December 31, 2021

The best dishes I had in 2021

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Five years ago I decided to browse through my posts for that year and recount the "best" dishes I had eaten during the previous 12 months. I have kept it up each year since, and this year things would be no different. I've certainly dined out more this year compared to last year, as social distancing was no longer as strict thanks to vaccination.

The "best" dishes are the ones which elicited the most excitement, the largest outpour of emotion (usually accompanied by something along the lines of "FUCKING GOOD!!!" in my notes), and the ones which I wish I had endless stomach space for ("I'll have 3 of these"). So here they are in chronological order:

Tuscany veal rack, from MONO - a beautiful bone-in piece which was grilled with glaze from tendons, which made it crispy on the outside along with flavors from herbs. And that was before lathering it up with mole. Chomping down on it on the second day of the year, during my first fine dining meal of the year, made me so, so happy.

December 29, 2021

Late seating

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Ever since the Compatriot moved to Rosbif Land with the family a few years ago, the restaurant they missed the most has been The Chairman (大班樓).  While he's in town for a short couple of months, and I'd been pretty diligent in booking restaurants for him to taste what he's been missing, the one place he lamented about not getting to was the one at the top of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in 2021.

Knowing there were only a few weeks left to my friend's stay in town, I resorted to something I never did for myself but would on rare occasion do for friends - I asked Danny for a table for my friend. Danny knows I don't ask him for this favor unless I really need to, and I'm grateful for him accommodating me on those rare occasions. So here we were.

It's been more than 2 years since I last came for lunch, and first time in a while where I could choose what to eat, so my friend and I each picked half the dishes for the meal.

Pickled mid-summer ginger root (大班樓子薑) - I actually didn't have time to dig into this before the next dish arrived. But always happy to have this with our meal.

Fermented tofu with chili and bean sauce (大班樓臭豆腐) - it's been a while since I last got to taste this, and I'm glad my friend chose it. I had never willingly eaten more than 2 bites of stinky tofu before trying this version a few years ago, but I find this tolerable - although I wouldn't go so far as to call it delicious.

December 28, 2021

Old school winter feast

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Luk Yu Tea House (陸羽茶室) is, without a doubt, one of the most famous restaurants in all of Hong Kong. But somehow I've never been enamored with it. It's always gotten the reputation that if you're not a regular, you don't get shit. In fact, you get told to sit upstairs in Siberia. Food-wise I've never really found their dishes to be anything special, and service-wise I'm lucky if they don't piss me off. So why bother?

But when my friend KC decides to organize a dinner here featuring some classic dishes, I knew that this was an event I shouldn't miss. Here's a guy who knows the restaurant and chefs well, so I can't go wrong putting my trust in him.

Barbecued gold coin chicken (鳳肝燒金錢雞) - it would seem I've been having this on a pretty frequent basis over the last few months, and I'm happy to try another version.

December 25, 2021

Chinese for Christmas

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Another year of not traveling during Christmas means I am, once again, able to accept Pineapple's kind invitation to his birthday dinner.  MNSC hasn't had a gathering for a few months now, so it was a good opportunity to meet up and taste some good wines together.  As a break from tradition, dinner was at the brand spanking new Woo Cheong Tea House (和昌飯店) instead of the I-Hate-the-Handover-Club.

Pineapple tells us that this is one of the few places in town where no MSG or chicken powder (which usually contains MSG) are used in the kitchen. Apparently they asked Chef Edmond Ip and the team to create the stocks without those key ingredients found in most Chinese kitchens, and factored the extra effort and cost into the pricing.

We started with a trio of appetizers:

Marinated clam, soy sauce (醬油花甲)

Homemade daikon puff (手作蘿蔔絲酥餅) - stuffing was made with Japanese radish. Kinda mushy.

Christmas sushi

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A mere 12 hours after the end of our Christmas Eve shindig, our foursome met up again for lunch - this time at Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう). We happened to book this lunch the last time we were here, and these days it takes a wait of 3 months or more if one is to book a Saturday lunch at this establishment. Very happy that the Compatriot could also join us today since, after today, I may never invite My Birdbrain Cousin to have sushi ever again...

We start with a few otsumami (おつまみ):

Salmon roe (イクラ) - very light and elegant. The dashi (出汁) the eggs were marinated in imparted a small amount of smokiness, and as usual there was a little bit of yuzu (柚子). The membranes were certainly thin and delicate.

December 24, 2021

Another Christmas Eve at home

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Per our tradition, we chose to spend a quiet Christmas Eve at home with family and friends.  This year we got My Favorite Cousin as well as the Compatriot to come over, so no one would need to have a lonely Christmas.  Like last year, we had a combination of simple dishes cooked at home as well as takeout items.

We started with some caviar from Nomad, which was served with some sour cream on blinis. We also got some unsalted potato chips because Sankala seemed to prefer them to blinis. Unfortunately, one of our tins of caviar had gone off and smelled like stinky feet, so we had to make do with just one tin of 100g...

December 21, 2021

Two nights with Sato: more golden eye

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Two days after my last visit, I'm back at Ta Vie 旅 - this time with the Compatriot and My Favorite Cousin in tow. The Compatriot last came to visit Sato-san some 15 months ago, and he was only too happy to return. It so happens that Winter Solstice falls on today, so it's also appropriate that we spend some time gathering with family.

As promised, Sato-san prepared a menu that is reasonably different from the one I had two nights ago, so I'm pretty happy.

As always, we start with the signature nukazuke (糠漬け) bread.

December 19, 2021

Two nights with Sato: good Charlotte

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We were running late for dinner. Our ferry back from Lai Chi Wo arrived at the pier half an hour later than scheduled, and after we got home we just had to take a hot shower to warm ourselves up after being out in the cold for an hour and a half. I had warned Sato-san and Babu about us being late, and thankfully they were very understanding.

This would be the first of two dinners I would be having at Ta Vie 旅 in three days, so I requested to have different dishes for the two nights. I am ever grateful that Sato-san was willing to oblige me.

As usual we start with their house made butter and ricotta.

The signature nukazuke (糠漬け) bread is as good as ever. Truly one of the best fresh baked breads in Hong Kong, IMHO.

Slow boat to Hakka

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If there's one thing that we haven't done much during the two-year pandemic, it's activities in the Great Outdoors.  Unlike many friends with kids, Sankala and I have been mainly staying in - initially just to do our part in social distancing. While we watched our friends fulfill their wanderlust by exploring remote areas of Hong Kong, the two of us (OK, this is probably mostly me) have been homebodies.

But when I saw a post about Slow Food doing a trip out to Lai Chi Wo (荔枝窩), a remote Hakka (客家) village with a history of 400 years, I decided that we should join the tour. Not the least because Hakka is part of Sankala's heritage, and there would be a lunch featuring Hakka dishes. I figured that would be interesting.

We set off from Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier pretty early in the morning, as the boat ride would take 1½ hours each way, taking us first through Tolo Channel. As the area is part of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark, there are some interesting geological sights along the coastline. Apparently one of these is the Devil's Fist, which is a pretty small rock jutting out. We were not close enough for me to figure out where exactly it was when I took a series of pictures, but I managed to identify it once I zoomed in...

We saw a number of hikers and fishing enthusiasts along the way, some of them cutting lonesome figures as they were seemingly stranded alone on tiny islets. This was somewhat striking when we got close to our destination, as the structures at Yantian Harbor (盐田港) appeared in the background.

December 15, 2021

Organic team

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The year is drawing to a close, and unlike the end of 2020 when Hong Kong was under tight social distancing measures, the situation has improved a lot more these days. So I proposed to have a team dinner to wrap up what has been a very bumpy year for everyone. Having only started the planning some 4 weeks ago, it wasn't a surprise when many places have already been booked out during this busy holiday season. Once again, it was the hardest working F and B PR8 who came to my rescue, and we found ourselves at Roganic tonight.

We had to take the long menu, and I was a little concerned that it would be too much for the ladies. Thankfully the cuisine here is light enough that it didn't leave anyone stuffed or uncomfortable.

Salmon, seaweed, potato salad, togarashi and pike roe - this was OK. Very Japanese in flavor.

Yi-O rice cracker, A4 wagyu, burnt onion and K-Farm mustard - true to the philosophy of the place, they used local Yi-O rice (二澳米) to make their cracker, which carried wagyu tartare. Topped with greens from K-Farm in Kennedy Town. Pretty smoky.

December 14, 2021

Hunting big game with big guns

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It's been an insanely long time since a few of us got together to worship some bottles made by the Krankls, and since we are now in game season, DaRC and I figured we should do this at Caprice.  It takes some big, massive wines to go up against those pretty rich dishes, and Sine Qua Non is perfect for that. The added bonus would be for Hairy Legs to taste the wines we would be bringing, as he had recently been impressed by a bottle of white wine I shared with him. And while Victor has seen plenty of wines more expensive than ours, I was willing to bet that they haven't seen a collection of bottles quite like these within these walls.

We started with the usual trio of amuses bouches:

Balik salmon with Kristal caviar

Pita with curry chicken mousse

Cromesqui with pig's feet - my second bite of the newest nibble. Very, very nice.

December 13, 2021

Happy Friends with giant schlongs

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It's the busy holiday season where some of us lucky ones get to eat out with friends and family a little more often than usual. In the middle of all this, we were invited by our friend J to join them for a gathering at Happy Chefs Happy Friends (東煮友喜私房菜). I have never heard of this private kitchen with a maximum capacity of 20, but then again there are many places in town I don't know. Apparently, J had wanted to book the place for a party while they were here in January this year, and had been told that today was the first available date. And according to Fiona the boss lady, they are completely booked for 2022, and have enough requests on their waiting list to get themselves booked through July 2023 should they choose.

So I guess this would be my (first and) last visit for a while, then...

Chilled condoms fish maw served with wasabi and sesame soy sauce (芥末麻香花膠) - when I was checking out this place on the internet, I kept seeing pictures of this dish, and all I could think of was this looked like a big plate of rubbery condoms... especially when viewed from certain angles. Fish maw is more commonly served after having been cut into pieces, so the sight of these tips in their entirety was somewhat of a shock.

December 12, 2021

Casual and delicious dim sum

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Casual lunch at Ho Hung Kee (何洪記).

House specialty wonton in soup (正斗鮮蝦淨雲吞) - compared to the ones from Mak's Noodle (麥奀雲吞麵世家), these definitely showed a stronger taste of white pepper.

Shrimp and baby shoots dumpling (翡翠菜苗餃) - these are pretty decent.

Barbecue pork bun with saucy filling (流汁叉燒包) - I have always liked these char siu bao, as I find that use better pork for the filling compared to many local places.

Rice noodle rolls filled with twisted cruller (香脆油條腸粉) - it's hard for me to leave here without ordering their 炸兩, as the crispy crullers inside were just so, so good.

Another happy lunch.

December 11, 2021

Cheese cheese cheese

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During each of the last few years, Sankala had lamented that as the weather turned cold, we never managed to book seats at one of the few Swiss restaurants in town where we could enjoy melted cheese. This year, after seeing some friends posting about their meal exactly a month ago, I was reminded to try to book us a table at Chesa, the popular Swiss restaurant at the Peninsula Hong Kong. It just so happened that my colleague had tried to make a booking here, and had been told that the first availability would be in January - more than 2 months later.

Thankfully I was reminded of someone who could help me secure to booking, and here we are - only had to wait for a month, which is pretty good for Hong Kong these days!

But the evening did not start well. Sankala was already a little annoyed due to some confusion with the new policy on the government's contact tracing app, and when we showed up at the restaurant, they couldn't find a reservation under my name - even though My Favorite Cousin had already arrived and been seated. Three grown men could not locate my name in their system. At that point I decided that those three men were completely useless, and we just walked to our table before Sankala threw a fit.

This little episode was, ironically, reminiscent of this evening. The common element between both evenings? Miss French Rocket.

Sankala's mood did not improve when, only a minute or so after we sat down - and before I had even had a chance to settle down and remove my face mask - one of the waitstaff who couldn't find my name asked whether we wanted still or sparkling water. Aside from the fact that I have never understood why on earth a restaurant waitstaff always asks you about your choice of water mere seconds after you arrive at your table, unfortunately in this case he repeated an incorrect choice back to me. Maybe he didn't hear me properly through my face mask - although I generally enunciate well and the restaurant wasn't that noisy - or maybe he's just blur-blur. Either way, someone was not a happy camper. And we hadn't even looked at the menu!

Beef fat candle - this was a surprise from the house. Beef fat is always tasty, but in this case the candle wasn't quite hot enough.

December 9, 2021

No explanation

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I had another opportunity to meet up with the Compatriot for dinner tonight, and it was tempura (天ぷら) time. This is also something he misses while living in London, so I'm happy we can help him load up on the types of cuisine he's been missing.

We wanted to be able to have a conversation among the 3 of us, so it was decided to pass up the seats at the counter and be seated at the table on the side. The downside, of course, is the delay between when the items have finished cooking and the time they are placed in front of us. But we figured this was something we can live with.

Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し) - I know that we've all had chawanmushi many, many times before, but it was still surprising that this was put in front of us without any introduction.

December 8, 2021

Chef white (tee) and the seven boars

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I had been wanting to organize a wine tasting for some time.  In fact, I first gauged friends' interest a little more than 4 years ago.  But for one reason or another, it never came to pass.  Well, this year I've decided to go forward with organizing a number of wine tastings, and I finally got around to clearing out some interesting sets of bottles from my cellar.  Tonight I would finally be able to pop a set of 4 pinot noirs from Marcassin Vineyard together.

I grabbed a few winos who I knew would be interested in tasting these wines, and as it turns out most of them had already raised their hands 4 years ago. It was suggested that we do this at Neighborhood, as some people from the group hadn't visited for a while. I booked a table and asked the Man in White T-shirt to see if he could throw some dishes our way that would suit the bottles of chardonnay and pinot noir.

We were surprised to run into another group of winos seated at neighboring tables - led by a wine critic. We cracked jokes amongst ourselves about the number of Californian wines at their tables, while we eventually offered up a glass or two so Mr. critic would have a taste.

Kicking off our meal with the usual sourdough bread was a trio of spreads. I very rarely ignore a slab of butter, but tonight I had no reason to touch it. Not with the other goodies on this plate.

December 4, 2021

Three little birds

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After my failed attempt to reach culinary nirvana at this romantic dinner for two with my friend V, I have longed to return to Stellar House (星月居) to see if I could finally get what I wanted. As the Compatriot is looking to get more Chinese food in his stomach during his stay, and Big Mac was going on home leave in a few days, this would be a great opportunity to get everyone together.

I didn't mind the least bit that when I booked, only tables in the open dining room were available. This is a place that likes to cater to a clientele which prefers privacy, and most of the diners are sequestered away in private rooms - with only two tables out in the open. The advantage of not having a private room means I didn't have a minimum spending amount, although the restaurant still insists on putting a menu together for us.

Snake soup with fish maw (花膠燴蛇羹) - it's the season for snake soup, and this is the first time I've tried their version. This came with shredded bamboo shoots, wood ear (木耳), aged tangerine peel, fish maw, and of course snake. The flavors from the aged tangerine peel were pretty prominent, and they clearly added white pepper to the soup. Overall this was pretty decent.

December 2, 2021

The five decade span

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It was finally time for a gathering of friends from my high school, and this time around we agreed to meet at Heichinrou (聘珍樓). I have kinda missed the food since their Central branch closed down when they got booted by their landlord, and the remaining branches are a little out of the way for me. Tonight, though, getting there was made much easier when the boss agreed to drive us to his restaurant.

Rather than the usual, tight-knit group of us, tonight we invited some of the younger alumni from school. A few of these kids are attending Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, with the youngest having just graduated high school this year. So there is a span of almost 40 years from the oldest to the youngest at the table...

We started the evening by sharing bottles of curry pan cider (カレーパン サイダー), which is a drink I've come to enjoy this year and threatened to introduce to the gang. It really DOES taste like eating the real thing... and the curry spices are pretty nice! That is, until one starts burping...

Pan-fried king prawns with soy sauce (頭抽煎大花蝦) - this was always gonna be good. Great flavors from the soy sauce, especially as one munches on the prawn head.

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