Monday, March 31, 2008

Hong Kong - H-One

The more upscale restaurant of Harlan G was tucked away on the roof top of the IFC mall, as compared to Harlan’s, which is in the midst of mainstream shopping on Level 2. It was only when I got there that I understood the difference. While Harlan’s had more American and other standard offerings, H-One’s focus is on Italian and Indian! Yes, you heard right, Indian. An odd combination but the menu was written well enough to make both sections sound appealing. And judging from a huge group of trendy and upscale Indians who showed up, I would think their Indian menu is probably authentic and credibly good. With that in mind, we did succumb to one Indian order of Lamb Naan which was richly satisfying as it was served piping hot straight from the tandoor. The only snag was the uneven spread of lamb bits in the naan which made for some bites to be substantially more salty than others. We decided however that the quality of the naan was good enough was us to go back next time and do the curries, which would have overwhelmed our Italian order of Caesar salad, Beef carpaccio and slow roasted lamb chops.

The Caesar salad was surprisingly light and the romaine fresh and sweet. The addition of a richly orange egg, likely to have been laid by a duck rather than a chicken, was a nice contrast to the lightly vinegared anchovies.

The beef carpaccio with rocket, artichokes and aged balsamic was a wonderful combination of contrasting tastes and made for a delightful taste which could rate as the fifth taste ie. YUMS! My partner even said the beef was so wonderful that it reminiscent of good old fashioned beef hor fun.

The slow roasted lamb was so tender that it tasted like it’s been braised for hours but the crispy exterior was evidence of the fact that it had been exactly as described – slow roasted. Served on a bed of mash that was so creamy, it was truly gourmand baby food. No baby would eat anything instant from a microwaved jar again – this babe certainly wouldn’t!

We ended off with a classic dessert of Blackforest truffle – the generous helping of cherries folded into the soft sponge made for a fairytale ending which while not too sweet, was beautiful, more so than its namesake place!

A salad so simple but good

One of the things I found myself and the locals ordering time and time again on this trip was the simple dish of raw cut you mai cai (油麦菜) with peanut and sesame dressing. The virtually tasteless vegetable made good by the simple combination of a drippy peanut butter with sesame sauce is just so clever. If only all salads tasted as good..

BEIJING - Made in China

Having been to Beijing countless times from the late nineties, I have grown accustomed to and sometimes even miss the place if I have not visited in a while! However, the food has never been a favourite since the Chinese North is heavier in hand with its salt and oil – my grandma says these 2 are essential to keeping warm although I don’t see any less of them in the summer months.

Most if not all of my trips bring me back to my favourite Peking duck restaurant – Made in China at the Grand Hyatt. And this time, having tried the local latest DaDong (also well known for its duck) at Dong Sishi Tiao (东四十条桥西), I can put hand on heart and give the award to Made in China. While the duck at DaDong was very competently roasted and crisp, the gamey ducky taste did nothing for me. The mild seasoning at Made in China was contrastingly tasty and the duck had none of the taste of the wild. Also, the wraps at Made in China were far superior and soft, and our abilities to yank were not tested as they were in Dadong.

The 3 other dishes worthy of mention were the stir fried shredded potatoes and the ZhaJiang Mian (minced pork tossed with pulled noodles). The spuds were crunchy to the bite, just like eating vegetables, and made tastier by the addition of dried chillis. I recall reading somewhere that this was the only way to eat and treat the tuber like a vegetable. Cooked any other way, it is just pure carbs. Women who love their spuds should definitely try this – a guilt free ride to satisfaction!

The Duck Liver served in a sesame pocket and bean sauce is up there with any decent French restaurant – I was lucky to try it again after a long time since they are almost always sold out. I suppose there is only so much liver in a duck! The liver is generous in size and much of it sits outside the little fragrant pocket.

The Zha Jiang Mian was also good – al dente noodles tossed with minced pork and 100 (ok so I exaggerate) varieties of julienned vegetables and soy bean. I truly believe noodles were definitely invented in this country. And that’s why they feature aptly in Made in China.

Hong Kong - Megu

Having seen the various reviews over the last couple of months on the 2 new contemporary Japanese restaurants in town, we decided to head down to Megu at Elements Mall to complete our Easter eating odyssey.

Needing to use the bathroom, I was amused to find that they needed a dedicated staff to direct customers to the right place. The relief rooms were found at the end of a dark and red corridor which while trendy, made me feel like I was entering the twilight zone. Just when I thought the theme would continue into the bathroom, I was pleasantly surprised to see the dark wood and soft lighting with touches of green in the well-trimmed plants. And of course, the warm seat of the WC reminded me of my visits to Japan where they have gotten the art of relief down to a T.

I got back to my seat at the dining table and was served by an enthusiastic and eager-to-serve waiter but the only thing I could do in response was just concentrate on holding my breath! One of the things that I believe good restaurants fail to introduce as part of their training is personal hygiene, and while some women fancy the manly musk of a post-workout hunk, I find that the “men who serve” category is better off with the latest subtle scents from Boss.

We finally got the pre-dining adventures out of the way, and started dinner. First up, the sushi platter of otoro, hamachi and sake. While we had had better otoro and sake, the hamachi was so good it melted in our mouths. As an acquaintance once said, it can “melt your cares away”. It was so good we decided to go ahead and outdo ourselves by ordering the Hamachi Carpaccio, which was prettily served in a fan, with sweet soya and garnished with tiny rings of green chili. The Caesar salad was refreshingly good with generous bits of Yuzu scattered all over, cutting through the richness of the eggy dressing. The Diamond roll was a winner with the combination of the 3 cuts of tuna – otoro, chutoro and Meguro, in a roll of superior rice.

After the winning appetizers, the warm food did not disappoint either. The foie gras in a beef croquette was as rich as it sounds. I would have preferred the presence of mash in my croquette but the foie gras was probably there to lend the similar texture albeit at the expense of another 5 km on the treadmill. The beef stew with miso was by far my favourite of the night. A hearty stew with all the beefy goodness, I was so glad we ordered the rice set to accompany it even though we needed no excuse to lap out all the gravy. The pearl rice was best in class that I have had in a long time and I savoured every grain. Ohh… I could just roll home now..

But of course no meal would be complete without dessert, and we settled for the most Japanese we could get – Azuki red bean cheesecake with matcha ice cream. The cheesecake was very light and married well with the creamy red bean. The matcha ice cream lent itself well and was not too sweet to take away from the goodness of the cake. An excellent finish to a wonderful meal and a weekend of great food and great company. Made up for the soggy weather all weekend and my inability to play tennis.. the sulk rating went down and I could have sworn I hit the smile scale by the time I left for home.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hong Kong - Sang Kee

Easter weekend continues with going back to an old favourite - Sang Kee, in Wanchai. The menu for 2 was already a good representation of the highly sought after salt baked chicken and grass carp congee (which had to be pre-ordered while making reservations).
Of course, gluttony overwhelms us and we were easily sold the blanched Kow Kei vegetable (or boxthorn leaves) - after all, we need our daily iron and fibre - with tender squiddly diddlys (in lieu of the usual pig's liver), and the unusual steamed crab with a plum and garlic sauce. The latter was a heavenly creation of fresh live "meat crab" and a tangy plum sauce which is reminiscent of good sweet and sour pork but less cloying. We were relieved that we decided to order 2 crabs instead of one since it was so good that there would not have been enough to go round.
The chicken was baked till its skin was glowingly crisp but remained succulent on the inside (including the breast meat which can become dry and tough with baking). The grass carp congee was sweet from the generous combination of grass carp and fresh conpoy bits, fragrant from the dried orange peel, and made the more hearty by the presence of home-made pork balls. A refreshing way to load up the carbs in a traditional chinese meal, instead of the usual bowl of steaming white rice.
All too soon, the meal ends with a complimentary order of traditionally steamed white sugar cake, which was moist and fluffy, and brought back good old memories of mommy coming home from the market on a sunday morning with the cake for breakfast.