Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hong Kong - Checking In.. Q1 2014

Time has ruled me in 2014 contrary to new year's resolutions... oh well, they never worked anyway.  Good news is I've still been eating.  And what's clear is that Time has dictated that I can't really do this weekly so a quarterly check in ensures folks know I'm still alive and kicking.

Here's what I've been up to in Hong Kong, when I wasn't on the road.  
Lee House
Lee House offered up some of the best sweet and sour pork I've ever had, a light crisp batter coating very good cuts of pork which were finely balanced in its ratio of fat to meat, made more dramatic when served up on ice pebbles on a huge platter.  It's not any healthier than the traditional serving method but eating it cool somehow did make it all cool ie. less guilt even if not guilt free.  They seem to do deep fried dishes very well like the eggplant in a sweet chili sauce, which was not at all greasy on the lips.  Overall, good quality for the money you pay and they do have a menu that is a little more progressive than the "usual Chinese places" in Hong Kong.

Eel and Liver Sausage Claypot Rice from Choi's Kitchen
Since Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store decided to close last November, the winter months have seen me going to Choi's Kitchen (私房蔡) a lot more, largely to enjoy a decent quality claypot rice.  Given the place, it's not cheap by any means but they do use good ingredients.  Dishes can be on the saltier side but otherwise enjoyable.  The claypot rice is well done, and tasty enough to not require the usual condiment of soy on the side.  Rice is good and if you are patient and let it sit for a while before serving, the rice crispies are always well formed and excellent when served with a little tea over the top at the end of the meal, not unlike an ochazuke.  

Hana Sakazuki
This was my last meal at Hana Sakazuki before they shut for renovations earlier this month.  Always a good bet for freshest sashimi in town and almost a default for me for omakase dinners in terms of the range and quality.  

Sushi Mori
For sushi however, I chanced upon the new outlet of Sushi Mori and was pleased to have had that at the back of a long session at the hospital earlier in the morning.  What a welcome treat.  Very small and non-descript, I had walked past without even noticing the entrance, then literally walked backwards when I saw the word "Mori" on the wall that was after the heavy door.  So the chef did confirm that they do very very few walk-ins.  The sushi set for lunch is not cheap by any means (12 pieces for $480) but it was good value and both seafood and rice quality were superb.  I also like this style where they already the season the seafood so you only need to put it in your mouth.  I did ask the chef to go easier on the amount of wasabi he used after piece no. 2 since I felt it detracted from the good seafood he used.  Only real complaint is that they don't do anything else, not even a coffee so I had to scour for a post meal caffeine fix somewhere else.

Oshaberi Izakaya
Continuing on the Japanese theme, Oshaberi Izakaya in Tai Hang, although new, seemed to be working it just fine with a very decent crowd even on a Monday night.  It's a pretty simple menu overall but all things were well executed and a nice hangout after a long day whether by yourself or with mates.  The pricing was a little imbalanced - goya champeru was about the same as the sea urchin tempura, go figure.  But no complaints with food quality.  For those who don't consume alcohol, the choices are a little limiting though.

My final entry in the Japanese category is Dining Kitchen Vegi, a cool little space in a commercial building in Causeway Bay, and yes there are a lot of these.  This was an open kitchen with bleached wood and a patio, quite a clever use of space.  Interestingly, the chef here has a heavier focus on vegetables which probably explains the odd name of the place.  I didn't know that my tempura lunch set was exactly as they described it - shrimp and vegetables.  So I got only 2 very fresh shrimps and then pumpkin, sweet potato, french bean, shishito pepper, mushroom and carrot.  All were surprisingly fresh and sweet by Hong Kong standards.  The accompanying rice with anchovies and avocado was simple yet satisfying.  Coffee they get from Tsit Wing made for a smooth finish.

I finally got to try CIAK- in the Kitchen after hearing all the buzz (some noise) about it.  Loved the concept and while I enjoyed sitting at the pasta kitchen, I didn't enjoy smelling like it after I left but I took what I could get on a Friday night.  The casual vibe was great and with WiFi, it does mean you don't have to talk to anyone!  I liked the carpaccio of beef tongue with tuna sauce (which I have a weakness for anyway), and pizzas were good too.  Duck fat fries were also very well done.  The pasta itself was good but I didn't enjoy their rendition of Carbonara and will be sure to try something else next time.  Dessert of apple tart was underwhelming although the ice cream was good.  I would go again just by virtue of the location and for a little casual Italian menu in that part of Central.

So there were some bright spots, Hong Kong.  Hopefully I get to see a little more of you rest of year.

Lee House Restaurant 李公館
2/F, Cre Building, 303 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai 
Tel: +852-2821 3368

Choi's Kitchen 私房蔡
Shop A1, G/F, 9-11 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang

Tel: +852-3485 0501

Hana Sakazuki Japanese Restaurant 花盃日本料理 
2/F, China Tai Ping Tower, Phase II, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay

Tel:+852-2577 9799

Sushi Mori 鮨森日本料理
1 Caroline Hill Road加路連山道1號地下+852 3462 2728
Oshaberi Izakaya おしゃべり居酒屋

ShopA, G/F., Ming Sun Building, 96 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang

Tel: +852-2570 0280

Dining Kitchen Vegi
3/F, L'Hart, 487-489 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay

Tel: +852-2576 6161 / 2576 6262

CIAK - in the Kitchen
Shop 327-333, 3/F., The Landmark, 15 Queen's Road, Central

Tel: +852-2522 8869

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Eating in 2013

Happy new year!  Yes, I have been tardy.  Yes, I have been MIA since October 2013.  Career wise, it was an unusually crazy 4th quarter.  It usually is anyway in the run up to the holiday season, but this time the craziness spilled right into it.  So no repeat of a vacation away but instead, a staycation in Singapore parked close to the work laptop had to do.

Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store - picture credit to an unknown artist
It is probably appropriate to bid a proper goodbye to the following, some of whom we will miss badly.  I will miss Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store most.  Almost an institution in the Tai Hang area before the advent of other more trendy eateries, Fat Ma finally threw in the towel ironically on my birthday and will no longer deal with rising rents, a systemic issue nowadays.  I will miss her cutting wit delivered in her loud booming voice and her home-style dishes which I had fondly grown to love eating at least once a week.  It was by no means gourmet but it was a slice of home.  Properly boiled soups which had been on the fire for hours, scrambled eggs with sea prawns, perfectly steamed fish and honeyed chicken wings.  I hope to someday have the privilege of eating your food again, Fat Ma.  In the meantime, have a restful retirement.

We also said goodbye to:
- Manor and its signature cholesterol sandwiches of liver and fat, which foodies affectionately coined
- Harlan Goldstein's Strip House now replaced by his new concept Comfort
I thought I saw a tweet that suggested that The Drawing Room will close too but wasn't able to verify it.

Joo Heng's steamed Soon Hock with bean paste and lard
In Singapore, we said goodbye Mr. Soon Ah Chai, the patriarch of Joo Heng Restaurant.  I will miss his awkward smile, one that I had been accustomed to seeing since I started patronizing the place in the late 90s.  Fortunately, his family is still carrying on the roaring business, and it is still possible to have Soon Hock fish steamed the old fashioned way with piquant bean paste and lard pieces liberally sprinkled over.

And on that note, here are my lists by city.  Please note that these are places I did patronize so if your favorite did not make my list, it probably just means I didn't make it there in 2013 and will hope to this coming year.

Hong Kong

Chinese - Ming Court, Tin Lung Heen
Japanese - Sushi Sase, Gin Sai, Ronin, Sushi Toku, Butao Ramen, Hana Sakazuki
Spanish - 22 Ships
Modern European - On Lot 10
South East Asian - Fatty Crab , Cafe Malacca
Private Kitchen - Ta Pantry
Pastries and then some - Beef pie from the Mandarin Cake Shop, macarons from Pierre Herme, Eric Kayser
Down & Dirty - Yuet Wah Wui, Keung Kee, Man Fatt, Kong Hing, Sing Fatt, Yummy Vietnamese
Coffee - Kitamura, 18 Grams

Ronin's Kagoshima Beef, Maitake, Egg Yolk

Cafe Malacca's Sago Gula Melaka


Chinese - Cheng Hoo Tian, Chao Shan Cuisine, Jing Hua Restaurant
Italian - Valentino, Bruno's, Sopra
Japanese - Ikyu, Sushi Mitsuya, Wahiro , Hakata Ikkuosha
Mexican - Lower East Side
Peranakan - Candlenut, Daisy's Dream Kitchen
Spanish - Catalunya
Modern European - Bacchanalia, Toots Brasserie
Down & Dirty - Joo Heng Restaurant , Penang Seafood Restaurant, Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow
Pastries and then some - Eric Kayser, Tiong Bahru Bakery, B.A.O.
Coffee - Nylon, Penny University, Liberty Coffee, Jewel Cafe & Bar

Sushi Mitsuya

Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow


Thai - Sra BuaIssaya Siamese Club, Supanniga Eating Room
Italian - Enoteca Italiano
Bistro - Little Beast

Issaya Siamese Club

Chinese vegetarian - King's Joy
Modern European - Sureno

King's Joy


French bistro - La Queue du Chiot
Vegetarian bistro - Green Vege Cafe
Chinese bistro - Yun Se

Yun Se's mountain yam with blueberries

French - Robuchon au Dome
Possibly my best meal of the year in terms of food and service.

Robuchon's mussels - just perfect
Thanks for staying tuned to EdEats and while there is no certainty that I will be blogging that often in 2014 either, I will continue to be active on Twitter @edenalow and Instagram edenalow so I hope you  can join me there also.  May 2014 be everything you wish for it to be.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hong Kong - Lunching at the Ritz Carlton

One of the biggest pluses about eating or drinking atop the 100+ storey Ritz Carlton is that the views are never the same.  And it is a stunning one no matter where you sit, no matter the weather and no matter the time of day.

Even when the clouds are so low that you can hardly see anything, it is but a different drama but dramatic nonetheless.

And on 102, there is a choice of Italian or Chinese.

Good breads on offer at Tosca are a welcome start especially the squid ink roll.

Bufala beef carpaccio, ricotta cheese cream, spring sprouts and homemade tomato jam

Grilled Octopus
Appetizers are decent enough although the centimeter thick beef carpaccio was a surprise.  Presentations were just short of stunning when compared with the view.  Produce used was superior so no real complaints there.  Pastas were only a so-so and my trio of spaghetti mounds with scampi and tomatoes were a just a tad underwhelming compared with the first course.  

Lemon tart with meringue
A citrusy sweet finish let us off with a happy enough ending and the meringue cigarettes were highly addictive.  So much so it stole the show from the tart itself.

If I could choose however, lunching at Tin Lung Heen is a little more exciting for the variety of dim sums that you can get.  Well, this is Hong Kong after all.

Baked Abalone Puffs with Minced Chicken
I haven't exhausted the menu yet but this is my favorite so far.  The abalone has a nice bite but isn't chewy and is a nice contrast to the crust which is firm but breaks down easily when in the mouth.

Baked Barbequed Buns
These are a nice alternative to traditional steamed BBQ pork buns.  A milky fragrant exterior that is fluffy with a good pork filling which was just a tad sweet for me.

Crispy roasted pork belly
Well, you can't really go wrong with this Cantonese roast staple.  TLH's version is a squatter piece which means the ratio of perfect crispy crackling to meat and fat is well, perfect.

Crispy noodle with Abalone and Chicken
This was a souped up version of the usual with the addition of abalone.  Crispy noodles well done and not greasy and abalones used were fresh and crunchy.  Lots of action on the palate with the different textures.  The fermented bean paste based sauce was surprisingly mild.

Poached Kailan with Conpoy
The use of good vegetables and conpoy came through in this really simple dish and it was a pleasure to enjoy the natural but diverse sweetness of both together.

Petit fours
The osmanthus jelly with wolfberries is a cool and light way to finish lunch without feeling like a tank before heading back to the office.  The floral scent may not be welcome by some but I love it and am usually sold to any dessert where it is represented.  Cashew cookies in the background were pretty decent too.

If you are looking to decompress and have a nice lunch where you can enjoy the views, decent food and actually converse without straining and still be heard, but don't mind paying for the experience, the Ritz actually isn't a bad choice.

Tin Lung Heen 天龍軒 | Tosca
Level 102, International Commerce Ctr.
1 Austin Road West
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Tel: +852-2263 2270

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hong Kong - Gin Sai 吟彩

Gin Sai is part of the trio of restaurants in the new and luxurious Oakhill apartments in Wanchai, that have opened to "critical acclaim", owned by the Lai Sun group, perhaps known first and foremost for the prices of their establishments, but impossible to get last minute reservations.  (Yes, I suppose Hong Kong is still very much thriving.)  So I was pleasantly surprised to have been able to get into Gin Sai on a Friday night.  It wasn't that new when I first visited but it looked to be a "fly-swatting" night, at least on ground level.  But having valet-ed the car, it was a little too late.

I am not a huge fan of oden, a broth based dish served in wintry Japan comprising a variety of ingredients depending on where you eat it, but fish cakes, tofu and boiled radishes seem to be the order of most days.  Being one of their specialties, I actually enjoyed the very tasty but light broth which I finished.  My choices of radish, a steamed squid and meatball dumpling, alongside a deep fried tofu with chopped vegetables and ground fish were actually good.  Fresh and obviously not processed unlike some places.  Serving it with a dollop of mustard on the side added a little pungency and kick to an otherwise mild dish.

Hokkaido Potato Salad
Having traveled the week and not having eaten less than healthily, I thought a salad would be good.  But I had no difficulty succumbing to the recommended potato salad, which was bound together with a fragrant and addictive eggy dressing.  So much for fiber.  I guess the consolation is that they had lettuce on the side.

Tempura crab claw and sea urchin
This was just appropriately decadent for the lazy.  No peeling of crab necessary and lightly battered and deep fried.  Any uncomfortable heat taken away by the creamy topping of cool fresh sea urchin, the sea sweetness accentuated by a little soy sauce.  Gone too quickly...

Robatayaki ox tongue
This was supposedly French.  Whichever French ox it came from, it was pretty tender with a bite.  Just lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection, good with a little wholegrain mustard, and cold sake if you get some.

Chicken meatball
However, I didn't enjoy this as much since I too like my meatballs only lightly seasoned and with enough crunch from the cartilage they infused it with.  This one was distracting with hints of ginger and garlic.  Not overwhelming but obvious enough for it to be distracting.

Seasonal claypot rice
This was by far my favorite dish of the evening.  And we had to wait a good 45 minutes for this.  Thank goodness for free Wifi.

Claypot rice cooked to perfection with sea urchin, crab meat and egg white, laced with fresh chopped scallions.  And bonus?  More fresh sea urchin.

The result?  A sea-tasty bowl of well formed rice with a little crunch from the slightly charred bits of rice nearest the base of the claypot.  Rice was high quality and well cooked to be separate and distinct - an important factor for me.  Mouthfuls of varied textures and tastes, all different depending on what you pick up with your spoon.  So good I doggy-bagged the leftovers and had it 2 days later.  It was still good.

They had an interesting array of Western style desserts rather than the usual Japanese offerings, probably because it is the same pastry kitchen as Wagyu Takumi, the French-Japanese restaurant member of the same group.  We selected swiss rolls topped with different berries.  Use of good ingredients here ensured the result was a lightly sweet end to a decent dinner.

While prices aren't low, the plus is a comfortable and quiet dining experience away from the world of Suzie Wong that is not far away.  A big bonus in an overcrowded Hong Kong these days.

Shop 3-7, G/F The Oakhill, 
32-38 Cross Lane
Tel: +852-25741118

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bangkok - Enoteca Italiana

Bangkok's culinary haven status extends beyond Thai food, and it is in this bustling city where I have had some of my best Italian meals in the region.  For some reason, and there is probably a good one, the kitchens there can really churn out some world class renditions of Italian goodness.

The restaurant is not a big one but it is set in a really lovely garden with floor to ceiling glass so the feel to it is dramatically different if you have lunch or dinner, and add to that the permutations of dry or wet weather, sunny or overcast.  And because it is tucked well away in a soi (Thai for lane) of a soi, it may not be easy for the visitor to find so make sure you have a good driver, as we did.

Amuse Bouche
The menu isn't big and there are specials but don't expect to have a lot of variety.  They have some Italian staples but the menu is otherwise pretty innovative in turning some old favorites into modern eats.  The amuse bouche certainly kicked us off very well.  The dollop of chicken liver mousse sitting atop a polenta bed was given a real kick by a gelatinous balsamic vinegar blob, which packed a wow.

Black ink cappuccino
There was nothing cappuccino like about this one and I was happier for it.  It was in fact more like a Latte, if one were to continue in coffee speak, and a very good one at that.  Rich and creamy given more substance by pureed potato, packed with lots of umami by squirts of black ink from the squid, then given a slight chew by little chunks of squid, allowing you to savor the concoction for that much longer.  Our server was a little judgmental of me though, much to the laughter of the table .  He made me succumbed to a half-portion on account of what I had ordered and my size.  I hate to admit he was right.  The result 3 weeks later is a pining rather than a love affair that was good while it lasted.  I do want to go back...

Has to be one of the best Burattas I've had in my entire life.  Full of texture but without detracting from the creaminess.  And those tomatoes.. wow, those tomatoes.  So sweet that it could be a mistaken identity - cherries?  strawberries?  Hmm...  highlighted by flavored oils and then given a complete re-take by the anchovies on the other end.  Just so much going on in the palate but in a good way.  Brings new meaning to working up an appetite.  Definitely some work out.

Lamb raviolis
After a good workout, you just want to sit back and be pampered.  This very simple presentation of 6 thin but al dente ravioli pockets filled with shreds of lamb that had been braised for a while garnished with the gravy it had been cooked in were just that.  Simple goodness.  Fuss free and likely to be given a stamp of approval by any Italian grandmother.

Chocolate ice
After a week of good eating, and almost giving up (hard to believe), I still wanted to end on a sweet high.  I spied this on the menu and announced that anything with ice can't be all that rich.  I was half right.  This has got to be some of the best chocolate I've had in a while and it is RICH.  But on top of a bed of crushed ice, this was easily downed and every spoonful was a little crunching with a sweet end.

Petit fours
There were definitely some oohs and ahs going on at our table and even our 2 vegetarian friends were converts by the end of the night.  Perhaps the only dish that didn't seem to work was the monkfish, which J ordered.  A spoonful I tried confirmed the verdict but aside from that slip up, all else was wonderful and just a great way to end a the work week.

39 Sukumwit soi 27
North Klong Toey
Tel: +66-2-22584386

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Macau - one night at the Grand Lisboa

So somebody had a last minute "bright" idea to spend a night in Macau to celebrate a birthday.  Hmm...  I'm not a huge fan of the ex-Portuguese enclave but ok there is some pretty decent F&B action there.  Where would we stay though?

When I got news that it was going to be the Grand Lisboa, I thought to myself "oh boy, here we go...". Apart from being in the heart of the city, and not having to battle for the shortage of taxis in the city now teeming with visitors from its new motherland since 1999, the hotel is not the most pleasant to stay at unless you are a fan of wading through crowds taking photos in the public areas of the hotel, which are decked with some museum-worthy sculptures and other feng-shui pieces.

The Casino
Of course the crowds are also there to take their chance at being a tycoon, much to the happiness of the tycoon owner I'm sure.  

Room with a view
Checking in was a slightly painful affair since we strongly insisted on a non-smoking room and almost got "duped" into taking a "treated" room on a smoking floor.  After all the haggling and a 45 minute wait, we got upgraded to a pretty decent room.  A big win considering occupancy rates seemed high for Sunday afternoon.  Rooms are styled in dark wood and while decent in size, had a pretty tight shower stall.  But Hermes toiletries are a plus.

"Dan Dan" Noodles with Minced Pork and Peanuts Paste in Chilli Sauce
Since we had to wait for our room, we ventured to the Noodle and Congee Corner for a late lunch of Dan Dan noodles and pork pie.  While the pie was pretty forgettable the Dan Dan noodles were actually very good, with al dente hand pulled noodles (which we would see from the open kitchen) in an addictive spicy and crunch peanut butter like soup that had the consistency of a thick sauce.  Added to this some minced pork and fresh julienned cucumber made me think they did a cross over with Beijing's famous "Zha Jiang" noodles.

Dinner was a 10 minute walk from the hotel at 陶陶居海鮮火鍋酒家.  A re-decked but old world restaurant serving traditional Cantonese seafood dishes.  Decent food but the MSG attack afterwards which lasted a night didn't seem worth it unless you are accustomed to or do not react to MSG.

Senado Square
Even a walk around Senado Square afterwards nor dessert of Yee Shun's famous milk pudding did not take the pain away.

Fresh Water Crab Congee
The best cure to waking up to a hangover Chinese style is congee.  And what better congee than the famous Macau specialty of fresh water crab congee for room service.  It was surprisingly good value and yummy in taste.  The crab had little meat but was flavorful enough to breathe life into the congee, which became almost the milky sea where the crab might have been swimming in not too long ago.  The dough fritters were dense but fluffy, a combination hard to execute, and salted duck eggs made the meal complete with a yolky richness.

Fresh French Beurre
But no amount of breakfast was going to stop us from enjoying our hard-earned reservation at the 3-starred Robuchon au Dome, which we scored after a myriad of unsuccessful attempts via phone and a face-to-face "begging" session the night before.  Service was impeccable from dealing with a difficult situation, and turning it into a win for both guest and restaurant.  A rarity these days worth complimenting again.  I should have remembered our manager's name but cannot but want to accord her with a big "thank you" again for making the experience memorable.  The world class training at the restaurant extends to our servers who were not only polite but also as knowledgeable as they could be considering their backgrounds.

Amuse Bouche
Of course, the food was definitely awesome and at very decent prices for lunch, it is no wonder that the restaurant is booked for months ahead.  Our amuse bouche was a refreshing gazpacho over a creamy bufala base.  The contrast in flavors made for an excellent tease on the palate before we started lunch proper.

Bread Basket
It is easy to go overboard with a very good selection of breads, especially the brioche and bacon baguettes so pace yourself.

French mussels in white wine and cream
These have to be the best mussels I've had in any long or short term memory.  The consistency in each mussel's sea-sweetness and even size was amazing.  The deceptively light sauce served to enhance each  shellfish.  Served with a gold leaf and flower on the top, it has also got to be the prettiest way to serve this dish.

Caramelized upper guinea fowl thigh with pan fried foie gras and marinated cherry
My choice of the fowl, foie and cherries was also perfection in execution.  What could have otherwise been a rich dish was appropriate for lunch by the clever use of cherries.  Unlike other berries which can be too tart, the freshly sweet fruit made bolder by its marinade complimented the fowl and creamy foie well.

Dessert Trolley
No French meal is complete without dessert and I was happy to see they still use the trolley here.  Needless to say, there was a lot of good choices, and what was outstanding was the Cherry Cheese Tart and the Napolean.  Just a perfect sweet finish with a shot of Espresso.

If you can leave aside a rough ride from the ferry terminal, and battling the crowds who can get rowdy, the one-night staycation at the Grand Lisboa wasn't too miserable.  Especially since the F&B within the hotel more than makes up for everything else.  I might just brave it again if I scored another reservation at the Robuchon au Dome.

Avenida de Lisboa
Tel: +853-28283838