October 31, 2014

Money CAN buy happiness

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Butcher's Club Burger has generated a lot of buzz in the months since its opening, with its staple of dry-aged beef burgers along with a bunch of off-menu items on their "Secret Menu".  It's also been running a series of "Burger Takeover" offerings where different chefs around town come in and do their special versions of burgers for a limited time.  I liked the burger (actually, half a burger) I had the only time I went, and even though I was mostly drunk at the time, I remember being impressed.  Unfortunately all I've heard since then was that the lines are simply too long at regular meal times, so I never went back for another bite.

A few days ago I found out that the latest Burger Takeover features a burger put together by Gregoire Michaud, who also put together some very sinful looking bacon profiteroles that I saw pictures of.  After a few of my friends went and provided positive feedback, I figured it was time to make the trek and grab one for myself.

October 30, 2014

Another mediocre 'celebrity chef' restaurant

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Like my fellow blogger Gary, I will preface this post by saying out loud (for the hundredth time) that I've never been a fan of Dining Concepts' restaurants.  I've been to a handful of their numerous outlets over the years, and so far I have had the overwhelming urge to go back to... just about none of them.  It's not that they serve bad food, but mediocrity runs through their veins, and there's no pull factor for return visits.

Then came a string of so-called 'celebrity chef' outlets - which started years ago with Olive - probably the lone outlet of the group I have fond memories of.  Then it was Michael White's Brainless Al Molo followed by Mario Batali's widely-panned Lupa and the now-defunct Carnevino.  The latest gweilo big name to plant his flag in these territories is Gordon Ramsay, who opened the doors to Bread Street Kitchen a few weeks ago.  All of these guys inexplicably chose Dining Concepts as their partner.  Why?  Well, I'm told that when posed with the question, Mario Batali said something along the lines of "Because my good friend Michael White told me to."   Orz x10...

Anyway, I can't even begin to count the number of times I've been asked about my experiences with the two new "celebrity chef restaurants" which opened up recently (the other one being Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italian), and my standard response has been that I have little or no desire to pay either a visit.   I wasn't about to pay out of my own pocket to go there, and since the restaurants themselves would never have invited me (and I probably would have turned down those invitations anyway), I was pretty much destined to not dine at either...

...until I was asked to join a review of Bread Street Kitchen.  Being slightly higher-end than the other - and with slightly better feedback from the community - I decided to join a small roundtable for lunch.

The organizer was unable to book by phone, so CY689 arrived early and got us seated in the bar area.  We wanted to sit at a high table for four instead of at the big communal table that seats about ten, but the request was turned down.  Later on another group of four came in, and while they were initially seated at the other end of our communal table, they were soon relocated to the table which we had requested to sit at.  So... did we not look respectable enough?!  Must have been the way CY689 was dressed... Anyway, we ordered up a storm to share...

First came our starters:

Seared scallops with carrot puree, treacle bacon, celery cress - the scallops were mi-cuit and pretty decent.  Adding a little bit of bacon with molasses made it a little more interesting than usual.

October 28, 2014

Three little birds

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So here I am.  Again.  At what I nowadays refer to as My Favorite Restaurant.  Yes, boys and girls... I'm back at On Lot 10 for another dinner.  Afu was coming into town for a few days, and demanded that I take him here.  I took the opportunity to introduce him to the Great One and invited her along.  I was also originally supposed to dine with Mr. Ho tonight at a venue I haven't tried before, and since it's always better to have one more mouth at the table - and he originally wanted to come to On Lot 10, anyway - I roped him in so that we could be a table of four.  Now we have the bare minimum number of mouths to feed properly...

As usual I only pre-ordered two ingredients with David and left the rest up to him.  Upon hearing the series of dishes he had in store for us after my arrival, I tried in vain to convince him to cut down on the amount of food - knowing the beef at the end will deliver the knock-out punch.  Initially he agreed to send us fewer starters, but in the end I think he didn't listen to me at all, which was just typical...

Salted cod, truffle potato / "taoyoran" egg / espelette pepper - pretty interesting, and I'm always a big fan of salted cod.  The potatoes were surprisingly a little acidic, but I loved the black truffle and piment d'espelette used to flavor the dish.  Needless to say the Japanese egg was superb.

October 25, 2014

Reptile night

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a group of friends, trying to fix a date for our next gathering.  After a round of discussions, it was decided that we would go for some Chinese food.  I suggested we try the private entertainment facility next to my office - IF I could manage to book it.

When I called the number for reservations, the lady at the other end of the line asked me whether I had ever been there - as they are not open to "public".  When I told her that I had been there at the invitation of the organizer of my first dinner - and specifically mentioned the date - it was apparent to me that she checked the booking history to verify my claims.  After she was satisfied that I was kosher, only then was I allowed to make a booking.

A few days ago, I received a copy of the menu from the chef.  I was happy to the point of giddiness.  Listed among the other items was the snake soup that I had been longing to try - especially given the pedigree of the chef.  There was also the mountain turtle which I didn't get to have at the last two dinners, plus a host of other stuff.  When My Favorite Cousin saw the menu, her response was simply: "reptile night is it?"

Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - once again dinner started with a plate of this.  Some people complained that the char siu wasn't fatty enough, although they admitted that even the lean meat was tender and not tough.  In the end there wasn't very much left on the plate, so I guess people did enjoy the caramelized and charred edges...

Starry day in Kwun Tong

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The original plan for today was to putz around at home until after lunch, then make my way to the island side for a kiddie birthday party followed by dinner.  As a result of an invitation to Kwun Tong, I decided to make it a real excursion and ended up making 3 stops around this area that's normally off my map...

I dragged my ass out of bed to catch the early show of McDull: Me and My Mum (麥兜 我和我媽媽).  I've always loved McMug (麥嘜) and McDull (麥兜) ever since I was introduced to them over a decade ago - yes, I love juvenile, "low B (低B)" humor - but I've kinda missed out on the movies that came after the first two.  So I went to Kwun Tong to watch this early show before it disappeared off the screens.

October 20, 2014

Truffled boar

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Last week Harlan G posted a picture on Facebook, reminding people that as the weather gets cooler, it might be a good idea to keep warm with a bowl of his wild boar ragout pasta.  Well, it's been a while since my last bowl, so I quickly called up Gold by Harlan Goldstein and got myself a reservation.  I also grabbed a couple of the Alcoholics along, since they are my usual partners in crime when it comes to this joint.

While the ladies seemed hungry and dug into some focaccia and their crab cake, I sat silently while they indulged... preferring to save my stomach space exclusively for the dish that I had come for.

October 19, 2014

A quiet Sunday dinner

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It's been a while since I last had a meal with the Tiggers, and tonight was an opportunity to catch up with them.  I can't remember the last time I was at Wan Wah (文華廳) for dinner, but it was kinda nice to try out different dishes than what I'd been having at lunch on the weekends.

Marinated fresh abalone with jellyfish (海蜇鹵水鮮鮑魚) - the abalone had very nice flavors from the marinade.  The jellyfish heads were excellent - perfectly crunchy without being too much.

Deep fried air dried beef, tangerine peel, sweet and sour sauce (陳皮香脆薄牛肉) - this was interesting... very thin slices of air-fried beef, deep-fried until it's crunchy.  Definitely tasted the sweet and sour glaze, plus the distinctive flavors of the aged tangerine peel.

October 18, 2014

Holy mother of fish head

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A friend is entertaining a group of Taiwanese foodies, and my services were once again called upon to ensure that a good time was had by all.  Would it surprise anyone that my go-to restaurant for such an occasion turned out to be On Lot 10?  I think not...  We chose not to book out the entire section upstairs, and as it turned out there was another party of equal size sharing the space.  I was initially a little apprehensive, knowing how loud a group of 12 can get after a little alcohol.  Guess what?  The youngsters at the next table weren't exactly quiet, either...

After a little wine tasting at a friendly wine merchant in Central, the gang casually strolled over to the restaurant, almost a full hour before we were expected.  The kitchen probably had to scramble a little to come up with some food while we started sipping on bubbly...  As usual I discussed the menu with David but made only one request for the beef.  Everything else was carte blanche per SOP...

David decided to hit us with a series of heavy main courses, so we got off a little easy on the starters... like this simple salad with just frisée, radish, endive and herbs.  A little green (OK, this wasn't that green...) never hurt nobody.

Whole steamed Breton artichoke, anchoaïde - and more green!  Before On Lot 10, I had also never had eaten artichokes whole, either... so it was natural for the guests to be surprised at the sight of these large spheres.  So nice with the tart anchoaïde.

Food blogger scum

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So... almost exactly a year after my last rant about food blogger(s), here I am writing another rant piece.  And this time I'm naming names.  Last year I made vague references to a certain person I called scumbag 人渣 because I find his behavior reprehensible.  You would have thought he'd learned his lesson, but no, apparently Daniel Ho - who is the "super-duper mega popular 超級宇宙無敵人氣 blogger" behind siuyeahdragon 為食龍少爺 - has done it again.  So now the gloves come off, and FLAME mode is ON!! (apologies for using this near-obsolete internet speak... it's what we used when I first got on the internet before the so-called World Wide Web even existed...)

October 15, 2014

Sweeping the Neighborhood

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Tonight was a real exciting evening for us, as we were paying our first visit to a brand-new restaurant during its very short soft-opening period.  It's no secret that David Lai from On Lot 10 is my favorite chef in town, and we've become friends over the last few years.  So when his long-awaited new project was finally ready to receive customers, we waited no time in getting ourselves a table.

Much like the other restaurant I visited last week during their soft-opening period, Neighborhood also charges only 50% of normal food prices during its very short soft-opening.  It's a practice we whole-heartedly agree with, and we can only hope that it's adopted by more restos in town in the future.

The Worm Supplier had scoped out the menu, and it was already decided that we would "sweep the menu (掃餐牌)" - the local expression of ordering every single item on a menu (or a page of the menu).  Given that there were at least 6 of us and only about 20 dishes on the entire menu, this wasn't really a challenge.  And we called ahead to let the restaurant know that we would be ordering every single dish, so that we wouldn't be faced with the unpleasant surprise of having them run out of something.  Unfortunately, there was still one item on the menu which wasn't available...

So here goes...

Rocket salad / fresh cheese - pretty simple... just arugula, slices of goat cheese and olives with a sprinkle of finely chopped chives.

Charcuterie - prosciutto, salami and lardo di colonnata.  The lardo was a little more salty than I expected, and also flavored with rosemary and paprika (?)  I was the last to dig in, and when I expressed my dismay that there was no more lardo left for me, two of my generous friends offered up part of their lardo to me.  And the phrase "and I don't give lardo to just anyone" was uttered in the process.  My eyes instantly became a little moist...

October 11, 2014

(not so) Happy sushi

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For the last few years, I found myself eating less and less sushi in Hong Kong.  Unlike many of my friends, I rarely develop a craving for it.  Since I can find good sushi in Taipei that is just as good or better - and at a significant discount to the prices in Hong Kong - I've kinda been getting my sushi fix there instead.

As a result, I no longer know where to get good sushi in Hong Kong.  Realizing that there's a gaping hole in the dining experiences documented here, I decided it was time for me to check out a few places in town.  A friend suggested that we do lunch at Kishoku (楽) - one of the places often mentioned when it comes to sushi, and a winner of the Top 10 Restaurant Award from WOM guide in the category of Japanese (Sushi).

I didn't want to have a real heavy lunch, so I opted for the deluxe sushi platter (寿司盛り合わせ).  I also specified - as usual - that I didn't want any cut of tuna.

The bowl of appetizer contained chopped mixed seafood - different cuts of fish and shellfish - in a sesame and horseradish sauce.  Not bad, but I was a little surprised by the kick from the horseradish.

The salad was about as expected.

October 8, 2014

Classic Continental offerings

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Almost a month had passed since my first review meal for the South China Morning Post's First Served column, so it was time for me to pick out a new victim to skewer venue to try.  The hot new opening of the moment seemed to be The Continental, which took over the space previously occupied by Domani.  Swire not only brought in famed Rowley Leigh of Le Café Anglais as chef consultant, they also brought in the design team behind the Wolseley.  And Da Jam from WOM even punched out an interview with Chef Leigh last week... So definitely worthy of attention, then...

...except... the restaurant was due to be officially open on the 13th, and my column was due in the morning on the 13th.  I called the restaurant to make a reservation, only to be told that they are in their "soft opening" period and everything was "by invitation only".  Having turned down an invitation to join a group of fellow winos for a preview last week, an invitation was something I was clearly lacking.

What was one to do? It was suggested that I simply try to walk in.  Well, I suppose that could work, but I'd need a backup just in case I was refused entry.  So I made a booking somewhere else, trekked over to Pacific Place and hoped for the best.

October 7, 2014

More private dining next door

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Last month I had the good fortune of visiting a very exclusive private kitchen, and during that dinner the same gang pinned down a date when we could gather again for a different menu.  So once again I found myself casually strolling out of the office and simply walk cross the street to get to dinner.

Before dinner started we were informed that, sadly, a few of the dishes we had been looking forward to were not available - including the famous snake soup.  That's a shame, because I would have liked to hear what Dashijie thought of this particular version...

Like last time, our organizer had recommended pairing up certain wines with each dish, but I was surprised we started with a bottle of Pomerol as the apéritif...

2003 Gazin - smoky nose with some fruit, with meaty and savory, mineral notes.

Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - dare I say tonight's batch was even better than last time?  The lean meat was a little chewy, but the fatty bits were awesome... and nicely caramelized at the edges.

October 5, 2014

Leaf day wine tasting

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Gayliao was in town for a few days, and took the opportunity to host his MNSC tasting tonight.  We kinda debated about where we would have dinner given all this Occupy business going on around town, and eventually settled on Seventh Son (家全七福).

Deep-fried chicken barbecued kidney in egg custard (雞子戈炸) - chicken "kidney"?!  Really?!  I always thought this was made with chicken testicles, if people were still using that as an ingredient at all...  I should probably ask the kitchen next time.  Anyway, the chicken flavor was certainly very prominent tonight... and tasted like chicken soup.

October 4, 2014

Standing up against violence and thugs

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For those of us in Hong Kong, the combined protests by students and other citizens under the banner known as Occupy Central (with Love and Peace) / Occupy Hong Kong / Umbrella Movement has been going on for about a week now.  Things escalated last weekend when the Hong Kong Police decided to fire teargas on the crowd, which only served to galvanize public support for the protests.

Since then the protests have spread outside of the original area known as Admiralty (which is adjacent to Central), first to Mongkok and also to Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui.  There has always been debate about whether the protests should focus on the central business district of Hong Kong as originally intended, but there was no stopping the spontaneous actions without a central command for this movement.

On Friday this took a turn for the worse as what some of us feared turned into reality.  Mongkok has always been an area tainted by triad activity, and scuffles broke out throughout the day.  Different factions who opposed the blockade began arguing with the protesters, and some of that led to violent confrontations.  Tents were torn down, people were physically beaten, a few people even ended up bleeding.  Emotions ran high throughout the evening and into the next day.

I wasn't anywhere near Mongkok, and I couldn't tell you what really happened.  I looked to a variety of sources - both from traditional and social media - for news about what transpired.  There seemed to be a mix of agitators.  While some were probably neighborhood citizens who were angered by the disruption caused to their lives - not to mention the negative economic impact - there seemed to be more than a fair share of unsavory-looking characters who, shall we say, may have more colorful backgrounds and "associations".

While the Umbrella Movement protesters have mostly remained peaceful and non-violent, these new people who arrived in the area were clearly looking for trouble.  Fights broke out, and from the very narrow viewpoint afforded to me in the comfort of my chair, there seemed to be a conspicuous absence of police on scene.  According to some reports - which admittedly may be biased - police made little effort to intervene and halt the spread of violence.  There certainly wasn't the same level of crackdown and use of force as was witnessed on September 28th.  Hell, looking at the number of arrests made on the two days, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the police was letting the thugs off the hook.  Numerous reports surfaced regarding instances where police arrested violent thugs, walked a couple of blocks away from the crowd, and subsequently released them.  Charges of collusion between police and triads quickly spread.


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