March 24, 2024

50 Best and then some day 4: the temple of Hanwooooo

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I'm spending the whole day with the Man in White T-shirt.

He wanted to grab a coffee before we headed off to lunch together. After cleaning up, I headed his way via the subway. This was when I encountered serious problems for the first time in 3 days - both in terms of inter-line transfer as well as the train not reaching my desired destination. After switching to taxi, I managed to arrive at Nudake for the second time in 3 days... albeit much later than I had wanted to be.

Since I was incredibly late and we were running out of time, I just got myself an iced long black and kinda gulped it down.

Lunch today was at Born and Bred in Majang-dong (마장동). Almost 7 years after I first experienced the magic of the best Hanwoo around, I finally had the opportunity to come back. Except I'm not dining at the original "speakeasy" upstairs from the butcher shop. This is the newer, multi-story restaurant that owner Jung Sang-won (정상원) originally described as inspired by the movie Kingsmen before the restaurant opened.

Once everyone had arrived, we moved to the private counter in the basement. I had missed a group outing here in late 2019 not long after the place first opened, but at the time I was already so busy flying around the world for work that coming in just for a weekend - in the middle of an already hectic schedule - just didn't make much sense. What followed was 3 years of effective border closures for Hong Kong, and here we are.

Chef Min Kyung Kwan was taking care of us today while his kitchen team works on their upcoming collaboration with Dave Pynt of Burnt Ends. He wants to showcase the best they have to offer, but is well-aware that everyone here has been - and will continue to - eating nonstop. He has chosen to serve us smaller portions of each item, so that we wouldn't feel like throwing up by the end of our meal from being stuffed...

One of our dining companions very generously brought a bottle of Krug to share with the Man in White T-shirt. The rest of us became beneficiaries of this generosity by default...

2000 Krug, ID 313058

Galbitang (갈비탕) - the morel was stuffed with different types of mushrooms, and we also had finger meat. Gotta say that stuffing was really tasty, as was, of course, the soup itself.

Yukhoe (육회) - made with chuck tender, and mixed with oi gochu (오이고추) peppers. This was really nice, with a little fermented sauce that wasn't quite spicy but very flavorful, and worked well with the caviar and the umami.

March 23, 2024

Earth Hour 2024

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My 16th Earth Hour finds me in Seoul, as I had come up a couple of days earlier before the festivities that will take place next week. After a very long lunch today I had retired to my hotel room, and when the time came I decided to walk around the big block that is COEX and see if anyone around here cared about Earth Hour.

COEX has a ton of large, bright LED screens that blast out advertising 24-7, and there's one just across from my hotel room. Like all the others on both sides around the block, the screens never darkened.

50 Best and then some day 3: collaborative stuffing

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I decided to sleep in this morning. Haokofu and I decided to take a long walk after dinner last night along Apgujeong-ro before returning to our hotels, and that was a lot of walking. So... I was still in bed when the Great One went for her breakfast soup with Vicky Cheng. I did get around to having a quick coffee with her at Coffee Jinsim Bakery (커피진심베이커리). As we were about to have a huge lunch, I decided not to get one of their cute-looking salt breads and just had myself a hazelnut cafe latte. I expected this to just have a shot of hazelnut liqueur inside, but was pleasantly surprised by the presence of crushed hazelnuts and pine nuts.

A bunch of us piled into a taxi and made our way north to Onjium (온지음). We are joining one of the events of the 50 Best Signature Series, which sees Onjium host the Chairman (大班樓) from Hong Kong and Seroja from Singapore for a "6 hands" collaboration.

Now, the reason why I came up 2 days ago was to visit restaurants before the "50 Best crowd" get into town, and try out the restaurants' own cuisine instead of all these "collaborations". So many of these 4-/6-/8-hands events are simply different chefs alternative dishes from their repertoire, and they don't feel like real collaborations. I had told PR8 point blank that I wasn't interested in any collaboration meals from his clients, and most of all, I didn't want to run into some of the people who somehow always show up at these sort of events.

But... this is different. Any of the Chairman's collaborative events is worth attending, because Danny and the team insist on it being true collaborations - where many dishes actually combine elements from all participating parties. This requires actual thought and effort in planning ahead, and indeed, the teams for today actually got together multiple times to work on the menu. So... I'm always willing to make an exception for the Chairman's events.

Today's seating plan saw the same foursome that had sat through this dinner last October placed at the same table. I saw a few familiar faces around the dining space, but it was all good.

Amuse-bouche - we began with this platter featuring nibbles from all three restaurants.

March 22, 2024

50 Best and then some day 2: stingy with the kimchi

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When I was planning my itinerary in Seoul, one of the restaurants whose name kept coming up was Kwonsooksoo (권숙수). I'm definitely focusing on Korean cuisine while I'm in town, and this seemed to be a place that quite a few friends have enjoyed dining at. So I roped in Haokofu to be my partner in crime and got ourselves a table out in the main dining hall.

Since we were here for the first time, we decided to take the Chef Tasting Menu, since it only has 2 extra courses in terms of volume.

The table setting was not something we were used to or had expected - having an wooden, elevated platform on which our dishes are placed.

Welcome drink with small appetizer (우리 술과 작은 안주를 곁들인 주안상) - from reading the menu, I thought we'd get the famous kimchi cart wheeled in front of us as a start, but I suppose it does make more sense to have our welcome drink first...

50 Best and then some day 2: basement Hanwoo

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I haven't seen my friend Jay Essu for a while. In fact, the last time I was with her 10 years ago we had hit Dominique Ansel Bakery together and waited in line for cronuts. My time in NYC back in 2019 was too short during a hectic business trip so I never bothered to arrange something, and then came the pandemic years... Anyway, now that she's moved back to Seoul, I took the opportunity to catch up with her.

I had asked her to pick a restaurant that she wanted to show me, so that's how we ended up in the basement at Wooga (牛家), a restaurant that specializes in aging Hanwoo beef. The menu at lunch is pretty simple, and we ended up choosing the simple sets.

First came the banchan (반찬), with a big bowl of salad plus tofu and, of course, kimchi.

March 21, 2024

50 Best and then some day 1: back to the sikdang

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After being back in Hong Kong for less than 3 days, I'm on the road again. This year's festivities for Asia's 50 Best Restaurants are being held in Seoul, and I've decided to come back to Korea for the first time since 2017 to check out the dining scene.

After being dropped off by the bus in front of the Parnas Tower at COEX, I wheeled my luggage across the street to check in to Shilla Stay Samsung across the street. It was now past 4pm and I hadn't eaten lunch, so I was kinda starving. I knew that dinner was less than 3 hours away, but I still needed to just get something in my stomach. So I strolled around COEX Mall for a little, and eventually made my way to the basement food hall at The Hyundai where I grabbed a deep-fried halibut cutlet. Not the lightest bite I could have chosen, but it would have to do.

I made my way to Jungsik for a return visit. I had given Chef Yim Jung-sik (임정식) some small gifts last year, and he was appreciative enough to ask me to pay his restaurant a visit. So I roped in Mikacina and Kutsuyama - who played carrier pigeons for me - as well as my local kohai (後輩) to make this a foursome.

The took the signature menu, with the accompanying wine pairing courtesy of the chef. This should be fun.

First up was the banchan (반찬), which came in 6 parts:

March 18, 2024

B's detour day 5: truffle all the way

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It's all Hairy Legs' fault.

While he was in Macau 4 days ago for the Michelin Guide ceremony, he stopped by Robuchon au Dôme for a meal, and Chef Julien Tongourien made him Oncle Joël's signature black truffle tart. Now, this is not something you see often, because 1) it's gotta be during truffle season, 2) the quality of the truffles must be sufficiently high to ensure enough pieces can be cut in the same shape, and 3) the food cost for this is so high that most of the L'Ateliers around the world simply can't make it work economically.

But this is au Dôme in the Grand Lisboa Macau, and if anyone could do it, it would be Julien. I quickly asked for a table for lunch today, and inquired whether it would be possible to have the truffle tart. I was happy that the answer to both questions were in the positive, and looked forward to getting my friends their first experience with it. I had prepped them beforehand about the whole series of chariots that would be pushed in front of us, and that's something that is not often seen outside of France and Europe.

The weather is completely crap today, and there is almost zero visibility from the windows, so I was perfectly happy being seated in the private room.

For lunch service, one can still choose among the 3-, 4-, or 5-course menu in addition to the full tasting menu, so we all opted for 4 courses since we also would have the extra course of the truffle tart. In fact, I was surprised my friend didn't choose the 3-course lunch. As for me, all of my choices today included black truffle... because it just felt like that kind of day.

As management very kindly provided us with a bottle of Champagne, there was no need to push the Champagne trolley to our table. This was a shame, because I really enjoy seeing the sight of that trolley.

Our first order today would be from the bread trolley. Paul pushed this into the room, and I gotta say this is still very beautiful to behold.

March 17, 2024

B's detour day 4: death by jasmine

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While I'm generally a creature of habit, I do occasionally try out new restaurants where I've received positive feedback from friends. This time around in Macau, I was determined to check out Imperial Court (金殿堂) at the MGM Macau. In my years of somewhat frequent visits to Macau, I had never once dined in one of the MGM casinos. In fact, I've never even stepped foot in either of the casinos. So this would be a first...

But the evening did not start well. The second I stepped foot into MGM Macau, my olfactory senses were overwhelmed by the house perfume that permeated every corner of the casino, including the restaurants. I love the scene of jasmine, but I don't want it shoved up my nose for the whole 2 hours or so. And certainly not while I'm dining or trying to enjoy a nice bottle of wine.

Once again I'm trying to be conservative when ordering, which was why I could't order up the sunflower chicken that Foursheets loves so much, because it only comes as a whole chicken. Oh well...

Our amuse bouche was a green pepper stuffed with cuttlefish mousse, which was very tender and nice.

B's detour day 4: birthday menagerie

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One of the places I really wanted to take my friend on her trip was The 8 (8餐廳), since it's one of my favorite restaurants when it comes to Cantonese food. We have not been able to get some dim sum for my friend so far, and this happens to be the perfect place to get that checked off. Nobody does dim sum like the way they do it here.

But first, I took us on a short sightseeing tour around Largo do Senado with its historic buildings, as it's part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we strolled around and made a stop at the Porthos Macau shop for some interesting almond cookies made with Porthos canned sardines.

After a few days of my eating program, I have been instructed to cut down on the ordering. This is pretty easy to do with dim sum, and I figured we could focus on the wines instead...

Abalone with celtuce stem

Blackberry and passion fruit jelly

Steamed dumplings with crystal blue shrimp in goldfish shape (藍天使蝦金魚餃) - BUT OF COURSE we would start our lunch with this! I've been loving these "goldfish" for years, and they continue to deliver. Lately they've added a dab of goldfoil on the dorsal fin.

March 16, 2024

B's detour day 3: the awakening

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One of the regrets this week is that I was unable to bring my friend to dine at Sichuan Moon (川江月), the restaurant which featured Sichuanese cuisine as imagined by chef André Chiang (江政承). It was decided last year that the restaurant would close, and the space was taken over by Chef Tam Kwok Fung (譚國鋒) for the creation of Chef Tam's Seasons (譚卉) - a Cantonese restaurant where the dishes are based on the 24 seasons (二十四節氣) in the Chinese lunar calendar. The restaurant just earned its first Michelin star two days ago, so coming here gave me a perfect opportunity to congratulate Chef Tam in person.

We happen to be in the middle of jingzhe (驚蟄), the season when hibernating insects are awakened by the sound of thunder. While the restaurant has put together a set menu specific to this season, Chef Tam was always gonna brings us something special...

Steamed free-range chicken with scallion oil (蔥油葵園雞) - Chef Tam hits it out of the park on his first at bat. This is Foursheets' current favorite chicken, and I can't tell you how happy she was when this arrived. Wonderful stuff.

B's detour day 3: Macanese family-style

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One of the main items when I convinced B to make a detour to come visit me was a visit to Macau. While Hong Kong has always been a great destination, I've always felt that fine dining in Macau is a better deal - and it's easy to understand why. So I booked us a car to cross the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and, thanks to some unscheduled stops, checked in to the Grand Lisboa Palace more than an hour later than expected.

Which is how we arrived at La Famiglia on Taipa around 1½ hours later than the time of our original reservation. I had asked for recommendations for restaurants which are more Macanese and not just serving Portuguese cuisine, and I decided to check out this one.

Pastéis de bacalhau - these were pretty decent. On the dry side but still tasty.

Chamuças de porco - these samosas were also pretty decent.

March 15, 2024

B's detour day 2: three years late

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It's B's second and last night in Hong Kong, so this is when I choose to bring out the big guns for her. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were all foolishly hopeful that it would be over soon, so we discussed getting her to detour to Hong Kong so that I could open up a special bottle of wine for her. Well... Hong Kong's borders remained effectively closed for almost 3 years, and it took until now for my friend to return to Hong Kong.

During this time, I managed to acquire another special bottle of wine that I thought I could share with my friend. The bottles are so special that I would want a competent sommelier to handle them, and given that I want to go to a Cantonese restaurant, there are only 3 in Hong Kong whose sommelier I trust. So... it's back to Forum Restaurant (富臨飯店) we go... the day after they retained their 3 Michelin stars.

I've been told not to order too much food, but I still want to showcase a few classic Cantonese dishes to my friends.

Pan-fried cuttlefish cake (黃金墨魚餅) - the texture was very soft yet very springy. Fantastic dish to start with.

March 14, 2024

B's detour day 1: that spicy kick

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B was very disappointed when I delivered the news last year that Sichuan Moon (川江月) had closed. She had been looking forward to visiting André Chiang's restaurant ever since it opened, but the pandemic got in the way. To make it up to her - in a roundabout way - I decided to take her to Mián (紅棉). This is a restaurant that Foursheets and I like very much, because while it delivers some very good Cantonese dishes, Chef Ronald Shao (邵德龍)'s background in Sichuanese cuisine adds an interesting dimension to the dining experience.

We normally would have asked for a table on the terrace under the pink and white shower tree (節果決明樹) and take our CC Dogcow along, but not tonight. We ended up sitting inside next to a table of ladies celebrating someone's birthday, and this had a negative impact on the service level. Oh well.

Boiled sliced pork ∙ garlic ∙ chili oil (蒜泥白肉) - I had forgotten how spicy the sauce was, and almost choked on my first bite. This was juuuuuust at the edge of my tolerance, which is to say that I wouldn't be able to have more than 2 slices before my tongue gets lit on fire. I do like the julienned celtuce wrapped inside the pork.

B's detour day 1: that roast goose

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Some 15 years after her last visit, my friend B and her husband have decided to do another detour to Hong Kong as they vacation in Asia. I haven't seen them since visiting them in Switzerland on the back of a business trip just 3 months before the pandemic began, so I'm really looking forward to this catch up.

After doing a quick tour of Tai Kwun (大館), it was time to choose a place for lunch. I gave my friend a choice of two of my favorite places, and she picked the one with a Michelin star without knowing.

I was very surprised to see the Boss Lady in the house, as it's the day of the Michelin star revelation, and they were certain to get a star for the 10th year running (they did). After attending the ceremony last year, I think they probably felt a little out of place... This is understandable, as they are a small shop without a big PR team, and it's not like Mr and Mrs Chu are so recognizable to the crowd in attendance. It's only a small group of people like me who could pick them out of a crowd of hundreds - and that's becos I've been a customer for nearly 20 years. That's a shame, because I'd totally hang out with them at the festivities.

Barbecued pork (叉燒) - this was pretty decent, and even though part of our serving was lean, it was still pretty tender.

March 9, 2024

Peachy fishies

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It's time to celebrate mom's birthday with her once again, and this year due to scheduling conflicts, I had to take her out to dinner on a day that is neither her birthday according to the lunar calendar nor the Gregorian calendar - which is unusual for us. Nevertheless I made the trip back home with Foursheets to spend time with the Parental Units, because all of these memories with them are precious to me.

During the last few months, mom hasn't been as excited about going out to fine dining establishments as she had been, and even though she had told us that there is no need to go somewhere nice, I decided to take her out for a sushi dinner. Knowing that she is likely to balk at the prices charged by the top places in town, I chose to book us seats at Sushi Momo (すし桃) in the Sheraton Grand Taipei - a collaboration between the hotel's Japanese ryotei (料亭) Momoyama (桃山) and Sushi Akira (あきら鮨), which holds one Michelin star. It can't command the high prices as it doesn't have the accolades, yet I felt there would be a certain minimum standard in terms of the cuisine given its pedigree.

One of the rituals for these celebrations with the Parental Units would be the opening of birth vintage wines. I'm not inclined to pop open a claret to go with sushi, which meant the only thing I have available is a bottle of very old Sauternes. How well would they pair? I had an inkling that the sweetness in the wine would work well with some of the neta (ネタ), while the acidity would integrate well with the vinegar in the shari (シャリ), but one never knows until one tries...

March 5, 2024

No classics

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I'm back at the Chairman (大班樓) tonight, entertaining both fans of the restaurant as well as naysayers. A year ago today, My Birdbrain Cousin was a no-show despite the fact that I had booked a table for her birthday. Well, she finally showed up tonight on less than a day's notice. I guess that counts for something...

As I know most people haven't tried the restaurant's newer dishes, I made the decision to pick out a few dishes I had already tried recently, so that the others could get the chance to taste them. I didn't pick many of the "classics" tonight...

Ginger and vinegar pig trotter terrine (甜醋子薑豬手豬耳凍) - this is fast becoming my favorite appetizer here. I have always loved the classic Cantonese dish of braised pig trotters in vinegar and ginger (豬腳薑), and this terrine form is just a fantastic bite. I love the sweet vinegary flavor, and wish I could have 3 pieces to myself, or maybe more.

March 1, 2024

It Doesn't Have to Be

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We haven't seen Mr. and Mrs. Birdiegolf in a while, and figured we need to meet up for our first meal in the Year of the Dragon. Somehow when I asked about where we should meet up, the (almost) immediate response came back to be "Neighborhood". Which was just as well, since it's been quite a few months since I last found myself there.

I knew that the Man in White T-Shirt had recently returned from his holiday, and when Shirley didn't bother to call me about any dishes I wanted to pre-order, I knew that once again the boss had already set the menu for us.

Whiskered velvet shrimp - these 赤米蝦 are a real delicacy, and very much favored by not just us but also each of our dogs at home.

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