March 29, 2015

Bolshoi in Hong Kong

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I'm lucky to have friends around me who love performing arts, and they always manage to take time out to book tickets for sought-after shows.  Last year my friend Ninja booked tickets for us to go see Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's production of Iphigenia in Tauris.  I was so, so grateful that she remembered how much I enjoy Pina Bausch's work... then I proceeded to do a complete fuckup when I got the showtime confused, and organized a weekend eating trip to Macau.  Not only did I deprive myself of a great performance, I also ended up making Ninja go watch the show on her own.

This year Ninja and I kinda coordinated early, and she picked up tickets to a bunch of shows.  Most interesting among them were the two shows by The Bolshoi Ballet.  Yes, I can count the number of times I've seen ballet on one hand, and this would be the perfect opportunity to get more exposure.

March 28, 2015

Earth Hour 2015

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It's that time of the year again, and for the seventh year I participated in Earth Hour.  While I stayed away from Victoria Harbor last year and simply jogged under the stars, this year I decided to go back and watch the harbor go dark.

I wanted to make sure that I was out in the open before 8:30 p.m., and after a quick bite, Hello Kitty and I quickly left Harbour City and walked towards the harbor front.  By the time we reached the water, most of the major commercial buildings on the Hong Kong side that I could see had gone dark.

March 26, 2015

Repetition at the speakeasy

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For the last 6 months, as I have been raving about the private dining facility that I have been privileged to be introduced to, more and more of my friends have been asking me to take them there.  Since the place isn't really open to the public, I guess there really isn't an alternative for them... I am the only access since I'm considered "in".  So I've been going back on a monthly basis, as friends who have already been request for repeat visits, and friends who have read my previous posts ask to try the delicious cuisine.

Yeah... I have a pretty tough life... This feels almost a little like On Lot 10, in a way that my friends always asked to go there with me, as they knew that our food would invariably be special and more interesting than if they went on their own.

Tonight the party was larger than usual.  We had been doing dinners for 8 to 10 people, but in the last 2 days the ranks swelled to 13, which in a way helped bring down the cost slightly.  As usual I asked for a couple of modifications to the chef's proposed menu.

Barbecued Iberico pork (黑毛豬叉燒) - we started with this as we waited for the last couple to arrive.  Very, very good tonight... possibly the best version I've had here.  It was truly half-half (半肥瘦), and that pork fat was just sooooo delicious... you wanna position it between your teeth, and just kinda put pressure on it and squeeze some of the liquid fat out, and feel it drip onto your tongue.

March 25, 2015

Speedy goose

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A quick dinner at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) before crossing the harbor for the Bolshoi Ballet, at the request of my friend.

Given her penchant for the roast goose leg, and the fact that there were two of us, I suggested that we order a portion of lower-quarter (下庄).  Perfect amount for two people, plus you are guaranteed a leg.  I do love the prominent five-spice flavors of the goose here, especially the star anise.

We also ordered a plate of blanched choy sum (菜心) on the side.  Gotta get your veg in!  A plate of rice on the side makes the meal complete.

March 24, 2015

100-point Porn

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Us MNSC boys are a disorganized busy bunch, with a few of us being out of town on a regular weekly/monthly basis, so as the years have gone by, it has become increasingly difficult to pin everyone down for our dinners.  After failing to agree on a date for our annual dinner - where all members would be present - for a whole three months, we delayed that gathering yet again and decided just to have the Ox host a regular tasting dinner tonight.

We also had a last minute change of venue, and ended up - to no one's surprise - at The Porn Pawn.  I was, of course, only too happy to check out the dishes now available this season.

Charcuterie board: Ibérico shoulder, air-dried duck, chorizo, pork rillettes, pickle, grape chutney, duck liver parfait, grilled toast - this was pretty awesome, especially the beautiful lardo, the rillettes, and of course the incredibly smooth parfait.  If I weren't worried about getting stuffed too early, I would have had another piece of toast and spread more parfait and rillettes on top.

March 22, 2015

The end of a chapter

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At a dinner earlier this month, I received word that Chef Hideaki Sato was leaving Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), a restaurant much beloved by myself as well as the Tiggers.  This came as a big shock to me, and I immediately checked with Chef Sato on his departure date.  When I was told that he was due to leave at the end of the month, I quickly organized a last dinner with the Tiggers.  It is, after all, their favorite Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong.

Tonight's menu read a little like a "greatest hits" collection, with a number of my favorite dishes sampled over the last 3 years.  I was only too happy to be able to taste them again one last time...

Deep fried sea urchin from Hokkaido wrapped in seaweed (レアに仕上げた浜中の "海水雲丹" サクサク磯辺揚げ) - I've had this before, and didn't really like it on previous visits.  Sandwiched between nori (のり) seaweed and then wrapped in rice paper before deep-frying.

March 19, 2015

Neighborhood madam

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I had the pleasure of entertaining someone special tonight.  Big Sister Madam has been out of town for a while, and I felt pretty privileged when she agreed to let me take her out for dinner over a bottle of wine.

Our dinner reservation was a late one, so we met up at the Amber Bar for a drink.  I was curious about their wine cocktails, and ended up ordering one using Stonier's Pinot Noir as a base while adding crème de cassis, crème de lychees, and orange.  Not surprisingly this tasted very sweet, and with a few chunks of orange peel floating on top, this tasted a little like a very sweet sangria...

Having been responsible for introducing Big Sister to On Lot 10, it was no surprised that she requested to go to Neighborhood.  It's actually been a while since I was last there, and I was ever so happy to show my friend David Lai some love!

We weren't in the mood for a feast, so we just picked up a couple of "simple" dishes that struck our fancy...

Rocket/pigsear salad - I wanted something with veg, and at the same time I could never resist the lure of pig's ears... especially when there are also croûtons and chopped bits of lardon thrown in.  Love the sharp acidity here.

March 16, 2015

Chef Talks: sustainable consumption

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Tonight I attended a talk at the Fringe Club organized by Slow Food Hong Kong.  It's part of a whole series of talks featuring prominent chefs in town, and tonight there were two featured speakers - my good friend David Lai from Neighborhood (and formerly of On Lot 10), and Nurdin Topham from NUR.  The two of them took turns talking about their experiences in Hong Kong, focusing on their use of sustainable produce.

Nurdin Topham is a relative newcomer to Hong Kong.  He talked about how the 10 years he spent with Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons have shaped him, especially the philosophy of using high quality, organic, sustainable produce.  In the short period that he has been here, he spent a good deal of effort trying to make sure his ingredients are seasonal and come from local sources - as much as possible, anyway.  This was something I pondered while dining at NUR for the first time just a few days ago.  While proteins - especially meats - are hard to source locally, fruits and vegetables are a little easier... but even those can be challenging given the quality of sustainable and organic local produce.

March 13, 2015


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NUR was always a restaurant I would have loved to trash for a number of reasons.  First, the PR machine made a big deal out of Chef Nurdin Topham's time at Noma - where he staged briefly, then spent a few months interning at the Nordic Food Lab.  I used to say that "everyone and their dog has worked at elBulli", and nowadays that phrase is certainly applicable to Noma.  I'm not saying that Chef Topham's experience at Noma and the Nordic Food Lab wasn't revelatory or had influenced his cooking, but the guy spent a decade with Raymond Blanc, and nobody seemed to be interested in that piece of info.  That's perhaps understandable, I guess... because how many restaurant PRs in this town actually know who Raymond Blanc is?

The second reason there was an open invitation to trashing was the PR spin about the restaurant's stated policy of sourcing ingredients locally - getting on the "local farm-to-table" bandwagon.  Now, I'm not pooh-poohing the movement.  I do support it and feel that it is best to eat things sourced locally - both from a freshness point of view and also from a carbon footprint angle.  But I was browsing through pages in blogosphere, and everywhere I looked there were things like Irish salmon, Gillardeau oysters, Stockyard wagyu, Taiyouran egg... etc.  So what, exactly, was being sourced locally, other than the few herbs and veg?!  Was this yet another case of PR spinning a story and hyping it up?!

Whatever the case, I ignored most of the reports coming out from the initial flood of invitational meals and decided to stay away.  I wasn't invited anyway...  Over time, though, more friends whose opinions I trust delivered positive feedback.  Then Rubberman decided to give these guys a macaron at the end of last year, and that finally piqued my interest.

So when I Love Lubutin asked whether I had any interest in checking out the place, I didn't hesitate to say yes.  She promptly called the restaurant for a booking, only to receive a confirmation e-mail that started by saying "Dear Mr. XXX"...  We both lamented that in the 21st century, there are still plenty of restaurants in this town where the staff assumes that a woman calling to make a reservation must be a secretary calling for her male boss.  It wasn't the first time, and it ain't gonna be the last...

I arrived at the restaurant first, and immediately the staff assumed I was said Mr. XXX... I, of course, couldn't be bothered to correct them.  It is what it is...

We were lucky to be seated in the alcove by the entrance, which appeared to have the best lighting in the entire restaurant.  However, I quickly realized I was surrounded by a ton of large glass jars, some of which contained liquids or items soaked in liquid.  With the way the jars were lit by spotlights underneath the jars, they actually created eerie glows within the jars.  I felt like I was in a biology lab looking at jars of specimens in formaldehyde... or maybe I was Steve Martin in the movie The Man with Two Brains.  Either way, it was a little freaky to me.

The restaurant only offers a single tasting menu, so after confirming to the staff that I had no allergies or preferences, there wasn't much to do except wait for the food to arrive.

First up was a trio of nibbles.  From the left:
Beetroot taco - with beetroot chutney and watercress emulsion.  Sweeter than expected.
Dehydrated candied carrots - with carrot powder on the side, along with cumin powder on sour cream.
Melon with pickled cucumber - paprika on top.

March 12, 2015

Flavors of Niigata

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The latest victim I chose to skewer review for the South China Morning Post this month was Ebi-no-Hige (海老の髭) - the first Hong Kong outpost of a hospitality group from Niigata (新潟).  The izakaya features a good selection of dishes that includes regional specialties, which both No Fish and I found interesting, so we picked this place over a couple of others.

The set menus didn't look too interesting as they didn't feature much in the way of Niigata specialties, so I decided to order à la carte instead.

Our server came and plopped the appetizer onto the table and left without any word or explanation.  I guess this is what we should expect from izakayas... or is it?  As it turns out, this was pretty much the case throughout the entire dinner - just about every dish came without any introductions.  I guess since I had ordered every single dish off the menu myself, the staff figured that was no need to point out the obvious...

Anyway, one quick glance and it's obvious why we got this as the appetizer.  After all, the name of the restaurant literally translates to "shrimp's beard", and those are some long antennae!

March 11, 2015

Hisashiburi Imamura, part 2

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Tonight was supposed to something really exciting to a few of us - a special dinner to revisit some of the favorite dishes from a restaurant that no longer is.  But it didn't work out as originally planned, and as a backup, I suggested that we do Japanese instead - so I could open a particular bottle of sake.

Today, after all, is the 4th anniversary of the Tohoku disaster.  I still remember watching the events unfold on TV like I was witnessing a nightmare, and I had organized a couple of dinners in the months that followed in support of Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong - including one whose chef had lost his brother in the disaster.  At those dinners we opened bottles of sake from different prefectures in the Tohoku region, as a way to support business in the region.  I would be doing the same tonight.

As our favorite izakaya was no more, my friend suggested having sushi at Imamura (今村).  This place used to be one of the only high-end sushi restaurants that I would go to, but I haven't been here in a while.  In fact, my last visit over 5 years ago was itself a refresher after a long absence.  There are now many alternatives for high-end sushi in town.  How will this place stack up?

I guess the understanding is that when you sit down at the counter, you are automatically asking for omakase (御任せ)... because we were never asked, other than checking for allergies and preferences.  Omakase it is, then... even though I would have preferred a smaller dinner.

A trio of starters came:
This was a fish that was supposedly called メルゲ - although I couldn't figure out what exactly it was - on top of a bed of raw onions, with sesame dressing.

Mozuku (水雲) - marinated in ponzu (ポン酢) and served with a little ginger.

Monkfish liver (鮟肝) with cockle shell (とりがい) - always love the creamy texture of the monkfish liver, and the diced onions are a natural accompaniment.  The cockle shell wasn't bad, either.

March 10, 2015

Still not Samsung

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The boss is in town again and decided to take us out for dinner.  We are lucky that the boss likes to eat, and isn't averse to spending a little bit of money on us.  He's been wanting to try out a few Michelin 2- and 3-star places in town, but in the past he's always suggested them at the last minute - which made it near impossible to secure a table.  At least we had a few days' advance warning this time...

Of the three choices the boss mentioned, I couldn't help uttering a sarcastic snicker when I saw the name Lung King Heen (龍景軒)... again.  This place has been on the boss' hit list for the longest time, and it's always been a real pain-in-the-ass to book.  I was halfway through typing my email reply when I thought to myself that... I really should have at least called the restaurant and gotten rejected for real, before asking the boss to forget the idea.  So I picked up the phone and called.  To my surprise, I got ourselves a table with less than a week's notice.

It's been four years since my last dinner here, so I made sure to do a little homework and went over the menu - picking out a few dishes that looked interesting (at least to me...).  The boss and the crew all had their requests, and I was ask to fill out the rest of the blanks.

Gluten with lemongrass - our amuse bouche.  None of us could detect any hint of lemongrass, but our server definitely mentioned 香茅...

Barbecued suckling pig (片皮乳豬件) - the crackling was pretty good, but somehow I wasn't as big a fan of the meat... I thought it was a little too lean.


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