October 31, 2016

Pen Stay(ca)tion: old and new classics

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A staycation at the Pen wouldn't be complete without dining at the grande dame of French restaurants in this town, so a mere three weeks after our last visit, we were back at Gaddi's for dinner.

As luck would have it, Kung Fu Panda was also in the house tonight.  She's a regular here and seems to know everyone.  But as she was dining with her mom and her mom's friends, we kept to ourselves and only exchanged a few words when she came over.

As I had already gone through the tasting menu earlier in the month, I decided to give it a pass tonight.  It's also a little early in terms of white truffle season, so I also passed up the white truffle tasting menu or any of the truffle dishes.  There was a certain itch I needed to scratch tonight, and I was determined to get it done.  So à la carte it was, then.

Once again, our amuse bouche was a cube of confit chicken with ham in parsley cream sauce, topped with a wafer of Parmesan.

October 30, 2016

Pen Stay(ca)tion: The 21-year wait

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When I arrived in Hong Kong in the middle of 1995, I was taken almost immediately to Felix at the Peninsula Hong Kong by my architect friends.  It was new, and designed by Philippe Starck - of whom my friends and I were big fans.  The place had an incredibly cool vibe, and would remain my go-to bar to take visiting friends for that million dollar view of Hong Kong.

But in the 21 years since my very first visit, I have never eaten at Felix.  The reputation of the place has always been as a place for drinks, and no one I know ever raved about its food.  Since there are plenty of places in Hong Kong serving great food, I always chose to dine elsewhere.

That all changed tonight.  As part of our staycation, we booked ourselves a table at Felix for dinner.  None of the tables by the window were available, but that didn't matter much to me.  We ended up at a table on the stage behind the white sheer curtains, which offered me marginally better light for photography.

We decided to go for "The Felix Experience", as a quick glance through the menu didn't yield anything that particularly stood out.  But there were some pleasant surprises coming our way...

Skipjack tataki and poached eggplant with miso dressing, purple shiso and spring onion salad - this didn't look like a very promising start to dinner, especially when the toppings on one of the skipjack slices fell off before the dish got to me.  Not surprisingly, the ponzu (ポン酢) jelly on the side worked well with the skipjack tataki (タタキ), but the slices of eggplant underneath didn't seem to jive with the rest.  Lots of raw Japanese leeks on top of the skipjack, which gave a certain amount of kick that kinda overwhelmed the saffron chips on top.  The puffed rice on the side was on the sweet side, and the baby red perilla leaves and perilla flowers added some nice fragrance to the dish.

Pen Stay(ca)tion: Pink afternoon tea

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Less than two hours after finishing lunch, we sat down again at another one of the Peninsula Hong Kong's F and B outlets.  Knowing that we wouldn't be able to put any more food into our stomachs, we called for reinforcements for our afternoon tea session at the Lobby.

As we exited the elevator on the lobby level, we saw a very long line of people waiting for a table, and found our friends at the very back of that line.  We quickly pulled them away and marched towards the front of the line.  After all, we were in-house guests who have a confirmed booking... so there was absolutely no need to line up.

Pen Stay(ca)tion: Damn tasty XLB

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A few days ago, Hello Kitty informed me that she had booked us a couple of night's stay at the Peninsula Hong Kong.  Unlike some of my friends, I'm the type of cheapskate who never splurges money on staycations, so this was a really nice surprise.  So we packed our bags and checked in to the venerable Pen - the grande dame of Hong Kong hotels.

We asked for a lunch table at Spring Moon (嘉麟樓) upon check-in, and this being Sunday and all, they were only able to squeeze us in shortly before the time for last order.  We didn't mind a late lunch, so we showed up around 2pm when quite a few tables had already cleared out.  We would pick a few dim sum items as well as a few classics.

Having been here only once in the last 15 years or so, I had forgotten about the customized chopstick rest.  Such a cute little detail.

October 28, 2016

Eat with Gaggan

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I'm a terrible friend.

A group of old friends - all of whom have known each other for 15-20 years - got together for one of several annual birthday gatherings tonight.  The dinner was fixed about a month ago, and I was looking forward to catching up with the boys (and girl) over some delicious yakitori.

Then the Great One pinged me and told me that our friend Gaggan Anand is in town, and he'd like to go out for a Cantonese dinner tonight.  Since a proper Cantonese meal - unlike some of those single-portion tasting menus offered by certain hotel restaurants - require more than a couple of mouths around the table, I decided to bail on my old friends on less than twelve hours' notice to accommodate Gaggan.  I was out of town and missed the opportunity to join the party when Gaggan came to town last, and I didn't want to miss it a second time.  Besides, I figured (perhaps it is presumptuous of me) that my old friends would forgive me for ditching them...

Coming up with an interesting venue for Cantonese food on same-day notice is tough, especially when it's Friday night.  None of our favorite high-end private kitchen could be secured on short notice, especially when there were so few of us.  We tossed out another couple of popular options, and I suggested Kin's Kitchen (留家廚房).  The food there can be interesting, especially with off-menu items that we won't find on many of the high-end restaurants in town.  So the Great One arranged a table with the boss.

I was the last person to arrive at dinner, and I could see that owner Lau Kin-wai (劉健威) was already seated at our table, sipping from a wine glass.  I greeted our guest of honor, plopped my bottle of wine on the table, and waited for our food to arrive.

Barbecued pork with honey glaze (蜜汁叉燒) - these were really, really good.  Mr. Lau is proud of the fact that, unlike many other restaurants in town, they use neither red food coloring nor any tenderizers to treat their pork.  They also use the tips of the pork shoulder (脢尖) - where the marbling naturally makes for a very tender texture.

Relaxing 3-star pop-up lunch

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A few weeks ago I was browsing on Facebook when a promoted ad caught my eye.  The Shangri-La Hotel group invites guest chefs to do pop-up events at their hotels around the world, and I know from reading about them in the past that these have included some of the world's celebrated chefs.  I got a little curious and clicked on the ad, and soon I found myself rounding up a few friends to have lunch at a restaurant I haven't stepped foot in a long time.

Petrus at the Island Shangri-La is hosting Frédéric Anton, who has been with Le Pré Catelan for nearly 20 years and helped it acquire three of those coveted Michelin stars.  I've long heard the name but never had the opportunity to visit, so this would be my chance to get a sense of what it might be like to dine there.

We had a choice for each of the three (or four) courses, but I really wish that I could have taken every single one of them, since they all sounded really delicious.  Indeed, the courses I ended up not choosing all looked really good.

L'aubergine, préparée en caviar, huile au parfum de curry, oignons frits, caviar de France - the eggplant caviar seasoned with curry oil was very, very delicious.  But the strong flavors from the curry completely overpowered the French caviar until the salinity became the only detectable trace from the eggs.  The deep-fried onion chips added a nice touch, though... both in terms of texture and flavors.  A nice start to my lunch.

October 27, 2016

A lunchtime pampering

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I met up with my globe-trotting foodie friend for a second day in a row, but in a much, much nicer setting today.  When I got in touch with him a few weeks ago and inquired about his plans for eating around Hong Kong, I wasn't the least bit surprised to hear that the only reservation that he made was at Lung King Heen (龍景軒).  Naturally he invited me to join him there for lunch.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I could see that my friend was already chatting with Chef Chan Yan Tak (陳恩德).  Knowing my friend's history with the restaurant and the hotel, I had no doubt that we would be well taken care of today.  Sure enough, restaurant manager Simpson Yeung came to greet us shortly, and asked whether we'd like to have Chef Chan do something special for us.  We set some broad parameters but left the rest up to the chef.  We would start with a few dim sum items - and a few of them would appear to be off-menu (hence the generic descriptions here).

I mentioned that I'd perhaps like a glass of Champagne, and moments later sommelier Billy Yeung came over with the Champagne trolley.  He very generously offered each of us a glass of 2003 Tarlant La Matinale - a brut nature with zero dosage.  That much was obvious, given the noticeable acidity on the palate.  The nose was nice and toasty, and a little yeasty.  Full-bodied with a nice and long finish.  A lovely wine for us to start our meal with.

Steamed lobster and water chestnut dumpling in fermented bean sauce (豉汁龍蝦馬蹄餃) - you can tell this is a very luxe item by the gold foil they put on top...  and of course the fact that the filling includes lobster.  Nice flavors here, and the inclusion of diced cucumber and water chestnut definitely provided a much crunchier texture.

October 26, 2016

Double happiness

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There's another globe-trotting foodie coming to town, who's on a world tour and eating very, very well.  As he was coming in around lunch time, I figured that I'd introduce him to my favorite roast goose around my office.  Little did I know that he's already familiar with Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝) - having visited on a previous trip to Hong Kong.  Well... that makes it all the easier!

Since we were in the middle of lunch hour, I wasn't the least bit surprised by the line outside the restaurant.  Luckily we didn't have to wait long at all before being seated at the very first table by the door, next to the boss lady.

Roast goose, lower quarter (燒鵝下庄) - this is always the smart choice when there's two of us.  The skin today wasn't as amazing as what I had 2 weeks ago, but the flavors of this goose never fails me.  My foodie friend seemed happy with it, too.

October 20, 2016

Burgers and wine, episode 2: Tuscan Lambo

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It's been almost exactly 3 months since my friend Uwe Opocensky left his position as Executive Chef of the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong to pursue other interests.  A few of us were lucky enough to be in the Krug Room for his last service, but I haven't seen him since then.  As has been reported in a couple of local media outlets, he's gone over to "flip burgers" for a local restaurant group.  While I was invited to taste some of his new creations earlier, I wanted to wait till Uwe was off the wagon again before catching up with him.

So we agreed to meet up at the new Beef and Liberty in Lan Kwai Fong.  I had read a few posts about the new bar snacks that he had put together for the joint, but the main event was the new burger.  As usual, I was responsible for fishing out a bottle from my cellar, and this wouldn't be the first time that I sat down to have a burger over a nice bottle of wine.

No sooner had I sat down and pour ourselves some wine than the food started to arrive...

Chicken liver parfait - chicken liver paste with crispy shallots on top, maple syrup, spread over toasted sourdough.  Can't say no to liver spread...

October 8, 2016

La grande dame de Hong Kong

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After our planned birthday meal was knocked off the tracks by force majeure, tonight we did a proper celebration for Hello Kitty.  When I asked where she wanted to go for her birthday, she surprised me by telling me she wanted to try Gaddi's.

Gaddi's in the Peninsula Hong Kong is the grande dame of French haute cuisine in Hong Kong, having been around for more than 6 decades.  It was one of the first fine dining restaurants I ever dined in after I arrived in Hong Kong, and it was the first time I'd ever sat at a chef's table inside the kitchen back around 2001 or so.  But it's been off my radar for a long, long time... and my last visit for more than 5 years ago - or should I say two chefs ago?  But I did hear that the kitchen is now helmed by Xavier Boyer - who has spent years in the Robuchon empire, so I had high expectations for the cuisine.

When I called to make a reservation, I was a little surprised to be reminded that the dress code for gentlemen included a jacket.  In an era where everything is getting more casual, I guess time kinda stands still in that dining room...

We both took the 8-course tasting menu, even though there is a starter on the à la carte menu that I'm dying to try - with crab, lobster jelly, cauliflower cream, and caviar.  A Robuchon classic.  But that will have to wait...

The amuse bouche was a cube of confit chicken in parsley cream sauce, topped with a wafer of Parmesan.

October 7, 2016

Birthday goose

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It's Hello Kitty's birthday and she's decided that she needed some goose.  So off we went to our favorite joint for roast goose, and dutifully lined up at Yat Lok (一樂燒鵝).  Thankfully the wait wasn't too long.

We ordered the usual: some goose, some noodle soup, and veg.

Roast goose, lower quarter (燒鵝下庄) - with the two of us, it makes more sense to order the lower quarter in order to secure ourselves a coveted drumstick.  For some reason, the skin was really, really crispy and flavorful today.  Very yum.

Rice flour noodles in soup (淨湯瀨粉)

Blanched choy sum, no oil or sauce (菜心全走)

A pretty satisfying meal, as always.

October 3, 2016

Toasting the legendary Henri Bonneau

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It was finally my turn to host a tasting for the MNSC boys, and it took us a real long time to come up with a date that worked for everyone.  I was racking my brain to come up with a venue, when I remembered that it's been a while since I was last at Duddell's (都爹利會館).  Given the ownership, of all the Chinese restaurants in town, you would think that this place would have a sommelier who knows how to handle fine wine, right?

So I got Pineapple to set me up, and arranged to drop the wines off earlier in the day with the team at the restaurant.  With full confidence (which, as it turned out, was in fact misplaced) in the team, I showed them the order of the different wine flights but left them to decide on when the wines should be opened, and whether the wines should be decanted.

Given I'm not real familiar with the strengths of the kitchen here, I was more than happy when Pineapple asked the chef to put something together.

Duddell's appetizer combination (都爹利拼盆):
Barbecued Iberico pork with honey glaze (豉味蜜餞黑豚肉叉燒) - this was OK.  The strip of fat down the side was nice, and the char siu was fairly tender, but it somehow wasn't as moist as I would normally prefer.


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