Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hong Kong - Sevva

In space scarce Hong Kong, Sevva would be ideal luxe home everybody dreams (not works since you would never get there on hard work alone) of having.  Huge terrace to chill and have drinks at (it's not a barbeque area although that might work..), a lounge to escape from the elements on the terrace, and generous dining areas well decked with fine tableware.  If the folks running the place ventured into full blown hospitality, I would be most curious to see what their rooms would look like.

Apart from the drinks, which I'm told are pretty good, Sevva is probably next best known for desserts created by Mrs B.  Creations at Sevva differ slightly from her cakery in a nearby location but it's all good.  The 2 I've tried on the 2 occasions I've been there are nothing short of pure bliss.  You know that the highest quality cream, flour and eggs went into producing them and you have no qualms licking every bit off the plate.  Best sweets I've had in a long time especially this part of the world.  And they are  some of the most photogenic in the world (not cut up as below but whole - there was a no photo policy at the cake counter though..)

Original Crunch Cake
Extremely light vanilla chiffon bound together by freshest cream and topped off with the childhood fave of honeycomb crunch..  remember Violet Crumble?  Yup, this is the adult refined version but just as addictive.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Orange Marmalade
I love chocolate fudge but almost never finish one serving on cake since it gets cloying and heavy after a while.  Well, no problems with this one, and this is after a full dinner.  Speaks volumes (pun intended).  It's rich but not heavy and the real marmalade (it's not orange jam - cringe) made from simmering orange rind in sugar was a delightful complement and made every mouthful delectably easy on the palate.

Almost no one I know talks about the food at Sevva.  So one assumes it's just not that good.  But surprisingly, it isn't bad at all.  The food menu at Sevva is as varied as varied can be, and really looks like something you pull out of a good class hotel cafe.  With no particular cuisine theme, it huddles together what its kitchen is capable of pulling off pretty successfully.  From English to Chinese to Indian and hints of modern European, it's really quite an ideal place to entertain clients especially those you don't know too well.

On my first visit, I tried the Dosas - one with lamb and one with chicken.  Both exemplary in taste.  Don't expect traditional Indian but think of it as modern ingredients delivered in a thin crepe of Indian influence.

Lobster Crepe
At dinner this time, the appetiser of the lobster crepe was excellent.  A light but flavourful butter based sauce laced with alcohol from the Champagne or was it Cognac..  whatever it was, it was drizzled over a thin crepe and lobster which was fresh and just barely cooked to be succulent and juicy.

Breakfast Salad
Sevva has a page-long offering of warm salads.  And at least from the 2 I've tried, they taste as good as they sound.  The deep fried tofu salad is reminiscent of the classic Cantonese appetiser but tossed among salad leaves and quail eggs, it made for a very tasty meal in itself and you could almost fool yourself into thinking deep fried food can be healthy too..

The breakfast salad is no different.  With all the goodies we love from breakfast including 2 well deep fried pieces of streaky bacon, sausages, a coddled egg with a liquid centre, tossed among leafy greens and tomatoes, what you get is a well balanced meal of saturated fat and fibre.  Good!

Beef Pot Pie
The main of the beef pot pie, which was served with a flaky pastry cap, was pretty good but seemed blah against the rest of the meal.  Competent though and the use of ox tongue in some of the pieces was a nice touch too.  Taste wise competent but not mind blowingly so.  Given the extensive menu, it wouldn't be what I would order next time.

Overall, an excellent venue to enjoy whatever tickles your fancy in schmancy surrounds overlooking what makes the whole financial district of Hong Kong tick.

25/F Prince's Building
10 Chater Road
Tel: +852-2537 1388

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Hong Kong - Sijie Sichuan Dishes 四姐川菜

It's labeled as a private kitchen in some places, but it's not that kind of place.  Housed in a building which looks like every other building in Wanchai (or known in some quarters as the World of Suzie Wong), the only hint of a restaurant behind the door is the bunch of of red hot chili peppers hanging on the front door.  Inside, it is as spartan as spartan can be with tables of varying sizes lined along what looks like 2 units leased by the restaurant.  But the smells are mistakably Sichuanese.  You can almost feel yourself immersed in an oil of Sichuan peppers, deeper and deeper as the night progresses, especially as Sijie whips up a storm in the kitchen.  Tip: do not wear clothes which have to be dry-cleaned or carry any leather bags to dinner.. 

Service is extremely friendly and helpful.  I had to call ahead for directions and parking facilities and the dude who answered very patiently guided me through the streets of Wanchai, which for those living here will know, is not car-friendly.   

The focus is on the food here since there is little else except for Sijie's chugging antics at the end of a long night.  Refined cuisine is not on offer either.  What you get is a piece of Sichuanese authenticity tucked in central Hong Kong and all the fiery robustness of what makes a hearty Sichuanese meal.

The huge bonus of eating in a big group, and a group of like-minded foodies is that you get to order almost everything on the menu.  Pricing works on a per person basis and so depending on how many people you have, you are allowed to order the number of dishes for that price.  No more, no less.  

Cold noodles tossed in Chili Oil
This was the quintessential Sijie appetiser which kicked us off and was easily the unanimous favourite of the evening.  Chilled al dente pulled noodles tossed in an addictive spicy oil with all the classic ingredients of a Sichuan spicy oil, complete with a kick from the chilies and a numbing madness, it was definitely the way to get us all started on an excited note.

And with most Sichuan appetisers, the rest become variations and subsets of the same spices but provided with different platforms/textures to bring out different notes of spice.

Salivating Chicken
This is meant to make you salivate as the name suggests but sometimes, there may be so much numbness created that you may temporarily lose control over tongue and degenerate into a drool but fortunately, none of that occurred here but just the pleasurable sucking and slurping you are supposed to do when savouring wine..  no need to spit though.

Slices of Husband and Wife's lungs
Textures here are a little crunch, a little beefy meatiness...

Thinly sliced pork in a garlic based chili oil
Then a more pungent delivery through the fragrant garlic-laced oil, complementing the thinly sliced pork, allowing the flavours of the spices to come through without too much of a porky flavour.

Cucumbers tossed in a chili oil
Refreshing cool crunch from the cucumbers as temporary halfway house..

Steamed eggplant in mild spicy sauce
Sweetened with juicy eggplants in a comparatively mild sauce with a sweet finish..

Crunch pig ears in numbing oil
Then, a finale of crunch again this time from pig's ears, which are slightly gelatinous around a crunchy cartilage, given taste by the sauce only.  One of my all-time faves.

Mandarin fish in boiling oil
The main courses started with the classic Sichuan dish of what it literally "boiling water cooked" Mandarin Fish.  As you probably figured out, it's not really water but oil.  And lots of it.  There as a medium for cooking and not to be drunk (no it's not gravy).  This allows for the fish to be just cooked without being overly so.  The fish is sweet and succulent and good with a bowl of steamed rice.

Beef slices in boiling oil
Beef is the other popular choice for this dish and beef soaks up the spices and is therefore extremely flavourful.  Sijie's renditions were competent but can't beat some of those I've had in China where the spices are more apparent than the oil.

Salt and pepper Shrimps Sichuan Style
Very well fried so you can crunch on the shells too.  Extremely tasty and very good with the ice cold beer on offer..

Sauteed crab in Salted egg yolk
This was my favourite main dish of the evening.  Every bit of the crab was generously coated with the fragrant salted egg yolk mixture and complemented the fresh crab very well.  The priceless bits were the salted egg yolk over the crab roe.  Cholesterol from hell but all things bad are good...

Deep fried chicken with dried chillies 
This was well done too although the chicken bones were a little too bashed up and made eating a tad difficult since you need to be careful with splinters.  Otherwise, step aside KFC Hot & Spicy...

Twice fried Long beans with minced pork
Tasty but a tad oily...  although this dish rarely isn't.  It is after all deep fried then stir fried to give it that creased but glistening look and extra crunchy texture.

Sauteed eggplant in sweet chili sauce
Good with a bowl of rice and a nice reprieve from all the heat.

Deep fried battered pork
This was tasty but unfortunately the meat was too tough and it just was a let down given the other goodies.

Mapo Tofu
I had the pleasure of taking this one home after "winning" the table spin prize.  Too much ginger and garlic bits and detracted from what I usually prefer is the numbing chili goodness of the sauce.

Rice Crispies with a seafood sauce
Rice crispies are always fun to eat but this one was only an "ok" since the sauce wasn't very exciting.  Can be missed.

Sweet Cooling Tea
Being what they call a "hot-based person" I downed 2 cans of this stuff through the night.  Still didn't prevent a series of pimples from surfacing... oh well.  It was good for the sugar anyway.  Next time, I follow in Sijie's footsteps.  She beat every hot blooded male in the room in a beer chugging competition at the end of her illustrious night in the hot kitchen.  And you know what?  She has flawless, poreless complexion despite her exposure to all that heat.  The magic of beer...

All in all, an extremely fun night with foodie friends, eating and laughing the night away.  Thanks to @g4gary for organising!

Shop 289, 2/F, Ko Wah Building
285-291 Lockhart Road
Tel: +852-2802 2250

Monday, August 8, 2011

Hong Kong - Fa Zu Jie 法租界

Another day in Hong Kong, another private kitchen, if you can find it that is.  Tucked in a non-descript building, inside an alleyway off D'Aguilar Street, expect to get it wrong the first time, and you'll be fine. All part of the adventure.  Once you find and open the sign-less white door, enter into a swanky open kitchen area along one wall and tables on the other, set against a backdrop of a long side cupboard topped with opened wine bottles.

Menus are tucked into a little story book, so you look quite learned while poring through the menu.  I saw the menu before I arrived so I pretty much knew what I was going to be eating, produce wise.  But I was still pleasantly surprised by what was served.  Just remember the tagline on the menu is "滬味兒裡賞洋風景" literally translated to mean that one should enjoy a western scenery from the Shanghai tastes within.

Black Sea. Exploration.
First course - a chilled jelly made from the black vinegar that Shanghainese love to cook, drizzle or douse most of their food with.  But this was the first time I've had it in gelatinous form.  Given the acidity, it wakes the palate immediately and you want to be fed instantaneously.  Sprinkled with what looks like crispy Japanese seaweed, it is actually freeze-dried Snow Vegetables, a Shanghainese household staple of preserved vegetables they use in stir fried or soup noodles typically.

Toast. Shanghai Style.
Course 2 was another interesting take on Shanghainese staples.  The use of 烤夫, which is made from fermented gluten and is typically braised in a dark and sweet soy with beans, bamboo shoots, etc. till the spongy texture absorbs all the taste from the gravy, then served chilled as an appetiser.  Here, it is toasted, then in the foreground, slathered with a Snow Vegetable laced cream cheese, and the other in the background is a yummy eggplant puree.  The cream cheese was a little odd, but oddly pleasant enough.

After appetisers, we were suitably excited about what was coming next and were recommended a well-chilled Gentil de Katz 2009 from Alsace.  Crisp but easy to down, it did go pretty well with the food, and when we saw the bill much later, it was a very reasonable price to pay.

鵪鶉小姐。 讚岐先生 。蓮霧。杞子。都半醉了
Miss Quail. Mr. Sanuki. Wax Apple. Wolfberry.
All are Half Drunk.
This was easily the star of the evening.  And from what I've seen they acknowledge it too and is almost a standard on all their menus, even if the other items change regularly.  So simple, so classic yet so perfectly executed.  Miss Quail was lightly braised to retain a touch of pink, leaving her succulent, juicy and had the right degree of gaminess to confirm you were eating quail but not as to make it overpowering.  Mr. Sanuki (a Japanese udon) was perfectly al dente and soaked up the aged Huadiao wine broth very well.  Wax apples were a nice touch of fresh and crisp while the wolfberries were plump and sweet.

Yellow Croaker. Tempura Outfit.
There were 2 courses to this one.  Shanghainese in the use of the yellow croaker, the first was a croaker liver wrapped in Perilla leaf, then tempura-ed.  Excellent.  Second was the croaker fillet also tempura-ed.  Nothing western here but the Japanese influence was clear to see.

Sticky Prawn.
This was probably the most Shanghainese in cooking style although we were told that the chef got his inspiration from a shrimp based risotto he is used to making.  Wherever the inspiration came from, it was good.  Ironically, and as admitted by the host, the star is actually the Shanghainese glutinous rice cakes and not the shrimps themselves.  All the essence from the shrimp heads culminated in a rich umami laden sauce that was utterly consumed by the rice cakes making each bite a burst of shrimpy goodness.

Panna Cotta. Oriental touch.
I thought this would be weird but it was actually very good.  The use of a very good milk probably helped and the chef's French training came through in a panna cotta which was ultra smooth and fragrant.  The use of Osmanthus kept him true to his Shanghainese roots and brought the meal home for us.

What the menu lacked in exotic goodies, was more than made up for by the chef's blend of creativity, marrying Shanghainese  roots with French training, and most importantly, the ability to execute it as close to perfection under a tagline.  Well worth a repeat visit.  Thanks KM and WN for introducing us to this place!

1st Floor, 20A D’Aguilar Street
Central, Hong Kong
T: +852 3487 1715