March 31, 2022

Saying sayonara with flowers

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Every year around this time, I try to book myself 2 or 3 meals at Godenya (ごでんや) to make sure I get to taste a couple of my favorite seasonal ingredients. Not only is spring the season for firefly squid (蛍烏賊), but there are tiny little flowers whose season only lasts a few short weeks. Timing the reservation - which is usually made months in advance - wrong by a few days would mean missing out on that incredible fragrance. As I would find out from Goshima-san, the all-important shipment only came in hours before we arrived, and The Great One actually missed out on tasting it a few days ago by mere hours.

Today Sankala and I are bidding farewell to a few friends who are leaving town for a while. After months of social distancing, dining bans, and travel restrictions, more and more of my friends have decided to escape so that they can roam around the rest of the world. DaRC will fly off to Silicon Valley for some work before doing some traveling, and Fat Donkey will visit family Down Under. This would be the last chance for us to meet up for the next 3 months at least... so I was pretty happy that we could come here for a nice meal.

Sakura-trout, torigai, sansho-leaf, bracken (桜鱒  鳥貝  山椒の葉  蕨) - the cherry salmon from Aomori Prefecture (青森県) was slow-cooked and smoked, and came with tender cockle (鳥貝) from Osaka (大阪), along with a miso made with sansho (山椒), topped with sansho leaves (木の芽), sansho flowers (花山椒), and fern. Love the fragrance of the sansho, which was of course why we are here!

March 30, 2022

Yakifrenchy with hairy Frenchy

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Hairy Legs and I have been meaning to get together for some wine, and since it was his birthday recently, I had been saving up a couple of bottles for this occasion. I was a little surprised, though, when he suggested that we meet at Clarence.

With the current ban on dinner service, I hadn't paid much attention to new openings in town, so I was surprised to find that O Chef is behind this new "casual" establishment. A quick look online and the word "Yakifrenchy" popped up. Huh? I guess it's kinda like yakitori (焼き鳥), where things are skewered on sticks and then grilled over charcoal. Most curious.

The boss introduced the concept and the menu briefly, and said he was gonna organize a few things for us. That's always a good idea since you know you'll be getting the signature dishes that the kitchen feels most confident about.

These cheese crackers with the dip were pretty good.

We also had these breakfast radishes, which I remember O Chef liked to serve at Seasons by Olivier E. and also at L'Envol.

We started with a couple of cold dishes:

March 29, 2022

Indian snacks at home

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DaRC and Ro Ro are flying off in a few days, getting out of this city prison for a few months. We wanted to catch up before they left town, and after having Chef DaRC cook us dinner the last couple of times, Sankala and I decided to play host this time. Not wanting to embarrass herself in front of Chef DaRC, Sankala announced that she would not be working the kitchen today. So that meant figuring out where to get takeout from... something that we do seldom.

I threw out a few options, and much to my surprise Ro Ro chose Chaat. I was a little hesitant at first, because I'd have to traverse the harbor for it - and the extended travel time would definitely impact how the food tastes. But I agreed to the suggestion and looked for the takeout options... and only found 3 dishes listed on the "Rosewood at Home" page.

So I pinged PR8, who very kindly offered to help me order from the restaurant's regular menu. I was thinking about asking him to make sure that we didn't get any extra items this time, but stopped myself. After all, who the fuck do I think I am? Why should any restaurant give me free food?!

Well... Turns out the kitchen did pack a few extras, including 2 orders of naan... which kinda ruined my plans of not having any leftovers - not to mention my hope of minimizing the use of disposable containers.

Tandoori beef cheek: hung yoghurt, Kashmiri chilli, cinnamon - these were tender for sure, but not quite moist enough. Nice and flavorful with a little bit of heat.

March 26, 2022

Earth Hour 2022

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Tonight was my 14th year commemorating Earth Hour, and my plans changed at the last minute as I scrambled to get into position.  It had drizzled earlier this evening so I had planned to stay at home with the lights and aircon off, just setting my camera up on our balcony. But as I thought the rain had stopped, I quickly grabbed my gear and rushed over to East Coast Park Precint, which is thankfully around 10 minutes away on foot.

I set up the camera on the waterfront at the near corner, trying to capture sweeping views of both sides of Victoria Harbour from Wanchai to Tsim Sha Tsui East. My tripod would stay in this spot for the next hour and a half.

My quarterly fix

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Three months ago I made a couple of reservations for my next meals at Sushi Saito (鮨 さいとう), splitting them between lunch and dinner. Of course, we haven't had any dinner service in town for 2½ months now, so naturally I've had to reschedule the dinner bookings. After shuffling a couple of times, I finally settled on an early dinner at 4 p.m. today. When it came time to figure out who should join us for this outing, I didn't think much before inviting the couple in the Tiny Urban Kitchen.

The restaurant no longer has a second chef other than Kubota-san, so for the first time in my experience, the two halves merged into one single space. They still limited themselves to 50% capacity, though...

Hokkai shrimp and glass shrimp (縞海老 白海老) - with oboro (朧) and perilla flowers on top. Always tasty to start with some raw shrimp.

March 23, 2022

A few of my favorite places

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So... a little shameless self-promotion here. A few weeks ago I was asked whether I would be willing to share some of my restaurant recommendations with the readers of the South China Morning Post. I know Andrew has been doing this column for a while, and I was once told that it's among the more popular columns at the paper. Naturally, there has been a pretty big list of places sourced from people with diverse backgrounds, and I was flattered to be asked to add to the pool.

As I wanted to take my time to get my list right, I chose to submit my text to Andrew rather than speaking over the phone in a "real" interview. I've read enough of these over the years to kinda know what Andrew's looking for.

As with any published piece, it goes through the hands of sub(-editor)s, who end up mangling your text and, inevitably, some things end up lost in translation. So I'm superimposing my original text onto the published piece here (subscription required). Oh, and they managed to get my name wrong in the introductory paragraphs...

Article begins below:

March 19, 2022

88 times

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On December 1st last year, I tried to book seats at a restaurant that has become surprisingly popular and difficult to book. My previous bookings - sometimes done while dining at the restaurant - had come after a 4- or 5-month wait. Then the restaurant announced that they would take all bookings via telephone and open up on that specific day, and everyone would just have to call and try their luck.

On that day, I finally got through to Hidden (秀殿) after making 88 calls within the first hour. I didn't know how many bookings I was allowed to make, but I didn't want to be an asshole to booking 5 dates myself, so I asked for just two. I later found out that Sankala had tried more than 100 times and never managed to get through.

Both bookings would end up being rescheduled, as a few days before the first date the Hong Kong government announced what was then a temporary ban on dinner service. This booking was changed to a dinner which would have been on My Favorite Cousin's birthday, but of course dinner was still banned when that rolled around... When it came time to reschedule my second booking, I decided to play it safe and book it as a lunch. That was the right call.

We had chosen an omakase (お任せ) menu in advance, and I wondered what Suzuki-san would be serving up. There are usually some seasonal and special items included in these sets...

Cold chawanmushi (冷製茶碗蒸し) - topped with a firefly squid and some salmon roe. The firefly squid was very, very tasty, and we've also got some dashi (出汁). A little surprised that the dashi was not infused into the steamed egg, which meant that the egg was a little bland.

March 12, 2022

Occupy Amber: golden caviar

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It was about time that we returned to Amber. Our most recent visit last year saw us taking their vegetarian menu, so basically we haven't experienced Amber 2.0 since before the pandemic hit. It also means that I haven't been back to taste Richard Ekkebus' signature dish of Hokkaido sea urchin with caviar - the dish over which I jokingly threatened to "Occupy Amber" - for far, far too long. That just ain't right.

My original plan was for a table of three, where we would be joined by the Compatriot. Alas, he chose to return to the UK as the Covid situation in Hong Kong had become worse than the UK, and in any case new social distancing measures would force the three of us to be seated at 2 separate tables. So it was just the two of us today.

I had little interest in taking up the "Amber Unlimited" menu - which was the only option available online - so I asked Richard whether we could have the "regular" menu instead. I was glad we were able to choose the 6-course Amber Experience instead.

We were informed that on top of the 6 courses Richard would be sending us some other extras... I am always grateful for Richard's kindness, although I suspect that would make it pretty difficult for us to return our table within 2 hours. I would be right.

Right off the bat, Richard came to deliver the first extra dish to kick off our meal. This is Barely touched: best of the best - a starter of three luxurious ingredients basically raw, and paired with a glass of Champagne.

Ebisu winter oyster ˚ aka uni ˚ Petrossian Daurenki Tsar Imperial Caviar ˚ Acipenser Schrenki-Dauricus ˚ - apparently this needs to have equal proportions among the three ingredients. The Ebisu (恵比須) oyster from Karatomari (唐泊) in Fukuoka Prefecture (福岡県) was much more briny than I had expected, and came with some iodine/hospital disinfectant taste. It was crunchy on the first bite, but turned more chewy and creamy later. This worked very well with the sweet sea urchin. The caviar looked beautiful and had a richness and depth on the palate, although the texture was more firm than I had expected.

Laurent Perrier Ultra Brut - good depth on the palate, good amount of acidity due to zero dosage but not too sharp. Nice and toasty nose, with some green apple about 2 hours later.

March 6, 2022

A partially-free lunch

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The majority of posts I put up about visits I pay Uwe Opocensky inevitably starts with something along the lines of "It has been quite some time since I last visited...", "I have been remiss...", or "I've been a terrible friend..." While I have had a long friendship with my chef friend, for one reason or another I don't visit him nearly enough. And he's not exactly shy about reminding me... dropping occasionally hints in his messages to me.

So... I guess I did respond to his nudges. And I grabbed DaRC and Ro Ro along. In this socially-distanced dystopian version of the former "Asia's world city", four of us are now seated at two separate tables sufficiently spaced apart at Petrus. I did request for Uwe to "not kill us" but alas, he said "that's what friends are for."

I never know how much food we would get, but Uwe did say that he wanted to try out a few things with us. So... off we go!

Salmon stones - I wonder if this was still Ōra King salmon marinated with kombu (昆布), with an oyster leaf underneath. With truffle and sesame (and soy?) dressing.

Cheese gougères

March 5, 2022

Not a home delivery birthday dinner

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Once again, our plans for a nice night out tonight was scuttled by the collective of selfish anti-vaxxers, aircrew who flouted quarantine arrangements, and consequently the Hong Kong government. Two months after the government announced a ban on dining-in service after 6 p.m., this is now an all-too-familiar experience that keeps getting stuck on repeat. The original reservation for tonight was booked on December 1st of 2021 for January 9th, which was quickly rescheduled to tonight after the dining ban announcement a few days before the original date. As the dining ban has been extended to April 20th at the earliest, we needed to look for alternative solutions for a family gathering tonight.

We normally stay away from food delivery, as it inevitably ends up generating trash and plastic waste in particular. In this case we didn't have much choice, so we looked for options which were more appealing. Thanks to collective indecision among the three of us, our first choice involving mostly cold dishes became unavailable... and I remembered that I had been tagged in a social media post about delivery from Louise. So it was decided that we would get the Charlotte Menu delivered to My Birdbrain Cousin's place.

I had spent more time than expected rearranging wines in my cellar, so Sankala and I arrived after the food had been delivered. Our query to My Birdbrain Cousin regarding reheating instructions were, apparently, not taken to heart... as she ended up only reading part of those instructions. But I suppose we shouldn't have expected too much.

Bread and spread - the sourdough is tasty and the whipped butter is equally good, although I chose not to add the sprinkling of nuts on top.

Pâté en croûte Louise - gotta say that this was pretty good. Not the same kind of game meats I get from Caprice, but tasty nonetheless.


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