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.

So these have been cooked in stock with wasabi, and didn't really need the soy sauce/wasabi on the side. I've generally had fish maw braised until they're very soft and tender, and it's a pretty new experience for me to have them on ice so that they're chewy with a reasonable amount of bite. OK lah...

Chilled South African abalone (冰鎮南非鮑魚) - the abalones have, apparently, been slow-cooked for between 2 to 3 days. They were indeed very tender, and I could certainly taste the Sichuan peppercorns. Pretty nice.

Geoduck seasoned in sour and spicy sauce (酸辣薄荷象拔蚌) - we had a few people at our table who had never tried geoduck, which is totally understandable. Biting into a big schlong isn't everybody's cup of tea, especially when it's often sliced and served either raw, or dipped into boiling broth in a hot pot.

Tonight this humongous schlong was cut into many small pieces and seasoned with a hot and sour sauce. We were told to make sure each bite was taken with a piece of mint leaf, and I found the combination pretty interesting. I myself am normally not a big fan of geoduck, but I thought this was one of the best preparations I've tasted.

Tasty spicy chicken with fresh lime (鮮青檸口水雞) - pretty decent. The heat was within my tolerance threshold, so this was good. In fact, the sauce was more about the numbing sensations from Sichuan peppercorns rather than straight-up heat. And the addition of fresh lime juice helped balance out the heat.

Double-steamed sea conch soup with cantaloupe, ham, and chicken (哈密瓜爵士湯) - this is always particularly sweet due to the use of cantaloupe, and they used Jinhua ham (金華火腿) along with pork and conch. Double-boiled for 16 hours with the addition of any seasoning. Happy to have gotten some chicken feet in my bowl.

Signature crab meat and roe with garlic bread (賽螃蟹粉配法包) - I find it curious that the name of the dish contains the term 賽螃蟹, since that refers to a dish in Shanghainese cuisine which is made with egg white and which contains no crab meat. While this dish came with a bottom layer of egg white steamed with Huadiao (花雕) wine, there was a TON of crab meat and crab roe on top.

And speaking of crab... chef Matthew has chosen to use a total of 20 crabs to deliver the meat and roe required for each portion, which includes 5 different varieties: yellow oil virgin mud crab (黃油奄仔), male mud crab (肉蟹), female mud crab (膏蟹), blue swimmer crab (藍蟹), and flowery crab (花蟹).

So we got three types of baguettes: thin, plain slices; thick cuts of single-sided garlic bread, and even thicker slices of double-sided garlic bread. These are meant to be used to dip into the crab roe.

I first took the crab mixture on its own, then added a little of the restaurant's aged vinegar. Then I started to spread it on those extra-thick slices of double-sided garlic bread... and I took TWO of those. YUM!

Braised Shanghai ham with osmanthus fragrance honey (蜜汁火方鍋巴) - it's been a while since I last had these slices of ham drenched in honey - a dish I have fond memories of since childhood.

Instead of the usual thin slices of bread or steamed Chinese bun, here they delivered a plate of puffed rice crispies (鍋巴).

The combination is truly sinful. The ham with its strip of fat down one side, plus the honey glaze, which inevitably drips on top of the deep-fried rice crispies. I would love to have another portion of this. In fact, I believe I did!

Steam threadfin fish with salted plum paste (咸梅蒸鮮馬友) - four-finger threadthin is a fairly fatty and delicious fish, so when it is steamed, it kinda makes sense to pair it with some mashed salted plum so that the acidity helps to perk up the flavors a little.

Organic choi sum in congee soup (稻漿有機菜遠) - the strained congee reminds me of the one at The Chairman (大班樓). A good way to finish.

Red bean paste with 40 years tangerine peel (40年陳皮紅豆沙) - pretty nice. The aged tangerine peel was indeed very fragrant

Ginger cookies - one of our companions baked a batch of these to share with everyone. Definitely very tasty, but I'm sure not I liked it dipped in Ricard...

Tonight's dinner was organized by a couple of winos, and the brief was "odd and unusual" - although it was clear that not everyone got the memo...

1990 François Cotat Sancerre La Grande Côte - ripe on the palate but not over-ripe. A bit grassy.

2017 00 Wines Chardonnay VGW - slightly flinty at first. Opened up to show toasty and buttery notes. Very tasty.

2017 Sadie Family Chenin Blanc Skurfberg - flinty, ripe on the palate but still got good acidity.

2019 Bouchard Meursault - sooo tropical, so surprisingly fruity in addition to being flinty.

2008 Sine Qua Non Kolibri - 2/3 roussanne, 1/3 viognier. Wow! So fragrant! A little acetone and alcoholic on the nose. Ripe on the palate.

2000 Terpin Collio Bianco - kinda OK.

2014 Mikulski Meursault 1er Cru Goutte d'Or - pretty nice as expected.

2014 Jean-François Ganevat Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes, en magnum - drank 2½ hours after opening. Flinty, with good acidity on the palate. Drinking very well.

A very fun evening. While I didn't think any of the dishes were earth-shatteringly good, they were all pretty tasty and, given the pricing of our meal, it was easy to understand the popularity of the place. I don't know if chef Matthew was happy, but the 19 of us were certainly very happy.

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