Monday, March 30, 2009

Hong Kong - Sushi Sumi

Having lived in the Happy Valley area for more than 7 years now, Sushi Sumi is one of 2 staples in the neighbourhood for Japanese cuisine (the other being Bojyo on King Kwong Street). While Sumi by no means the best Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong, they do some pretty decent favourites which I always order when I'm there.

The minced toro rice bowl is one of the best value and tasty ones around. With a generous amount of toro, and freshly cut condiments such as srping onions, daikon, carrots, perilla, and sweet preserved radish, it makes for a hearty meal in itself, especially since it is served alongside a smooth chawanmushi, and hot miso soup.

My other favourite is the Yakitori Tsukune (grilled minced chicken). The mix of various cuts of chicken including cartillage gives it a nice bite (almost crunch). Served with a sweetened sauce, it is a delight to savour with cold sake or Japanese fruit soda.
Sumi also serves up seasonal favourites and their sashimi/sushi is of pretty decent quality although these don't come cheap. Depending on season, you may get a good deal or come away feeling a little burnt. If unsure, best to ask.

On this occasion, they were having a Japanese Wagyu promotion, and despite good intentions to not have any more red meat nor deep fried stuff for the rest of the week, we succumbed to the Wagyu croquette. It is a main course portion and so there's plenty for 2 people if you have other food. Sinful but good smooth beefy goodness with a little mustard and Worcestershire sauce.

If you are ever in the neighbourhood, and want some Japanese, Sumi is not a bad choice to be had.

Sushi Sumi
G/F Elegance Court
2-4 Tsoi Street
Happy Valley
Hong Kong
Tel +853-2803 5558

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Hong Kong - Rice Paper

I've avoided Vietnamese food for some time since my visit to Hanoi in January. When you've spent enough time in a country and expect a certain quality to the local food, to eat it in another country sometimes can mar your experience and make you lose a little perspective on what to expect. 2 months later and in a place like Hong Kong, which has many residents of Vietnamese origin, it's probably not an unwise choice of cuisine. And with the competition, the queues at Rice Paper don't lie. While I would not classify it as the best around, it offers a pretty decent selection and at reasonable prices too.

On this occasion, I went to the Harbour City location. It is my favourite mall in Hong Kong and after a few hours of shopping, Rice Paper is a fairly comfortable and vibrant place to settle into for a light dinner.

I like the noodle dishes. For seafood lovers, the crab meat noodles are good and deceptively light despite its robust colours.

While the beef noodles are better, I had the chicken on this occasion for health reasons (too much red meat and certainly not because I want to dice with the avian flu syndrome)! The broth is clear and not oily, which is nice.

The crispy pancake is not as thin and light as in Hanoi, and nothing spectacular. The fresh vegetables and scattered pieces of shrimp did nothing for me, although I could be severly biased because of the rampant presence of deep fried shallots, which masked the taste of the fresh ingredients. I did like the fish sauce and lime laced honey dip, even dipping my chicken pieces from my noodles in it. Maybe that's why there wasn't enough to go round... sshh...

But the real reason we come to Rice Paper is for the dessert. The banana cake with honey ice cream topped with a honeycomb brittle is one of my favourite desserts. The warmed cake is spongy but dense enough to put up a good defence to the melting ice cream and the honeycomb bits are of course, pure bonus! Always a happy ending!

Rice Paper has an extensive menu and is worth going to for something different yet reasonably healthy. Reservations are essential at peak hours.

Shop 3319, Level 3,
Gateway Arcade, Harbour City,
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3151 7801

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Singapore - Ma Maison (The Central)

Foreign-inspired Japanese food have been around for so long that it is almost a culture in itself. International (well at least within the Asian region) favourites include Japanese curry (eaten with rice or udon), the deep-fried breaded series of foods including pork, shrimp and of course the croquette, pastas, and of course, the hambaagu! Ma Maison (originally from Nagoya) specialises in bringing some of these favourites in a French cottage feel. The modern alternative comfort food.

Ma Maison is known to pack in the crowds but on a recent Sunday, we managed to stroll in without reservations at about 8 in the evening. The decor is very well done and the immediate cosy feel of a French cottage hits you. And if you get a table by the window, the lights along Clarke Quay are in full view.

As a first course, we shared the Mentaiko Spaghetti. It was just a little short of al dente although it should be kept in mind that I like my pastas more firm than the local norm. Tasty enough but not enough mentaiko to go round. Otherwise competent though.

The piece de resistance at Ma Maison are the hamburger patties (or Hambaagu). For effect, we were recommended the hot plate version, which the patty arrives on, followed closely by the waiter with a little pot of sauce, which sizzles up the whole plate and causes quite a ruckus and smells to boot, when he pours it over. Quite a sense of arrival. The sauce is slightly tangy from the lime but together with the grated radish, works to cut through the grease. Pretty good although the beef wasn't "beefy"enough for me. Tasty enough though.

Another novelty: take the key below to the cashier for payment when you are done.

A good enough experience even if not spectacular. Works well to satisfy a craving for the kind of food on offer. May not be worth a queue though.

Ma Maison Restaurant
6 Eu Tong Sen Street
The Central @ Clarke Quay
Tel: 6327 8122

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Singapore - Joo Heng Restaurant

Even the best gourmand in all of us likes to return to comfort food every now and then... in my definition, food that featured largely in our formative years. Especially in a place like Singapore, when a meal out used to mean "cze char" (Fujianese for 煮炒) in the good ole days. Cze char is locally used in Singapore to refer to home-style Chinese cuisine and literally puts together 2 words which take 2 common styles in Chinese cooking - boiling and stir-frying.

The art of cze char is definitely dying, at least if you equate it with good quality home-style cooking. The ability to keep consistent quality in a cze char kitchen is no mean feat, especially in a high heat industrial kitchen in hot and humid Singapore (most of the good cze char places have no airconditioning in the kitchen!) and should almost be an Olympic sport. In this arena, my gold medal in Singapore goes to Joo Heng. After patronising it regularly for 10 years, the quality is no different from when I first tried it - Great!

I always start with the soup of the day, which more often than not, is the ever popular lotus root with pork ribs soup. Coming from a Cantonese background, this is not soup at its best, but Joo Heng manages a commercially viable version which has enoguh taste even if lacking in what Grandma terms as "火炉" (or Chinese for furnace - charcoal was used in the old days and lent itself to the rich and almost but not quite smoky taste of a soup which has been simmering for about 4 hours).

If you are a first-timer or creature of habit, the must-orders are:

Sharks' fin and Crab meat scramble. Perfect combination of textures to deliver a unique taste, especially when eaten in the accompanying letture leaves, laced with the in-house belacan chilli paste, with a tang from fresh lime. Perfect appetiser.

Smooth home-made tofu wtih medium sized shrimps. The rich gravy is so good that I would not even attempt to try and describe it but suffice to say that the prawn stock is definitely evident. If you are a rice fiend, you may go into carbo overload.

The steamed fish head with yellow bean paste is the piece de resistance. Steamed with a fragrant yellow bean paste, and garnished generously with spring onions and deep-fried pork lard cubes, it makes for a complex but outrageously tasty dish. Only caution: the fish head they use has loads of bones, especially hidden ones so try not to multi-task when you eat this!

Other dishes that are worth trying include:
Steamed minced pork patties, stir-fried potato leaves, and most everybody's favourite prawn paste chicken (photo below).

Good ole fashioned goodness!!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Singapore - Shibaken

Trust ladies who lunch.. that's what I say. Especially if they happen to be Japanese. From my various visits to Japan, I've always noticed queues at good restaurants during the lunch hours. They know the best food at the best value. So when I come across a review which indicates that Japanese ladies who lunch flock there, I am there. This time, I was there for dinner. We selected the 5-course of Shibaken's 2 prix fixe menus since it was our first time.

We started with a sashimi platter of scallops, Canadian lobster and the in-season bonito, drizzled with a raspberry vinaigrette. The seafood, in particular the scallops, were exceedingly fresh. Worthy of a Japanese sashimi/sushi restaurant.

Cabbage cream soup warmed our opened appetites thereafter. Sounds boring, but when you taste it, you can taste the process of superior stock, good quality cream with generous bits of cabbage for bite. If it hadn't been for a plain presentation (white soup in a white bowl with no garnish), the photo would have made it up here.

For my main course, I selected the Australian Wagyu in a sea salt bread roll, served with sauteed mushrooms and Kenyan kale flowers. The clever use of the roll to seal in the beef captured the juices from the beef as it baked and made the roll that much more tasty to chew on too. While I would have personally preferred a Japanese Wagyu's marbling, I couldn't find fault with the taste which resulted.

My dining partner B's choice of the rascasse on a bed of seasonal vegetables was outstanding in the choice of fish but disappointing in the final delivery and I way preferred my choice of the beef.

I also selected the Oolong tea risotto with topped with firefly squids and served with a very good red miso soup and pickles.

B's soba with grated mullet roe and served with a sake was also a nice balance of the sometimes overpowering roe. Both are good ways to set a fine meal.

Dessert was the in-house trio of French chocolate desserts - an opera (which was rich but light), a chocolate macaron, and the winner of the trio, a scoop of chocolate ice cream (light on the cream and heavy on the quality chocolate) with crispy chocolate rice balls!

Served with a smooth filtered coffee in a pretty coffee cup, Delightful!

Hats off to Chef Kenichi Shibata for bringing a delightful French dinner that is perfect for women who love their French cuisine but without having to suffer on the waistline too much!

Shibaken French Cuisine
1 Nanson Road
The Gallery Hotel
Tel: 6836 1613

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Singapore - Hachi

After so many months, I'm still trying to get used to Hachi's new layout at Mohamed Ali lane, by the carpark at Club Street. Its previous home at Orchard Emerald was cosier and it was easy to get a glimpse and participate in the chef's creations, especially if you get a table at the tiny counter. Now, at more spacious premises, the homely feel seems to have gone missing although the chef still manages at times to have a conversation with his countrymen customers at the end of the restaurant. Definitely adds to the cool minimalist atmosphere.
The food is still well executed and is probably one of the few establishments which offers an entry-level Omakase meal for under S$100. Don't expect top notch quality but you can bank on well put together courses- we had 11 to be exact so you definitely won't leave hungry.
1. Soft boiled egg laced with seaweed, salmon roe, swimming in a soya based sauce, laced with a little bit of wasabi was like doing old-tyle Singapore breakfast, but a tad more upscale. A refreshing start.
2. Kumamoto oysters freshly shucked and served cold with a ponzu dip is perfect for the humid weather in Singapore.
3. Sashimi of sweet prawn in a sauce reminscent of old-style Cantonese sesame-oil and lime based sauce typically served with raw fish to be dunked in congee, was different from the usual take. Good!
4. Sliced Shishito peppers served with a miso-based natto and garnished with bonito flakes was interesting. Good enough even for a non-natto fan.
5. Lightly roasted gingko nuts tossed in a bit of salt is always a good accompaniment to Sake.
6. Grilled vinegared mackeral pieces were very tasty and easy to down even for non-fish lovers because of the piquancy from the rice vinegar.
7. Smoked duck breast with miso was tasty but too chewy for me. I had to take away a fair number of points there since I usually like duck breast.
8. Maguro sushi was fresh.
9. A nice nabe pot of clear soup lightly flavoured by leeks, shitake, enokis and served with homemade tofu and fish balls was a nice break to the dry food and a good preliminary to the final dish of ..
10. Tendon made from an assortment of vegetables and shrimp meat.

A satisfying meal, ending with...
11. Melon (unfortunately not the Japanese netted melon but sweet anyway), large grapes (not Kyoho), persimmons (not from Nigata but pretty firm and crunchy), and strawberries.
The menu won't blow you away but execution at Hachi always leaves one going away pretty happy and satisfied.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hong Kong - Cuisine Cuisine

It is my centurion post! Time flies. It has been loads of fun doing this and it has definitely built up on my very own archive of dining spots both in Singapore and Hong Kong, where I spend my time almost equally. And where luck or opportunity brings me, I share my exploits from other places like Hanoi, Tokyo, Shanghai. If only I had gotten my dummy camera earlier... I hope you continue to enjoy reading as I do posting and photographing.

And so, my 100th exploit takes me back to one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong. Cuisine Cuisine is the Cantonese twin of its Sichuan/South American sister - Lumiere, both on Level 3 of the IFC mall.
Cuisine Cuisine emphasizes fresh produce, cooked in traditional methods, but with a modern finish. Dishes are rarely heavy but do not detract from the flavours meant to be brought out. So proud they are of their cooking methods that these are listed on the menu beside the dish so the diner understands the process by which the food is delivered to the table.

On this recent visit, of worthy mention are:-

Deep fried pig intestines stuffed with glutinous rice. Diehards will love these and there is no foul smell. This refined version takes out most of the insides and just leaves the lining to hold the rice as a sausage might. Great appetiser!

Cod fish topped with crab meat and asparagus made for a superb combination of crispy and creamy goodness. Well executed and not heavy.

Tender Angus beef cheek braised in a peppercorn sauce. Soft beefy goodness contrasted with the subtle spice from the peppercorns made for a beef dish worthy of even a good steakhouse.

Flat egg noodles tossed with shrimp roe and shark's fin skirting was excellent. While the noodles could have been more al dente, the sauce was perfect in bringing out hints of the dried seafood while not coming across as too musky.

Those familiar with the Hong Kong snack scene will know what a "por lor bau" or "pineapple bun" is and Cuisine's mini rendition stuffed with a chestnut paste was not cloying and made for a good dessert. The steamed honey cake (not photographed) was also a winner.

A wonderful meal to mark my 100th post!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Singapore - Momoya Restaurant

Without having interviewed the owners, one has to believe that the rationale for the concept is the doom and gloom surrounding the economic climate. But if you gotta eat, you gotta eat. All-you-can-eat fun Japanese food is a pretty darn good idea, especially if things are only prepared upon order. The restaurant was 80% full on a weeknight so I guess they agree with me!

Momoya is new and while there were a few hitches with service, the waiter was astute and spotted my little camera by my side and decided to play the sympathy card. Good on him since he played it well - that he was tired but still happy to be serving and apologised if he was not as attentive as he should be! Score!

For the price one pays, it would be unfair to expect top notch ingredients but if you stick to the well-executed items, a happy meal can be had.

Some of the winners I tried and liked:

Belly pork braised in soya sauce

Hamachi sashimi (not the premium grade but fresh)

Yakiniku beef was tasty (but you must like fatty streaky beef).

Mentaiko pasta (very good - I had 2 portions)

Beef curry rice - ends meal on a hearty note.

A place worth popping into if you are in the neighbourhood and just want some Japanese comfort food.

16, Jalan Pari Burong
Picardy Garden
(Off Upper East Coast Road, near the Singapore Expo)
+65 6245 3303