Sunday, November 28, 2010

Hong Kong - The Drawing Room

It was a good week of eating and eating well.  And why not, it's not everyday that I turn wiser.  And the decision to dine at The Drawing Room was indeed a wise one.  In short, it was excellent value for the quality that we were met with.

The location is a beat-up section of Causeway Bay, but bordering on luxury row, with Lee Gardens just a brisk 2 minute walk away.  But behind the glass doors, and up the stairs, was a comfy dining room in cosy-lit surrounds, manned by waiters in chic black shirts.

While waiting for the dining mates to arrive, they plied me with a warm bread basket.  Lovely selection.  My favorites were the breadsticks in the glass - dunked in bits of cheese and hardboiled egg, as well as the big roll that was of course, crusty on the outside yet soft and fluffy on the inside, and most importantly, served warm.

While we each decided on variations of the 4-course menu, we all went with the same appetizer.  And without regrets.  The pan fried quail and foie gras with fig and hazelnut, served with an onion tart, was easily the dish of the night.  Each of the quail and foie gras was finished to a crisp on the outside, and therefore mouth-watering when served.  On the inside, the quail was very moist, and finger lickin good when finished off the bone.  The foie in contrast was creamy on the inside and given a contrasting texture from the roasted nuts on the top.  I don't really like onions, but in this case, even I have to admit that the caramelized onions over the buttery pastry was good to the last bite.  Naturally, I wiped the plate clean.

My second course was the Burrata cheese ravioli with duck ragout and chanterelle mushrooms.  The Burrata, which is a milkier and creamier version of the usual Mozzarella we eat, created both taste and texture as the insert of the ravioli.  Combined with a tasty duck ragout with chanterelles, this dish had the complexity but not in a confusing way.  Each taste came through and so you can enjoy the quality of each component.  Of course, the greens on the top added a healthy factor to this dish which I liked, since there were no other greens available.

C1 went with the seafood risotto which was very nicely done but the raviolis were probably more of a signature of the chef here.

The widely touted Wagyu beef cheek and Ox tongue with whipped mash and a red wine sauce were C1 and C2's choice.  However, both declined the ox tongue and so got a bigger cheek to savor.  Both were very quiet while eating this.  A difficult thing to achieve with them so it must have been very good.  A tiny morsel I got out of charity proved this to be true.  The meat is so soft that you can break it down with your tongue, but the taste was so unmistakably good beef.  Aromatic from finishing in the oven, this was simply delicious.  

My choice of the Roasted Pigeon was in contrast, not as "wow" but was still very good.  Slightly pink on the inside to retain its natural juices, the outside was roasted to a crisp and as usual, I enjoyed the thigh bone and pulled every bit of meat I could off it.

Of course, no meal is complete without dessert.  Although this was not my choice (wrong again, sigh...) the pear tart with vanilla ice cream was the show stealer in the sweets section.  Crisp tart base (thank you, Mr. Butter) with well stewed pear wedges over the top, finished with a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream was good to the last mouthful.  

My choice of the "apple demonstration" was good but just didn't come close to the pear tart.  The tower was simply apple done in a variety of ways.  My favorite was the slow-cooked apple base (which would have been a wonderful accompaniment to the tart base from the pear).  Next came a tofu-like layer which had a fragrance likely from the beans of a vanilla pod, then "crumble bits" finished off with an apple sorbet.  If I had to say what disappointed me from the night, this would be it.  Even then it was very competent, just not my thing.

With any place, the last course could make or break the memory.  In this case, the petit fours tray reinforced the wonderful experience we had.  The madeleines (whether you go with Grand Marnier or Chocolate) were both good.  The macarons (while tiny) can rival the macaron specialists out there.  And even the little jelly drops dusted with sugar crystals were yummy.

And of course, the obligatory birthday tune, and a piece of Tiramisu interspersed made the night even sweeter.  Thanks C1 and C2 for a lovely night and the TDR choir for providing the Acapella voices.  Happy Birthday to me.

1/F, JIA Boutique Hotel
1-5 Irving Street
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2915 6628

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mont d'Or Cheese - 'tis the season..

Dim Sum Mont d'Or.. created by Jason 
One of the great things I did this week was to join a group of like-minded individuals to enjoy an evening of cheese and wine.  This season's cheese and Vacherin to be exact.  Available only from the fall, this seasonal soft cheese may be made with pasteurized or unpasteurized milk either from French or Swiss cows, depending on which side of the border they're grazing.

The cheese is more liquid than it is solid when ripe, and is definitely a "soft" cheese.  We started off with a cold or more accurately, un-warmed version first (should have been left breathing at room temperature for several hours prior to serving).  I turned up late so it must have already been breathing for at least an hour by the time I got there.

Soft and creamy, and rich but not overly pungent, it was perfect with the warm and chewy baguette slices that it was served with.  Classified's baguette was especially crusty on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  Just the way I like it.

Served warm from baking, the cheese is even more enticing, with the aroma filling the room easily, sending swooning faces towards its direction as it's being brought out.  We wait in eager anticipation as it is set down with its usual condiment friends of green apples, bread cubes, and potato cubes.  The use of sweet potato cubes was also a clever addition here.

The folks dig in with their fondue forks, pitching it into one of the condiments, dunk and enjoy.  Washed down with a sweeter Gewurztraminer, the room is once again filled with appreciation.

Wonderful experience and of course, meeting new folks who know how to take time out to enjoy a mid-week party made it even better.

Thanks to Geoff for organising the party.  So nice to see @ and @ again.  And so good to have finally @.  Also, a hello again to @ @ @ @ @ @, folks that I met at the party (did I miss anyone??).  Hope to see you all again soon. 

Classified Mozarella Bar
G/F, 31 Wing Fung Street
Wan Chai
Tel: +852-25283454

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hangzhou - Farmhouse cuisine (农家菜)

For better or worse, one of the things to try in Hangzhou is farmhouse cuisine.  It's pretty much hit and miss.  It's become more restaurant like in recent years, but I think the whole experience is dynamic.  Every part is moving so if all the parts come together, then it's a wow.  You never know whether grandma, mom, first or second aunty, or even uncle is going to be the one helming the wok on the day.  You never know if the lake is going to offer up a fresh catch or that the free-range chicken was an athlete before ending up at the slaughterhouse.

On our short trip, we had one hit and one miss.  However, our miss occurred after a 2.5 hour hike at Taihuyuan, so even cardboard would have been tasty.  But one thing's for sure, it's so home style that you will never get the same in a restaurant, even in these parts.

The use of vegetables that we've never seen - how can anything that looks so much like bean sprouts taste so different - full of fluids from a crunchier stem and with a taste almost pickled.  We longed for a better chef who used less MSG and who could bring out all the interesting flavors better.

But we were thankful for our "hit" in the Meijiawu district, after an educational morning learning about Long Jing tea nearby.  LiGengTang offered up the ambiance of a restaurant which could be a pictorial out of the days of dynasties gone by.  Old wooden doors that have weathered storms and seen better days add to the mystique of the place.  Wandering minstrels and fortune tellers ply the street - pay and you'll have an uninterrupted meal.  Don't and they will try to drop subtle hints about your destiny as you eat.  So we chose to listen to a tone-deaf minstrel belting out HanHong's 天路, while enjoying our tea and lightly roasted melon seeds before the food arrived.

Our food at Li Geng Tang was very decent.  Quick blanched lake shrimps in a superior stock, farm fresh vegetables, and my favorite, a quick-braised chicken with Long Jing tea.  Nothing beats a free-range lean chicken that's chock full of chicken flavor and goodness.  None of that bland overly meaty chickens we buy from our run-of-the-mill jaded supermarkets.  This was definitely a sprinter in its time.  Although the tea was too subtle, it was a still very tasty akin to Hakka-style salt baked chicken, and the cause for my eating one more bowl of rice than I should have..

礼耕堂中餐厅 (Li Geng Tang Chinese Restaurant)
西湖区梅家坞 203号(近梅灵南路)  No. 203 Meijiawu, Westlake District
Tel: +86-571-87094726

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hangzhou - Dong Po Pork (东坡肉)

Perhaps the most famous dish to come out of Hangzhou? If you like belly pork, this has got to be the definitive pork belly dish in the Jiangnan region. (I qualify since Southern Chinese love their roast belly pork!) As natives in Hangzhou say: this dish is absolutely healthy as the cooking process squeezes out whatever bad oils that are latent in the layers of pork fat so that what remains is pure and unadulterated, soft and wonderful goodness. 

I like that a lot of the dishes in Hangzhou have folklore behind them. This dish is named after the famous poet Su Dong Po (苏东坡) from the Song Dynasty. There appears to be a few stories as to how this dish came about but whichever story you believe, they all point towards the desire to dedicate the dish to him to commemorate his good work as an officer of the court. In response, Su even composed a poem about how best to eat pork. Word has it that he was a great chef himself.  


During our visit, we had our taste at the Hangzhou institution of Lou Wai Lou (楼外楼) and although the presentation was a little rough around the edges, it is probably close to what Su had in his time? The pork lived up to its reputation of soft layers of fat interspersed with meat that is tender from the baking and steaming process, to the point that both require no chewing at all. Of course, topped off with a gelatinous skin that is rich in collagen and taste. The lone vegetable garnish was probably just for colour and did nothing to alleviate our guilt in tucking into this sinful dish (irrespective of what the locals say).  Just open up and say mmmm..... 

No. 30 GuShan Road, Westlake District 
Tel: +86-571-87969682 / 87969023

Hangzhou - Long Jing Tea (龙井茶)

Long Jing tea – literally tea from the dragon’s well, hails from the West Lake area of Hangzhou and is supposed to have a history in excess of 1200 years.  The best of breed is from ShiFeng(狮峰), followed by Meijiawu (梅家坞).  We had the good fortune of visiting Meijiawu on beautiful autumn day, and admiring the endless tea plantations set against the hilly terrain.  Gorgeous.

Although it isn't tea harvesting season, our guide Jack, who has his own tea plantation, was game enough to give us a demonstration of how to "fry" tea.  It’s a hard and tedious process from harvesting the tea leaves in spring, to drying them, then frying them in a hot pan by hand with the oil of the tea flower.  Given the labour intensive process involved, it is no wonder that the best teas cost about RMB1200 for 500g.  And it is a lot of planning to do it just in time.  As the local saying goes, doing it a day early is ok, but do it late and it’s like harvesting grass. 

As the Chinese saying goes: 住在杭州,吃在广州,死在柳州。 The people of Hangzhou are known to enjoy life, and do take time out even in this day when life in China is hectic.  They work hard to make enough to be able to spend and enjoy then do it all over again.  One of their favourite pastimes is to sip tea and savour little snacks, whilst playing cards in a tree-lined garden and enjoying the temperate weather outdoors.  

As tourists, we chose to do it at an ancient teahouse (太极茶道)  and pay tourist prices – RMB60, where you get a cuppa with 3 plates of preserved plums and other similar snacks

But the ambience within an ancient setting reminiscent of all those tea houses you see in old kung fu movies is worth the treat, and of course “tea masters” donning their old garb adds to the whole atmosphere too.  

No wonder even the famous Lu Yu (which the famous teahouse in Hong Kong Luk Yu Tea House is named after) was a huge fan of tea...

Tel: +86-571-87801791

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hangzhou - Long Jing River Shrimps (龙井虾仁)

Picture taken at Jin Sha, the Chinese restaurant of the Hangzhou Westlake Four Seasons Hotel.

Quintessential dish of Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang province) which marries its renowned young tea leaves with the fresh sweetness of the river shrimps.  Apparently, the leaves must be harvested around the time of Chinese all souls’ day (清明节).  The result: a subtle dish that is fragrant from the leaves and appropriately textured from the sweet crunch of the shrimps, and a visual that is almost virginal. 

Folklore has it that the Qing emperor Qianlong fell in love with this dish on his “undercover” visit to the region in his time.  The dish was apparently an accident created by an anxious chef who mistook the tea leaves for scallions, scattering them over stir fried river shrimps for color and fragrance.

Jin Sha
Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake
5 Lingyin Road



Tel: +