October 28, 2015

The North Korean

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A friend was in town and wanted to catch up with the Great One and me, and of course we met up over dinner.  For some reason the task of choosing a restaurant fell on my shoulders, and I kept drawing blanks in my head... except for places with Japanese themes.  Since I haven't been back to Ronin for over a year - and it was doubtful that my friend had ever been - I decided it would be an interesting night out together.

As it turned out, the Great One had just seen Matt a few nights ago while dining at Amber with Ferran Adrià... before Ferran went over to Yardbird with the Amber team for his second dinner.  We had ordered a couple of our favorite dishes and asked the kitchen to "fill in the blanks", but once Matt arrived and saw us at the bar, things got a little more interesting...

The welcome snack / amuse bouche was a few pea shoots marinated in dashi (出汁) and yuzu (柚子).

Kumamoto oyster, apple, ginger - there was a hint of apple and a hint of ginger, but whatever else they put in was so salty that it covered up the creamy flavors of the oyster.

October 24, 2015

elBulli : A Tribute by Amber

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About a month ago, I returned from a long roadtrip in the US, fired up my computer, and saw a tweet about Richard Ekkebus getting Ferran Adrià to come to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental.  Being a HUGE fan of Ferran's, I immediately fired off a tweet to Richard, jokingly asking him "who do I hv 2 kill 4 a seat?"  Richard rather cleverly suggested that I "shoot" an email to him, and so I did as I was told.  Soon I had myself a table, and went about recruiting partners in crime.

There was some debate among my friends about whether the price of the dinner was "worth it" or "reasonable".  I gotta admit that when I first found out about the cost of dinner - which was, admittedly, AFTER I had asked for a table - I experienced a little sticker shock myself.  First of all... this was a book tour by Ferran.  Everyone gets a set of the massive elBulli 2005-2011, the seven-volume compendium published by Phaidon that weighs a whopping 18kg...  This presents a problem for some couples, who don't need 2 sets of books at home... and has led at least one couple to decline my invitation.

Stripping out the list price of the books makes the cost of the 12-course dinner, wine-pairing included, somewhat more palatable.  But here we run into another objection from some people : for the not-inconsiderable price, what's on the plate isn't actually cooked by Ferran or his team.  It's a menu put together by Richard and Amber Chef de Cuisine Maxime Gilbert - in consultation with (and obviously "approved by") Ferran.  So it's not exactly equivalent to a "guest chef" performance.  What you get comes 100% from Team Amber (with all due respect from this very fine team).

Comparisons were immediately made with the time Thomas Keller flew in with his team for a guest chef program at the Mandarin Oriental, and how diners experienced sticker shock back then (including myself, before later being told how much free-flowing wine was being poured at those dinners).  People scoffed this time just as they did back then.

But plenty of people wanted in on this.  Richard was jokingly being compared to Willy Wonka - holding the "golden ticket".  Lots of people were more than happy to pay, only to be left empty-handed and upset.  That's what you call "star power", and only a few people in the culinary world today command that kind of power.

As for me... even though I knew the cost of the dinner defied normal logic, but having been a huge fan of Ferran for the last 10 years (and having become an even bigger fan after having dinner with him two years ago), I dutifully bit the bullet and paid up.  I wasn't gonna miss this!

October 22, 2015

The sole meunière of the year

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Our friend David Lai has partnered with Yenn Wong and opened up Fish School, doing what he is best known for these days - serving up delicious, local seafood.  He's developed strong relationships with local fishermen and fishmongers, enabling him to get prized catch that others only hear about.  So we were very, very excited when this new project finally came to fruition.

It seemed incredible that, despite all of us being big fans and knowing David well, none of us had been to Fish School during its first week of operation.  So when Felix came back to town, we figured we'd use this as an opportunity to check the place out.

Just like Neighborhood, the entrance to Fish School is in a non-descript alley, and took me a minute or two to figure out.   At least this time around, there was a lit sign visible from the street to provide a clue.

Cutting in line at Disney

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My godson Bear got a few days off school this week, and Mrs. Tigger decided to take him for another trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.  She invited me to come along, and being the dutiful godfather that I am, I figured I'd take the afternoon off and join them.

When I arrived at the park, Bear was waiting to take pictures with Donald and Daisy - who were dressed as jack-o'-lanterns.  We were soon picked up by our guide, who would accompany us on our three-hour tour.

Now, Mrs. Tigger has obviously taken Bear to Disneyland many, many times.  So why would they need a tour guide, you ask?  Well, for the tidy sum of HKD 4,688, the guide will spend three hours with you and take you anywhere you want, while enabling you and five of your friends to cut to the front of the line on any ride or any show.  We entered through the exits and side doors of every ride, jumping in front of just about everyone else who was waiting in line.  That was pretty damn sweet!

October 19, 2015

Double trouble

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The King was coming back to town, and the gang - some of us worked together going back as far as 20 years - got together for dinner.  This time around I decided to pick the venue instead of relying on BM, as we usually do.  The King had missed out on the opportunity to lunch at my favorite private dining space earlier this year, and I really wanted for him to have a chance to sample the dishes.  I decided to rope in a couple of other old friends, too.  We've also got Winnie the Chew

Every since my last visit here, I've been waiting for an opportunity to have both the Buddha jumps over the wall (佛跳牆) and the snake soup (蛇羹) together.  I finally got my wish tonight!

Pan-fried stuffed tofu skin (香煎腐皮卷) - this was new to me, and I was looking forward to seeing how it would taste.

Stuffed with fish paste that's embedded with ham and spring onions, this was pretty good.

October 18, 2015

The parade of trolleys

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The Great One pinged and told us that Chef Francky Semblat was leaving Robuchon au Dôme - after serving as its executive chef since the restaurant's opening in 2001 - and she wanted to a final meal there before Francky's departure.  Today seemed to be an agreeable date, but we were a little late in planning this meal.  So, being the thick-skinned person that I am, I asked the PR team at Hotel Lisboa to see if they could help us secure a table.  Thankfully they were able to put us in one of the private rooms when a customer chose not to confirm.

But Francky had already left.  He's gone to help Oncle Joël open up the L'Atelier at Bund 18 in Shanghai, so the Great One missed her chance to bid him farewell.  We hear that one of the executive chefs from L'Atelier in Hong Kong is filling the post, although we didn't ask whether it would be David Alves or Julien Tongourian.  Anyway, I used the opportunity to help Winnie the Chew celebrate her birthday in style - for the second time in three days, and before her actual birthday...

The Great One threw down the gauntlet and dared us to take in the maximum number of courses for the regular set lunch, so how could any of us wimp out?  It was time to secretly loosen the belt under the table...

The first order of business at any meal here is... butter.  More specifically, Bordier butter.  The butter trolley gets wheeled in, bearing two huge mounds of my favorite French butter, as the staff asks whether we would prefer the unsalted or salted variety.  The Great One put her foot down and chose the salted butter for everyone because... why would any rational person choose the unsalted version?  The attending staff dutifully used two large dinner spoons to scrape several "ribbon" of butter from the mound and placed them on serving dishes...  Don't these look just absolutely beautiful??

October 17, 2015

Deep fried on a stick

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A few of us were getting together for dinner and some wines, and I suggested that we check out Hidden Kitchen (秀殿) - which specializes in deep-fried food on sticks (串揚げ).  A few months ago I saw a flurry of posts about the place, and was told that the place was popular with chefs in town.  This wasn't at all surprising, since the place stays open till 4:30 a.m. and would be perfect for chefs who are looking for a place to eat after they close their own restaurants.  It's kinda like one of those places that Tony Bourdain loves to check out with his chef buddies, and at the same time in the same vein as Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂)...

Upon arrival we were advised that our seating is for 2½ hours, which would be fine for a casual eatery.  We were seated at the counter but honestly, I didn't pay much attention to what the chefs were doing...  We decided to order our food in several rounds, which I think would be the right thing to do at joints like this one.

Miso garlic (にんにく味噌漬け) - surprisingly this did not have the heavy, pungent taste of garlic... In addition to miso, there were also bonito flakes (鰹節).

Pacific saury sashimi (秋刀魚の刺身) - this is the season for Pacific saury (秋刀魚), so this was fatty and nice.  There were a few pieces which were more bitter than others, tasting a little of the fish's organs.

October 16, 2015

Birthday season, again

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Another dinner for the gang to get together and celebrate two birthdays, and I'll be seeing the birthday girl three times in the next 4 days.  Apparently she requested Seasons by Olivier E. as the venue, so I guess she must have liked the food when we first went there in January...

Our VIP friend told Olivier that it was Winnie the Chew's birthday (conveniently ignoring that we were also belatedly celebrating his), so Olivier very generously sent us Champagne.  The Gosset Brut Grande Réserve was a little pungent, chalky, and dusty.  Perhaps it was a problem with the glass?  Slightly high acidity on the finish.

As usual we started with a series of nibbles, and I was glad that these were different from the ones I tried out in January.

French spicy chorizo "La Maison Louis Ospital"

October 15, 2015

No School tonight

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Another day, and another birthday celebration... this one rather belatedly.  We trekked over to Neighborhood on short notice for a casual dinner, knowing full well that the spotlight of attention is currently on Fish School, David Lai's new venture with Yenn Wong which has just opened its doors to customers 2 nights ago.

It was 6:30 p.m. and I was surprised to see David here at Neighborhood.  When I asked him why he wasn't at the new place during its 3-day soft-opening period, he said that everything was "on track" over there and he wasn't worried.  I love it when a chef is well-prepared and has confidence in his team!

We're still just getting into the white truffle season, and the quality is on an uptrend.  We were shown 2 pieces which were fragrant, and opted for the smaller piece weighing around 18 grams.

Wagyu skirt steak tartare / Cantabrian anchovy - very nice, with good bite to the chunks of beef.  Well-seasoned with little bits of peppercorn.  Also tasty with the Cantabrian anchovies.

October 14, 2015

A Great birthday

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A few of us got together and celebrated the Great One's birthday tonight.  Instead of the usual suspects, someone suggested we do Chiuchow cuisine for a change.  None of us had been to Chiu Chow Chuen (潮州邨), but it seemed promising with the Worm Supplier stopped by a couple of days ago to check the place out.  I left the ordering to the experts...

Black mullet in Chiu Chow style served cold (潮式凍魚飯 - 烏魚) - apparently this black mullet was wild-caught and even came with a little gift in its belly.  Very tender flesh.

October 13, 2015

Château Margaux dinner

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I was very fortunate to have been invited to a dinner tonight featuring the wines of Château Margaux.  Sotheby's is holding an auction in New York this week entitled "A Celebration of the Mentzelopoulos Era" featuring vintages from 1900 to 2010 - where all the wines come directly from the château - and the auction house decided to host a dinner here in Hong Kong featuring a few of the wines.

I had the privilege of visiting the château a few years ago and was warmly received by winemaker Paul Pontallier and his lovely wife Béatrice.  It helps that Thibault Pontallier, Paul's son, has been stationed in Hong Kong for the last few years to represent the château.  He arranged for a shipment of wines direct from the château, so that the wines we tasted tonight would have the same provenance as the ones in the auction.  We are, of course, very grateful for this kind arrangement.

The food tonight was catered by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which usually does a pretty good job.  Tonight the food was the best I've ever had at one of Sotheby's catered events, as just about every single dish was well-executed.

We started with some bubbly before dinner. R and L Legras Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru has been the Sotheby's house Champagne for a while, and it's always a nice drink, with good acidity balance.

Blue lobster, lemon curd, romaine foam, Parmesan - beautifully poached and flawless execution.  The flavors of the lobster were so pure, and the flavors so sweet.  The romaine foam was pretty tasty, and the use of lemon curd was pretty interesting.  Those bits of Parmesan crackers sure were tasty!

October 10, 2015

Cheese for dessert

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I found out this afternoon that My Very Very Very Very Single Engaged Friend was in town on a quick trip, and he asked me to join him for dinner.  We ended up at Shanghai Fraternity Association (上海總會) where the food is always good.

One of the best dishes of the evening was stir-fried sugar snap peas with ham (火丁甜豆).  This is a Shanghainese classic using very young sugar snap peas, which are very tender, sweet, and deliver a very satisfying pop in the mouth under pressure.  The diced ham add just the right amount of savory flavors here.

October 7, 2015

Classics for a birthday

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So we're doing another dinner for Hello Kitty's birthday, and when it came time to pick a venue, I was pretty surprised to see her choose Hugo's.  Not only have none of us been to this place, none of us have been to the original incarnation of the restaurant, either... So it was new to all of us, and I was pretty eager to check it out.

I've been eating nonstop lately, so I wasn't in the mood to take on one of the tasting menus on offer.  I struggled to come up with the list of à la carte dishes I wanted to order, as there were simply too many of those classic, middle-of-the-road dishes that we no longer see at many fine dining restaurants today.  These include steak au poivre, Lobster Thermidor, Crêpes Suzette... etc.  The restaurant is also famous for their many dishes prepared table-side - again harking back to the old days - so I was determined to order something in that category.

First came the bread basket, bearing three slices of garlic bread, among others.  It's been a while since I last had garlic bread, and these were really good.

October 5, 2015

Swimming scallops from Kamaishi

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I attended a very special dinner tonight - one that I feel obliged in sharing with the world.  No, it wasn't cooked by a celebrity chef at Michelin-starred restaurant, nor were we drinking some bottles of ultra-rare wines.  Rather, tonight's dinner was about doing good to help a community.

I've known about Senpai's involvement, initially through the community services group of his former employer, with helping to revitalize Kamaishi (釜石市) - a coastal city in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県) and part of the Tohoku (東北) region affected by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011.  Over the last three years I've seen postings of countless pictures about his visits to the region, including those taken while helping out at the annual Yo!sa Kamaishi Festival (釜石よいさ).  I've received postcards from the region, and even tasted some sweets from the region hand-carried to Hong Kong by Senpai.  He's devoted a chunk of his time over the last three years on this particular cause.

Last year he began helping one particular local business expand its reach, and started exporting some seafood from the region to Hong Kong.  One of our mutual friends has ownership interest in Ozawa  (小澤), and readily agreed to serve "swimming scallops (泳ぐホタテ)" from Kamaishi.

A few months ago, I received word from Senpai that the swimming scallops were now being offered at Heichinrou (聘珍楼).  The second-generation family member in charge of the Japanese restaurant chain's business in Hong Kong is actually Senpai's and my kohai from our high school in Tokyo, and he had agreed to help out with this worthy cause.  Unfortunately I never found the right opportunity to go and taste them, despite the fact that one of the restaurant chain's outlets is right across from my office.

When Senpai asked me to join this dinner a few days ago, I knew what this meant and immediately agreed.  Four years ago, just a month after the disaster, I wrote about two dinners that I had with friends with the specific goal of supporting Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong and Japanese produce.  The best way to help the people of the Tohoku region was to support their economy by buying their products and making them self-sufficient again.  Dining on these swimming scallops is one small way towards accomplishing that goal.

October 4, 2015

A disappointing star in the City

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Senpai was back in town for another visit, and a few of us joined him for dinner tonight.  I was tasked with choosing a venue that was NOT Fook Lam Moon (福臨門), and I decided to drag the gang out to North Point so we can check out Yuè (粵) in the City Garden Hotel.  I had dinner here a few years ago and it piqued my interest for a return visit, and I finally decided to come back tonight.

Once again, I was disappointed by the restaurant not having some of the dishes I wanted.  When it's one of the signature dishes you put on the first page of your menu, why are there so few portions of it around?!

Crispy bean curd with spicy salt (七味脆豆腐) - this was very, very bland.  I thought they'd at least use a little more shichimi (七味) powder, but they seemed to be pretty stingy on this...

October 3, 2015

Game on!

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Hello Kitty's birthday is coming up, and I asked her to choose the venue for her birthday dinner. To my delight, she chose to go to Amber for the occasion.  I have not been back to visit Richard for a while and had been meaning to find an opportunity to do so, therefore I quickly agreed to Hello Kitty's request while secretly yelling "YES!" in my head...

I hastily fired off an email to Richard in the middle of the night, hours before flying out on vacation, asking him to secure me a table while apologizing for not going through the proper channels (of booking with the restaurant directly).  I did mentioned that it would be to celebrate Hello Kitty's birthday...

So a couple of days ago I was trading messages with Richard, and he mentioned that they had started to serve their game menu.  I, of course, responded with an enthusiastic "YES" when he asked whether he should reserve a couple of portions of this limited offering for us.  While we all love Richard for his creative / fancy/ refined cuisine with the finest seafood and vegetables, the game dishes I tasted at Amber last year were truly amazing.

No sooner had we sat down than Sommelier John Chan came over to offer a complimentary glass of bubbly from Richard.  The Alfred Gratien Cuvée Brut Classique showed nice acidity, which was balanced with ripeness.

The "welcome drink" was tomato water infused with verbena, lemongrass, and fern.  Lovely fragrance along with clean and pure flavors.

October 2, 2015

Dama's birthday

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So... two days after my return visit to Tenku RyuGin (天空龍吟), I arrived at Ta Vie 旅 to sample the new dishes that Chef Sato Hideaki (佐藤秀明) wanted to show me.  The small gang of us all used to work together, and it's been way too long since we sat at the same table.  Tonight we would (belatedly) toast ILove Lubutin's birthday.

Sato-san asked me whether everyone has been here before, since he wanted to show us new dishes.  The entire 8-course menu ended up being new to me, although he did very kindly send us an old favorite...

Baby cuttlefish with ratatouille, potato and fennel cream - served on a beautiful glass dish, the 新甲烏賊 from Nagasaki (長崎県) has a nice texture which retains just the right amount of crunchiness and bite while still soft.  The cuttlefish itself wasn't really seasoned so one could taste the original flavors, but combining it with the ratatouille or the potato and fennel cream was also nice.


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