March 15, 2014

The real 3 star Chinese

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I'd been talking about doing a Macau field trip with some friends, as I really enjoyed my solo dining experiences from my last two trips.  Going with friends would open up more possibilities, both in terms of the choice of venue and the wines I'd be able to drink.  I finally managed to round up a few people for this weekend, and planned an overnight trip to indulge.  This was gonna be a GREAT weekend.

But disaster struck before the trip even started, thanks to my own stupidity.  5 months ago, my dear friend Ninja pinged me to show how good of a friend she is.  Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch was coming to the Hong Kong Arts Festival with their program Iphigenia in Tauris, and she got me a ticket.  I was ecstatic when I heard the news.  I absolutely love Pina Bausch's work, and really enjoyed both Vollmond and Nelken when I saw them in previous years.  I was looking forward to enjoying the show and then heading off to Macau for some good food and wine.

Unfortunately, I didn't bother to check the show times until yesterday.  In previous years I had always watched Pina Bausch's work during the day on a Saturday, so for some reason I just assumed that this year things would be the same.  Well, this time they decided to show it at 7:30 p.m.  So there was no way I would be able to catch the performance AND make it to dinner in Macau.  I had to give up one of the two.

Well, since I had been the instigator behind tonight's dinner, and had convinced this bunch to book hotel rooms in Macau so that we could stay overnight... it was a little difficult for me to pull out of dinner.  Making matters worse, the two couples I was dining with tonight were the exact two couples I had double-booked myself with the last time I had done something this stupid.

Sorry, Ninja.  I'll make it up to you.

As there were gonna be 7 of us, I thought it would be interesting to go back to The Eight, which has now gotten themselves their third macaron.  I totally enjoyed my last two visits here - at the invitation of the hotel PR - and really wanted to come back for an encore.  But when I called up the restaurant last week, I was informed that all of the private rooms had already been reserved.  What's worse, the 7 of us couldn't even sit in the main dining room, because their tables seat only a maximum of 6...

I was totally screwed.  I had dragged a bunch of people into this, and most of us had already booked our hotel rooms... and now I was told that we couldn't go to the restaurant I most wanted to dine at.  Sure, we could go to Don Alfonso 1890, or even to Robuchon au Dôme against the wishes of someone, but this was a rare chance to go Cantonese with a larger group.

So I got up the nerve and asked Lisboa's PR for a favor.  I asked her to please put me on the waiting list for a private room at The Eight, so that if/when someone cancelled we would get first dibs on it.  As usual she was extremely helpful, and by mid-week we were able to get ourselves a room... although the party had shrunk to 5 by this time.  We also discussed a few dishes that I wanted to pre-order, as well as a few bottles of wine that I picked out from their amazing collection.

I arrived at the restaurant tonight to find the two bottles of German Riesling I pre-ordered already in our private room.  We started with the pre-ordered dishes, and gradually added a couple of more items.  Unfortunately we couldn't get one of the dishes that I had pre-ordered, which was the 30 years vintage tangerine peel chicken (三十年陳皮雞).  The reason?  With the recent outbreak of H7N9 avian flu in the region, governments have been culling chickens and limiting supply of live chickens.  Management at the Lisboa has decided that if they can't serve fresh chicken, they would prefer to make these dishes unavailable instead of substituting with chilled imports.  This shows how serious they are about maintaining their quality standards, and I applaud them.

We finally got started with our meal, and first came the amuses bouches:

Abalone with yuzu sauce (柚子鮑魚)

Diced beef (牛崧)

Barbecued pork (玫瑰蜜汁叉燒) - thick cut is the only way to go.  Lots of porky flavor, and tender as usual.

Barbecued and smoked pork (明爐叉燒不見天) - this came highly recommended, and was definitely something pretty unique.

French goose liver with “char siu” and a thin-sliced of pork fat (法國鵝肝金錢雞) - with the closure of the Causeway Bay branch of Manor Seafood, I was left without my favorite gold coin chicken in town.  So of course I was gonna see if the version here would be a worthy successor...

Well, as it turned out, they lied.  There were TWO slices of pork fat (冰肉) sitting on top of the piece of char siu, and a thick slice of pan-fried foie gras capped it all off.  It was pretty satisfying, and I did underwrite the extra piece my friend didn't want.  However, I still miss the version from Manor, as I prefer more char siu and also more honey glaze.

Poached fish mousse soup with bamboo piths and bean curd (竹笙魚圓) - the fish balls were very light and fluffy as I expected, and the tofu chiffonade (文思豆腐) is always a testament to the knife skills of the chef.  Also came with bamboo piths, shredded ham and conpoy.

Braised lamb brisket in "The-8 style" (京式燒羊腩) - I have always loved this style of lamb, and I wasn't disappointed.

Leafy amaranth in superior broth (上湯浸莧菜) - there's always room for veggies in a Chinese meal... although we probably should have gotten more to balance things out.  Love the garlic cloves!

Suckling pig stuffed with fried rice and preserved meat (原隻乳豬焗飯) - it's been way, waaaay too long since I last had a stuffed pig, and I knew I wanted to come here and try this version again.

This here pig was stuffed not with glutinous rice, but with fried rice that was equally delicious, if slightly less filling.  We decided that each of us would only have one thick slice, and packed the rest to take home.

Steamed pork patties with salty fish (傳統家鄉咸魚蒸肉餅) - what I love about top-notch Cantonese restaurants is that they take great care to do the even the simplest, homey dishes.  We ordered this halfway through our dinner, and had to wait a while because the pork had to be pounded by hand à la minute.  The result was an amazing texture for the pork.  This was a little too salty to be taken on its own without rice, although the fluffy egg whites helped balance things out a little.  Oh, and in terms of food and wine matching, I'd say this went perfectly with our Vosne-Romanée!

We decided we had to save room for desserts, and ordered up a storm in that department...

Portuguese egg tarts (葡式蛋撻) - hmmmm... methinks the pastry chef wasn't in the house tonight, as custard in these tartlets definitely looked like they shrank.  But still tasty, though.

Milk tea (奶茶) - milk tea usually doesn't do anything for me, but I looooove this one for its complex, strong flavors.  There's a reason why we only get a small cup of this... as someone would discover hours later while lying in bed unable to drift off to sleep...

Puff pastry with egg custard in light genseng flavour (奶皇人參酥,略帶人參味道) - oh I could taste the ginseng alright... it's distinctive enough.  Pretty interesting.

Deep-fried turtle gelatine accompanied with cotton candy (脆皮參蜜龜苓膏) - the turtle jelly was OK.  The cotton candy came in the shape of a bunny, which was promptly dismembered...

And my friends all decided that I should eat this cute little turtle, which was filled with the same ginseng-flavored egg custard that was in the puff pastry.  OK, OK... I get it... Y'all think I'm a 王八...

Coffee jelly (咖啡啫喱) - loved this so much from last time that I had to order it.

Mango with glutinous rice (芒果糯米) - not your typical version.  The glutinous rice was cooked with coconut milk till it's soft and stuck together... on its way to becoming porridge.

Black and white sesame pudding with sesame ice-cream (黑白芝麻布甸配芝麻雪糕) - loved this from last time, too... so recommended this to the gang.  Slurp.

Finally... les vins!  This trip was really an excuse to drink wine, so of course the wines would be front-and-center of attention.

1976 von Hövel Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese - a little floral, white flowers, a little flinty, granite and marmalade.  Medium acidity.  Seemed a little diluted at first, but in reality this was just an elegant wine, and went down very smoothly.

1999 Prieuré Roch Vosne-Romanée Clos Goillotte - very cloudy, a little dirty, lovely sweet and ripe fruit, plummy.  Paired perfectly with salty fish.

Trilogie - this is a curiosity... a non-vintage wine made from a blend of multiple vintages of declassified wines from Le Pin.  This particular bottling was a blend of 2007 and 2008.  Pretty sweet, a little sharp on the nose, very minty, some tree park and pine resin perhaps.  Also cedar.  Sweet on the palate, and concentrated.

1985 Louis Remy Chambertin - made the mistake of not tasting this wine before the salty fish arrived... so all I could smell from my glass was the stinky salty fish and preserved leafy mustard (梅菜)... Nice and aged so it drank very smoothly.

1992 Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Riesling Beerenauslese in half bottle - tangerine peel, lovely minerality and white flowers.  Round on the palate with a very long finish.  Almost a little fizzy.  Wonderful acidity balance.

That was definitely a good amount of food, and certainly enough wine to make life very enjoyable.  Time to walk off some of the calories by patrolling the casino floors...

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