Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hong Kong - Crystal Jade 翡翠拉麵小籠包

Every now and then, I get a craving for noodles.  Dan Dan noodles.  I have my priority list based on what I've had the good fortune to try so far.  In Hong Kong, I do like the one at Liu Yuan Pavilion.  A lot.  But it isn't necessarily convenient to get to regularly, or when you have sudden cravings.  Crystal Jade's best outlet in my opinion in Harbour City works for that reason.

I've had many versions of dan dan noodles.  More often than not, they are the chef's decision on the ratio of chili oil, soup stock and sesame paste.  The one at Crystal Jade has an additional nice touch of roasted chili flakes giving it a more robust taste but is not too spicy for the average Hong Kong palate.

On this visit, just to continue on the sesame theme, I decided to try the braised beef tendon generously slathered with a sesame-based sauce, and which you eat sandwiched in a Chinese bun.  Quite addictive, but gets heavy quickly.

For a healthier snack, the Chinese edamame with beancurd sheets and Shanghainese preserved vegetables are good.  Lightly stir-fried together, the 3 ingredients are as different as day and night but come together in a classic Shanghainese home-style comfort-food type combi of textures.

But let's face it, it's really the dan dan noodles here most of the time that makes me tick.

Shop 3328, 3/F
Gateway Arcade, Harbour City
17 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2622 2699

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Singapore - Gattopardo

The Garibaldi group’s newest venture at the Fort Canning Hotel is Sicilian-inspired Italian with hints of Japanese delivery via a catch-of the-day counter where you can peer (it’s not quite eye-level like Japanese restaurants) at the seafood chef at work, although the seats at the counter were empty. 

Service was a little tardy at first since after we were shown to our seats by the attractive host, we were left twiddling our thumbs for about 5 minutes before we could no longer resist the temptation to ask for the menu and for a bottle of sparkling water to quench my thirst after 3 hours of tennis. 

After the bread bowl was delivered however, service took a sudden turn for the better and was attentive but not intrusive.  And the bread was actually quite good, soft but dense with a good bite.  After we polished up the first lot, including the flavoured bread sticks, they refilled without hesitation.

Our starter of the Amberjack sashimi with Uni Vinaigrette was a refreshing start to the meal.  Served on a bed of crisp chopped up salad leaves with bits of citrus sacs from an orange, the burst of flavours of textures was delightful and certainly a sign of better things to come.  A light hand ensured that the creamy freshness of the Uni came through and not being overwhelmed by acid.  Fine bits of sea salt on the serving plate added to the authenticity of the dish but again, not being overly salty.  Only complaint, the chef was not sashimi grade and there was a bone or 2 which we had to pull out of our mouths discretely and the knifing skills since parts of it was too chewy.  But I won't belabour the point since it isn't a Japanese restaurant.

Our pasta of “holey” spaghetti with Bottarga roe, seaweed, bread crumbs, fresh sardines, plump golden raisins and pine nuts was another clever play on textures and flavours.  Retaining the taste of the Sicilian sea where the sardines hail, their freshness and sweetness were enhanced by the other ingredients.  My only complaint is a real one but I thought a regular spaghetti or linguini would have been better in picking up the flavours.  No great impact to the overall taste though.

The piece de resistance of the night was their signature seafood stew which is easily one of the best I’ve ever had.  Again a light but flavourful stock ensured that the flavours of the fresh seafood was not interfered with.  Fresh cherry tomatoes stewed rather than the overly robust plum tomatoes were used.  The quality and variety of the seafood sautéed in garlic and white wine before a quick boil to seal in flavours from the stock cannot be critiqued.  The tiny mussels which I love, clams, perfectly-done squids, snapper and the oilier Chilean sea-bass made for a perfect, hearty and comforting dish to come home too.  And add to that, 2 perfectly grilled pieces of toast flavoured with good butter.  Just heaven.

Perhaps the most disappointing was the signature Tiramisu.  It was “ok”.  I thought it was way too creamy and one-dimensional.  It’s “ok” if you crave Tiramisu but we should have tried the Sicilian special of the Cannolo, which was recommended, or stuck to one of my favourite Southern Italian desserts of the Rum Baba, especially since you can’t really find them in Asia very much. 

But there will be a next time, since Gattopardo is a wonderful add to the local Italian restaurant scene.  And the fact that it is open till late is even better!  No need to turn to local hawker food only at midnight!  And seafood with a light hand is what any hungry and tired body needs.  If you are not a seafood fan, fret not, they have meat specials for the Carnivore too.  

11 Canning Walk
Fort Canning Park
Singapore Tel: +65 6338 5498

Singapore - Taste Paradise 味之樓 (ION Orchard)

The surveyor that came round to our table said “Welcome to Paradise”.  Ok, it’s not quite paradise but the concept and cuisine at Taste Paradise is a good alternative to the continuing competition between the Crystal Jade and Imperial Treasure empires in an otherwise fairly limited although nicely growing Chinese food scene in Singapore

Taste Paradise seems to want to find the unique taste that is Singaporean Chinese and amalgamates the food experiences of its likely clientele.

As an example, the greenhouse tomato with Goma (Japanese sesame) dressing is a refreshing start to a meal.  A nicely chilled and slightly sweet fruit contrasted with a watered-down sesame dressing to take away the heaviness (although slightly tasteless).

The piece de resistance in Paradise is the politically incorrect bowl of sharks’ fin soup which boasts a rich stock which has been on the brew for 12 hours (or so it says).  Strong hints of the variety of dried seafood which went into the stock and generous servings of the fin although it is not the dorsal but the skirting which makes it more affordable.  The collagen factor doesn’t decrease so it works as well for those on a beauty mission.  You can literally feel your lips pucker naturally as you dig in.  The novelty is serving in a stone bowl which retains the heat well and served with a spring onion “grissini”.  A great bowl of soup otherwise although the stone bowl in hot and humid Singapore is probably not necessary.  Perhaps that’s why the air-conditioner was working overtime.

For “small plates”, I ordered the XO Carrot Cake and the Crispy roast pork. 

The XO carrot cake was very tasty, fried with their house blend of XO sauce, made tasty by the dried shrimps and with just enough heat from the chillies.  Overall, well executed although Mom complained that the carrot cake in itself was a little too mushy.  Not the best “chye tow kway” in Singapore but using a Hong Kong staple fried local style, we were happy enough with it.

The crispy roast pork was crispy but I thought there wasn’t enough of a balance of fat and meat they used.  There was too much fat in proportion leading to a pretty greasy mouthful.  So it lost points there.

The poached boxthorn leaf with wolfberries in superior stock was well executed and the leaves were the right age.  Simple dish but a fulfilling way to eat your vegetables and give your body an iron boost without resorting to smelly pills. 

Our last dish of the vermicelli with a crab meat scrambled in egg whites was probably the most disappointing, especially after having the egg white scramble with fresh scallops and white truffle oil at Imperial Treasure a day before.  The scramble here was comparatively greasy and not as tasty nor fragrant.  Even the vinegar added little to lift the dish and I had to resort to the resident XO sauce served table-side.

My dessert of the jelly and aloe vera in a calamansi and plum based cold soup was refreshing and did well to take the grease of the vermicelli dish away.

Overall, decent food in comfortable surrounds.  But as I said to the surveyor, it is hard to compare if it is the best Chinese restaurant since a lot of the offerings were, dare I say it, fusion, although admittedly, execution was more hit than miss.  Worth a second visit to try their other specials.  But it was odd to do a survey while at dinner, wasn’t it? 

PS.  Despite stinging reviews about service, we had a wonderful server who was attentive and eager.  Full marks for effort even if she could not master the Sichuan-inspired teapot with the longer and thin spout.

2 Orchard Turn
#04-07 ION Orchard
Tel: +65 6509 9660 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hong Kong - Crumbs

The frozen yogurt war in Hong Kong continues and Crumbs in definitely on the list, as the long queues outside its hole in the wall in busy Causeway Bay will attest to.

The yogurt is not my favourite, with a texture and taste more akin to cream and can be a little heavy.  You would do well to share.  However, the tartness does make up for it, as do the toppings.  My favourite is the combination of soft and chewy mochi balls, and Cinnamon-flavoured crumbs.  Take a mouthful with the 3 together, and you have a burst of flavours and textures and the chill is always welcome on a humid summer's day.

But what I really like is Crumbs' alternative offering to frozen yogurt - the scones.  There are 3 flavours to choose from - cheese, raisin and chocolate.  It is the cheese hands down for me.  Crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it is one of the better scones around.  And the very fragrance of cheese coming through as you sink in, great for breakfast with coffee, or tea with tea!

The war continues but it is no battle to embrace these as snack alternatives to crisps or chips, depending on where you hail from.  Let the battles begin and may everyone win so that the consumer continues to have choice!

Shop 1C, G/F
Central Mansion
8 Cannon Street
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2793 9393

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hong Kong - Liu Yuan Pavilion 留園雅敘

It's not your typical Shanghainese restaurant but this is quintessentially Shanghainese.  A comfortable layout, not too squishy, and if you're lucky, you can ask for a booth seat.  But it can still get noisy, but the food distracts you from that pretty quickly.

Crispy eel - done so well - of course it's crisp and the flavours of the sauce and the eel are quickly amalgamated in very hot oil, and served with chilled slivers of preserved young ginger.  Appetites whet..

Chilled heads of jelly fish in a scallion laced sesame oil - crunchy coolness with a fragrance that is unmistakable.  Perfect for summer.  Appetites really raring to go now..

Not easily available, this dish of "Wo-Ba" ie. deep fried rice cakes smeared generously with multiple layers of salted egg yolk paste is a delight in itself.  Forget the cholesterol factor when you're eating this.  Order a beer or a coke and just savour the delightful burst of flavours exploding in your mouth.  A definite order every time I come here.  Just make sure you have company but not too much..

For those who like all manner of burgers, try this one.  A beautiful cut of Yunnan ham (tender and not stringy at all), topped with a crispy dried beancurd skin, served in a Chinese steamed bread and drizzled generously with an Osmanthus honey..  Ooh ya..

Needless to say, Shanghainese wantons here are ridiculously good.  Al dente skins wrapped around a well seasoned minced pork filling, given crunch by finely chopped up vegetables, served in a clear but wholesome Chicken broth.  Comfort food at its best.

I like my Dan Dan noodles.  I try to eat it everywhere so I have a very clear picture of what I like and the one here is right up there with my favourites.  Suitably spicy but flavourful from the variety of dried shrimps, peanuts, chillies, and goodness-knows-what other secret ingredients they cook this one with.  Very very good.

For those who come during Hairy Crab season, order anything with the hairy crustacean and it'll be good.  I could not resist posting last autumn's yummy dish of hairy crab and roe with Shanghainese mung bean sheets.  A dish to savour and remember until next season..

3/F The Broadway
54-62 Lockhart Road
Wan Chai
Tel: +852-2804 2000

Hong Kong - Hunan Garden Restaurant 洞庭樓

Hong Kongers traditionally aren't good with spicy food.  But with the rapid opening up of China over the last 2 decades, foods from all over China are gaining in popularity outside of China, including Hong Kong and even spicy delights are finding its way onto the dining tables of Hong Kongers, whose tolerance for spice have definitely grown over time.  Of course, for the uninitiated, Hong Kong is a good place to try "spicy" food which for the most part, is neutralised to suit local palates.

Hunan Garden keeps the authenticity of the cuisines it represents although the heat factor is played down, which works well for me.  It is also one of the few places in Hong Kong where you can enjoy food from Chairman Mao's hometown.  Of course, it carries cuisines from nearby Sichuan and other generic "Chinese" foods as well.

My new friend SB likes his heat and lots of it, and I hope he wasn't trying to be polite but did seem to enjoy the few dishes I ordered.  For those who like their beer, these will surely entertain.

The "water boiled pork slices" were milder than they looked and I have to say, rather addictive.  Surprisingly, the pork used was good quality and had a fragrance, nice bite, laced with a little bit of fat for smoothness, and went well with the hot oil laced with lotsa chillies and sichuan peppers.  Enough of a kick but not overly so as to make you think twice about fishing in for yet another piece.

The cod fillet with bean crumbs was very well executed.  The bean crumb paste, sauteed to a slight crisp provided the crunch to the very oily and smooth fish.  Even then you can still swallow and not get indigestion.  And having this in between, gives a slight reprieve from the heat from the rest of the meal.

The Sichuan Fried Chicken with Chillies and Peanuts, is a perennial favourite for those who like their beer, and this poultry is better than the spicy chicken from KFC, which I secretly like.  Unfortunately, the peanuts and chillies were not well done and did not add enough fragrance to what is usually a dish you can smell as it is being delivered.

Our other dishes of the Hunanese noodles with minced pork and the Stir fried string means with minced pork were ordinary but there are other vegetable and carbo dishes you can choose from so perhaps not these the next time around.

Overall, a decent meal but stick to what is being recommended, and you'll enjoy the experience more.  One snag: despite the slightly Colonial decor, it is still a massive Chinese restaurant at heart with poor acoustics.  Prepared to take your conversation a level or 2 up in decibels.

Shop 1302, 13/F
Food Forum, Times Square
1 Matheson Street
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
Tel: +852-2506 9288

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beijing - Cafe Europa

According to DL, this is the story of a Chinese boy who grew up in Austria, then goes back to his roots and brings Austrian cuisine with him.  And it is pretty good food, I must say.  Not too adulterated on account of the location but rather home-style comfort food in an extremely casual setting.  We were there in the evening, and there isn't much to look out of the full-glass walls of but in the day-time and on a sunny day, I can imagine it can be pretty nice to wile away a long lunch. 

My main of Angler fish grilled in bacon, set on a bed of mash, served with sun-dried tomatoes, was very tasty.  The bouncy-textured fish, flavoured by the smoky bacon and tomatoes, then kindly neutralised by the creamy mash was an exciting burst of flavours and textures.  And just what I needed after a plane ride - not too heavy nor greasy.  

Especially since I can finish comfortably with dessert, a lovely pear tart.  Perfectly baked pears, with a hint of juicy crunch on a hard crust.  Although cold from sitting out - it was surprisingly still cold in Beijing this time of year - it was still very good and a nice finish to a long day.  

Worth a visit if you're ever in the vicinity.

Jianwai Soho West, Building 11, 1st floor #1113
39 3rd Ring Road, Chaoyang District, 
Beijing 100022
Tel: +86-10 5869 5663

Beijing - Park Hyatt

What's better than 2 nights in Beijing?

2 nights in Beijing at the spanking new Park Hyatt.  So new even cabbies don't know it.  It's not quite Park Hyatt Tokyo in service or Park Hyatt Chicago in coolness, but it is a Park anyhow, and whatever they lack in service, slight maintenance issues is made up for in a decent location, ergonomic design and crazy views from the top (or anywhere within the hotel).  

Here's mine from Room 3904, where you can see the traffic on Chang An Avenue on a clear day.  

Wake up to the smell of gourmet coffee with the Nespresso machine in your room - they even have 3 flavours for you to choose from, and you can go on caffeine extreme if you consume all 6 capsules they give you daily.  No need to even add water (they do it for you).  Just insert capsule and press the button - just don't forget to receive coffee with your cup!

F&B in the hotel is very commendable also.  The China Bar is a loungy place to enjoy some "cool factor" down time over drinks and soak in the bright night views of the city.  

With limited time, I ate twice at the Lounge, which is part of the lobby on the 63rd.  The description says it all - it is comfort food, both Asian and Western styles.  The spicy beef noodles was brilliant, and can match the one at the Cafe of the Grand Hyatt down the road, and the pot stickers are the healthiest and you can actually see the pork and prawn divide in the fillings.  And you can wash all of these down with their variety of health shakes and smoothies.  

Great place to stay and it could well be my regular provided the "corporate rate" is available!

2 Jianguomenwai Street, Chaoyang District
People's Republic of China
Tel: +86 10 8567 1234