May 30, 2014

Last hurrah for Le French May

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The Alcoholics have a visitor from out of town, and we hadn't seen him for a few months since that trip to Seoul never actually happened.  Bistronomique @Staunton was chosen as the venue four our gathering tonight, since the food is always good at Bistronomique, and the corkage policy is pretty friendly.

As the Specialist was gonna be late due to a conflicting engagement, we started with a few appetizers to share while we opened and slowly sipped the wines...

These filo pastry rolls were stuffed with spinach, truffle and cheese.  Not bad.

May 28, 2014

The best of Porto

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I've been pretty busy at work lately, and consequently have chosen not to go to Vinexpo this year.  After all, it just doesn't seem right to skip out of the office for "meetings" in the middle of the day, only to either return flushed red and wobbly or worse, call back to the office and tell the staff that I wasn't going back.  I did it a few years ago at previous Vinexpos but this time around, it just felt wrong to do it.

So I was getting ready for a long night in the office to clear some backlog, when my trusted wine merchant friend pinged us and asked if anyone was free to join a Port tasting, and promised that it wouldn't be a waste of time.  Well, he's never led me down the wrong path before, so I locked up the office and jumped into a cab.

I snuck into the back of the function room just a few minutes after the Quinta do Noval Masterclass started.  I never understood the word "masterclass" but the term is pretty widely used nowadays.  Anyway, the room was full of wine merchants and sommeliers, and I wasn't exactly on the official invite list.  But there were plenty of empty seats in the room and all that wine was already poured into glasses, so all I was doing by crashing was not letting them to go waste.  And believe me, some of these wines are so rare you wouldn't want them to go to waste!

May 27, 2014

Bouchon Lyonnais à Hong Kong

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One of my biggest regrets from my last trip to France was that I didn't spend nearly enough time in Lyon.  I only had half a day - enough to squeeze in a lunch and a dinner.  But at least I got to lunch at an authentique bouchon lyonnais, and the food was simple yet fantastic.  So when I saw people posting pictures and found that Cafe Causette was doing bouchon-style dishes for Le French May, I knew I needed to go and scratch that itch...

I made a pit stop for lunch on Saturday, but found that the selections were very limited during the day.  Needless to say I was disappointed, but I picked something simple and vowed to return for dinner before the end of the month.

Boudin blanc - the sausage was supposedly made with chicken and foie gras, but I really didn't get much (if any) foie gras at all.  Nevertheless, it was simple and satisfying.  Loved the caramelized apple and calvados sauce.

May 26, 2014

Engrish on the menu

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Senpai is in town for a whirlwind visit, and a bunch of us gathered around for dinner to celebrate our long-standing friendship.  I first met Senpai about 30 years ago when we were both in high school in Tokyo, but I ran into him again when I worked alongside him as I moved to Hong Kong almost 20 years ago.  Friendships with the rest of tonight's crew extended as far back as our Wankers days when I first arrived...

It's good to take a break from our routines at Fook Lam Moon, so we convened at Liu Yuan Pavillion (留園雅敘) for some Shanghainese.  Someone asked me whether I thought one of the standard set menus from the restaurant would be good enough, but c'mon...  No self-respecting Shanghainese (OK, so I'm only a quarter...) would cop out and do that!  Must order à la carte one!

Wheat gluten with bamboo shoots (四喜烤夫)

Cold three shredded in sauce (涼拌三絲) - interesting combination of enoki mushrooms (金針菇), beets and the pods of sugar snap peas (甜豆).  The beets seemed to have been marinated in vinegar, and the whole thing was tossed in sesame seed oil.  Very crunchy.  Nice Engrish.

May 23, 2014

La mejor carne del mundo

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Another dinner at my favorite On Lot 10.  Another instance of someone saying "Can I please go to On Lot 10 with you?"  Another happy evening.  Another case of falling asleep while sitting upright, although thankfully not at the dinner table this time.

A few of us were at a birthday dinner several weeks ago, right across the street from On Lot 10.  There was a piece of Australian wagyu that just seemed completely tasteless to me... and since we had already booked a table here by that time, I ran over during that dinner to ask David to make sure we get the real beef tonight.  I wanted to show my friends how much flavor this aged beef can actually pack in.

Another reason why I looked forward to this dinner - besides the selection of wines - was for a menu change.  One of us is allergic to shellfish, so that meant we wouldn't be having paella or bouillabaisse.  Not to complain about my #firstworldproblems - especially since those are some of David's most kick-ass creations - but I do miss having a little more variety.

Whole steamed Breton artichoke - these skinny-ass artichokes weren't as good as they usually are... especially the outermost layers where too little was edible.

Jamón ibérico, aged 48 months - one can always count on this delicious ham, as well as the pickled chili peppers from Spain.

Asparagus with sweetbreads and morels - it's asparagus season, and we had not just green but also white asparagus tonight.  Add some sweetbreads, morels, peas, soft-boiled eggs... and some yummy mushroom [and beurre noisette?] foam, and it just tastes incredible.  Quintessentially David Lai, with a shade of Ducasse.

Bordeaux Confidential

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A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting James Suckling with a friend.  At that time he was just starting to spend more time in Asia and beginning his relationship with Hong Kong Tatler.  Since then there have been a series of events hosted jointly by Hong Kong Tatler and, and even though I had received kind invitations to attend in the past, I had conflicting obligations and ended up turning them down.

So when the invitation came for Bordeaux Confidential, I know I couldn't possibly turn it down again, even though it meant sneaking out of the office for a little bit.  And I'm glad I snuck out, as I was able to catch up with a few friendly faces...

There was already a lot of people right from the start, and I knew it would be difficult to take pictures of every bottle I was tasting.  There was also a natural congestion around the tables where first growths like Mouton and Haut-Brion were pouring their wines, so I generally avoided them and started with the whites.  Besides, Uncle Henry came and there was a small crowd gathered around James and him...

May 19, 2014

Pit stop, no dessert

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I'm back in Singapore on a business trip, attending a conference hosted by our friendly prime broker.  Naturally there was a cocktail thingy at Ku De Ta on top of Marina Bay Sands, where we got to enjoy fabulous views of the city.  There was plenty of finger food, and we even started with some yummy gelato from Momolato.  But the boss wanted some real food, and so did I.

I did say to myself on my last trip to the Lion City that I might just have to come to Candlenut on each visit.  I was seriously craving the cendol cream, as well as other yummy savory dishes.  So I definitely had my own tastebuds in mind when I told the cab driver our destination.  But hey, it's the boss' first trip to Singapore, and he needs to be exposed to Peranakan cuisine, right?

As there were only two of us and we weren't exactly starving, I kept the ordering to a minimum.

Satay ayam - very, very tender and tasty chicken thighs...  If only all satays could be this yummy.

May 17, 2014

Sapphire anniversary

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Forty-five years ago today, the parental units' parents held a little shindig at what was then the very posh Magnolia Hotel (中泰賓館) to celebrate the marriage of their kids.  I popped into the world not too long after, and fast forward a few decades, I had the honor of helping the parental units celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary tonight.

Given the dearth of restaurants that I feel are acceptable for these occasions in Taipei, once again I decided to take us back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Mom was a little hesitant at first, because frankly her experience with Robuchon over the last 7 years has been hit or miss.  But I kinda insisted on this so she didn't put up much of a fight.

In all the times I've been here, I've never seen it as busy as the place was tonight - which was both good and bad.  I'm happy for the staff, since this means the business can be more sustainable.  But I also felt that the service was slipping a little tonight, perhaps because the staff isn't used to being so busy.

The amuse bouche was tomato gelée with a layer of pesto, topped with some mozzarella mousse.  With a rosemary stick on the side.

May 15, 2014

Speakeasy evening

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Mr. and Mrs. Locust have been kind enough to act as caretakers of my Taipei pad, and took the opportunity of my impending trip home to come visit Hong Kong.  While we had originally settled on checking out Serge et le Phoque together, unfortunately I had forgotten that I had also made plans to go there with Mo' Unni.  Ever the gracious guests, Mr. Locust agreed to switch the venue to Ronin, and I was more than happy to go back after my last meal with Mo' Unni.

We took the second seating, and had plenty of time to kill before dinner.  I decided to take the Locusts for a drink at Stockton.  I thought the old school speakeasy style would appeal, and I wanted to see if they would go for the Kill Devil like I did last time... They didn't, and I didn't wanna get buzzed before dinner, either... so I ended up with a cup of Mumbai Government Punch.

A relatively long walk (by Hong Kong standards) later, I found myself once again in front of that familiar unmarked door.  A short while later, we sat down at the counter and prepared for the onslaught of food.

Pickled radish and spinach

Shigoku oyster, red shiso vinegar, sudachi - always yummy.  One bite.  Great balance of acidity, creaminess and briny flavors.

May 14, 2014

Lodovico vertical

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It's been three years since I last enjoyed the pleasure of Lodovico's company, and that is simply too long.  You see, Marchese Lodovico Antinori is one of my favorite wine personalities, and I've always had tons of fun every time I see him.  So I was really excited when I was told that Mayfair Fine Wines would be hosting another dinner featuring his wines.

My friend and I were a little late to dinner at Chiu Tang (潮廳), but thankfully the cocktail session just kept going and the small group of guests were still sipping bubbly.  After a warm hug from Lodovico and a round of introductions, we eventually sat down to start dinner... and more drinking!

Poached sliced conches (堂灼響螺片) - I've always been too cheap to order this for myself, because I never felt I could justify the price for the enjoyment I get out of this.  Yes, this was very, very good.  The texture was a perfect balance between tenderness and just the right amount of crunchiness and bite.  But how much are they charging per thin slice of the conch?!  Served with a piece of conch liver on the side.

May 13, 2014

The clapping seal

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Mo' Unni wanted to check out another restaurant with me, and this time we decided on Serge et le Phoque, her original choice from last time that got passed over for Akrame.  I'd been hearing generally positive feedback about this here place, so I thought it'd be safe to come for a visit.

The restaurant is right in the middle of the wet market area in Wanchai - the exact same area where I walked around in circles looking for dinner on another evening.  Thankfully the scented candles inside the restaurant meant that the air wasn't filled with the same smells as the market.

The set up inside was kinda interesting, but unfortunately for us, all the two-tops are seated side-by-side on banquettes facing in interior of the restaurant.  The table tops are actually really tiny, and you are basically forced to be either intimate - and start encroaching on your companion's space - or you end up getting a little too close to your neighbors.  While I initially thought it strange that a joint opened by Parisian froggies would have its diners facing inward and not outward, it didn't take long for me to realize that my view of the exterior would consist of the wet market...

This was the second of my 5 nights out this week, and I would have happily chosen to have 4 courses, but Mo' Unni had other ideas.  Not wanting to be called the Girl with No Appetite ever again, she opted for the 6-course omakase, and I was more or less obliged to follow suit.

Deep-fried whitebait - this came as a snack.  How could you not love deep-fried fishies?!  Slurp.

May 12, 2014

Playing with dirt (and water, and air)

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I received a ping this morning from Chef Richard Ekkebus of Amber.  Would I be interested in joining the Azurmendi/Aziamendi pop up tonight as his guest, he asked.  To be perfectly honest, I had known about this pop up for a while, but hadn't planned on going.  I was looking forward to a night off tonight, since I was scheduled to be dining out 4 times over the next 5 nights.  But Richard isn't someone you wanna say 'no' to, especially when he's kind enough to extend an invitation like this.

So I happily said 'yes', and scrambled for the next 2 hours to borrow the right camera equipment from someone, since I foolishly left both of my SLRs at home.  Thankfully I do have a few friends with SLRs lying around, and one even got her driver to deliver it to my office.

I've always been a fan of molecular gastronomy.  Yes, the guys who brought you foam, sous vide, spherification and all that fun stuff.  Guys like Ferran Adrià of elBulli, and his countless disciplines. Well, Chef Eneko Atxa likes to play with lab equipment, too.  In addition to the syringes, circulators, steamers and dehydrators that everyone else has, he's also been known to use ultrasound to infuse and concentrate flavors, not to mention putting together a system to capture the smell of fresh herbs being cut.  Mad scientist?  Maybe.

I arrived at Amber Bar at the appointed time, and immediately ran into a few good friends.  We were all to be seated at the same table, and had among us blogueurs, been-there-done-that ex-bloggers, wannabe blogueurs, hell-no-I-am-no-bloggers, professional chefs, home chefs... and a couple of VVIP stragglers who found themselves sitting at what Da Jam once called "the cool table".  This was gonna be fun.

Grosset Brut Excellence - not a bad way to start the evening... Nice and a little toasty.

Truffled egg - I'd seen Richard post pictures of this earlier in the day, and I finally got to see it for myself during the cooking demonstration.  Raw egg yolks are placed on serving spoons.  The sac is pierced with a syringe, and half of the yolk is extracted.  Hot truffle broth is then injected into the sac, which has the effect of cooking the yolk remaining inside.  Very fun.  Very yummy.

May 9, 2014

Third time and back to square one

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One of the occupational hazards of being known as a "foodie" is that, from time to time, you get dragged requested by friends to take them to certain restaurants which you've written about.  They'll say something along the lines of "Oh I read your review on [insert restaurant name here] and it looked really good.  Can we go there?"  At which point you kinda feel obliged to comply with their requests... even though going back to said restaurant may not exactly be at the top of your list.

So it was that I went back to Akrame tonight, for my third visit in two months.  This is highly unusual in my book, although the second visit was at the restaurant's invitation while Chef Akrame Benallal was last in town.  The Specialist wanted to go somewhere new, and while Cocotte was originally her first choice, it quickly became a non-option due to a combination of the restaurant's attitude during the reservation process, pricing considerations and our my general fear of getting poisoned after I wrote this little piece...  and Akrame slid into the top spot for tonight.

I was a little surprised at the Specialist, actually.  Unlike me, she hates paying corkage, and I had made it clear to her and BFF that I had no pull with the restaurant whatsoever, so we'd better be prepared to pay full corkage.  I guess her desire to try out a new restaurant eventually trumped her distaste for corkage charge...  I was also surprised that she opted for the 6-course menu instead of the 4-course, and that prompted another friend and myself to also upgrade ourselves to 6 courses.

I was wondering why the service was slipping to the point where we weren't given any napkins, when the amuses bouches arrived on top of our folded napkins.  A little gimmicky.

Olive chip with Greek yogurt

May 8, 2014

Group regression

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It was pissing out there tonight, and not exactly a good night to be roaming around the city.  But it was time for another MNSC gathering, so I tried my damnedest to get myself across town and up to hill to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, where Dr. Poon was hosting us in the Derby Restaurant.  Unfortunately, due to a combination of my own stupidity, weather conditions and just pure bad luck, I ended up arriving last and was seriously late.

We were doing the set menu, and some of the choices had been made on my behalf.  Given that they were exactly the choices I would have made myself, this just shows how well my MNSC boys know me...

Smoked eel, beetroot and green apple, horseradish crème fraiche and crumbled pumpernickel - not bad.  I am normally not a big fan of beetroot, but in this case I think it worked well with the rest of the ingredients.

May 3, 2014

Family style comfort food

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My Birdbrain Cousin came back from her French eating and shopping tour, and this time she's got her sister in tow.  The three of us haven't been in the same spot for almost a decade, so we took the short window of opportunity to catch up over dinner.  I figured they wouldn't really need more French, so I got us a table at Tim's Kitchen (桃花源) with a view to have some homey dishes.

Steamed whole fresh crab claw with egg white (蛋白蒸原隻鮮蟹鉗) - still really delish, and the plump claw was just a hunk of sweet crab meat.  Prices for this keep going up and up, though... and is now a whole 50% more than what it was a few years ago.

May 2, 2014

Hello Kitty birthday x2

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It's that time of year again. 娜姐's birthday.  Last year I was privileged to have attended two of her birthday bashes, with the latter featuring a decidedly Hello Kitty theme.  This time our hostess chose Gough 40 for the bash, which was pretty exciting for me because - despite having been open for more than a decade - I had never been there.  For the last few years I had always been going to On Lot 10 just opposite, and for some reason just never had the inkling to try coming here.  Tonight I would finally get my chance.

Work was keeping me late in the office, and it's very poor form to show up late at someone else's birthday bash.  I sent apologetic messages to the hosts as I half-jogged from the office to the restaurant, and was told by the host to take a couple of drinks as punishment.  Anticipating a long night ahead, I decided not to follow my host's commands...

The menu looked decidedly mainstream, sticking to a selection of dishes that looked to be popular with a very local, Hong Kong crowd - as opposed to the variety of more interesting options across the landing.  I asked for a half-portion of pasta and a main course, while skipping the white pearl oysters that the crowd was sharing, because I wasn't really in the mood for oysters.

Linguine with mullet roe and smoked eel - I'm like Pavlov's dog, and salivate on command at the sight or thought of mullet roe.  Well, there wasn't a whole lot of mullet roe here, but I did notice the flavors.  The dominant flavors came from the smoked eel, which wasn't bad at all.  Interesting that there were julienned cucumbers adding the crunch, and for some reason it reminded me of the Chinese 炸醬麵 from the north.


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