it's been almost 1½ years since I last stepped foot in Amber.

I had maybe a third of the bottle of 1971 Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling leftover from last night, and brought it to share with my friends.  I checked with Hervé the sommelier to see if he would let us drink the wine without charging me full corkage, and he was pretty nice about it.  We were not charged corkage in the end.

The Bespectacled Froggie came to introduce the dishes from the set lunch menu, and recommended that we take the "chicken from Burgundy".  I could see as the Resident Froggie rolled her (very) big, round eyes back and the look of "WTF" appeared on her face.  When did Challans get moved to Burgundy, more than 500 km inland?!  And the guy was a Froggie! I guess he failed geography as a child...

June 2, 2011

Lisboa tour: the Eight

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Our last meal of the trip took place at the Eight in the Grand Lisboa, which has earned itself 2 Michelin stars.  We had finished lunch a mere 3½ hours ago, and I wasn't the least bit hungry.  Nevertheless, I sucked in my stomach and prepared for battle...

We were in one of the private rooms, which was pretty nicely decorated.  The decor of the entire restaurant was surprisingly subdued and not as bling-bling as I had imagined.  The hand-embroidered goldfish motif along the main wall was particularly impressive.

Lisboa tour: the best cellar I have ever seen

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KC and I received a very special treat this afternoon as part of our tour of Hotel Lisboa.  Knowing that I am a big wine geek, the PR manager arranged for us to tour the underground wine cellars of the hotel.  I was very, very excited... as this would be another highlight of this trip.

It's no secret that Hotel Lisboa has one of the best wine collections - if not the best - in Asia.  The hard copy version of the wine list is as thick as 2-3 volumes of an encyclopedia, but fortunately there is now an iPad version that's much easier to use.  There are some 7,800 labels within the list, and I could easily spend half an hour or more browsing through it without putting it down.  In fact, in the past I have searched through the list as it is available online, chosen that I wanted to drink for my meal, and have the sommelier prepare the wines prior to my arrival.  Joël Robuchon described it as "one of the best collections in the world", one that has depth in addition to breadth when it comes to rare gems.

Lisboa tour: New Furusato

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Day 2 of my Lisboa tour began with my stomach complaining to me that it was empty.  After all that food yesterday, I actually felt the hunger pangs sometime before 10am.  I grabbed a continental breakfast from the Round-The-Clock Coffee Shop to have some fresh fruit and fruit juice, and allowed myself one fluffy croissant.  I needed to save precious stomach space for lunch!

The PR team treated us to lunch at New Furusato (新故里) inside Hotel Lisboa, and happily for us, they were able to join us, too.  I was only aware of a couple of restaurants within the two Lisboa hotels - and this definitely wasn't one of them - so it was surprising to learn that this place has been around for quite a while.

June 1, 2011

Lisboa tour: the Kitchen

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A mere 3½ hours after we finished lunch, KC and I were back at it again.  Dinner tonight was at the Kitchen inside the Grand Lisboa.  KC was pretty excited about this meal, as he loves steaks and hasn't tried this place before.  The menu has been preset for us.  I had no expectations for this meal, other than the steaks.

I didn't have any interest in the antipasti buffet, as I really wasn't that hungry.  Our amuse bouche was a small serving of escargot.  Not exactly filled to the brim with the garlic and parsley butter, but tasty enough nonetheless.

Lisboa tour: Robuchon a Galera

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After our interview with Joël, KC and I were treated to lunch at Robuchon a Galera.  It's been a long, long time since I came for lunch... and back then the restaurant was mostly empty despite the bargain price of just around MOP 300 for a 3-course lunch...  My gala dinner experience last year was also a little underwhelming, so I was very curious to see how lunch would work out today.

There is no more proper way to start a meal than with some butter, and what can be more beautiful than the sight of two mounds of gorgeous Bordier butter?!  I, of course, asked for the salted variety... and watched the staff create rolls of it with a dinner spoon.  Like Pavlov's dog, I'm already salivating at this point...

Lisboa tour: Interview with Joël Robuchon

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Fellow blogger KC was invited by the PR manager at Hotel Lisboa in Macau for a tour of the various restaurants inside the two Lisboa hotels.  He very kindly invited me to come along for the 2-day trip, where we would sample cuisine from 4 different outlets.

Immediately upon our arrival in Macau, we headed to Robuchon a Galera for an interview with the man himself.  As everyone knows, I am not a professional journalist... I just like to eat and write my experiences down to preserve my memories.  So I'm completely new at this and a total amateur.  It kinda hit me while I was on the ferry that maybe, just maybe, I should actually open my mouth and ask Joël a few questions.  After all, it would be awfully funny if I just sat around and nodded each time the man answered questions from KC...

I've kinda put together a summary of the interview below:


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