Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011

Wow! Last work day of the year, and what a year it's been.

Perhaps the most critical natural disaster of the year was the 8.9 earthquake which hit Japan. The earthquake caused a tsunami of epic proportions which overwhelmed Japan’s eastern coast and consequently also caused a nuclear reactor crisis in Fukushima. In the wake of the devastation, every concerned individual wanted to do what he/she can to contribute towards the cause. Ironically, the most befitting support was not to boycott produce from Japan but to continue to source from them, under tightened safety and supervision. So, while many ignoramuses were snapping up salt to reduce radiation levels (don’t ask me how), I was just busy eating. In honor of the bravery of the many Japanese involved in rescue efforts, and the many who continue to thrive in difficult circumstances, here’s my best-of Japan list for 2011. My only regret was not having the opportunity to travel there this year, but it will hopefully make it as one of my destinations in 2012.

Unless otherwise stated, all restaurants in this post are in Hong Kong.

Best Sashimi – Hana Sakazuki
Best Sushi – Kenjo
Best Ramen – Ippudo HK
Best Chicken Ramen – Torihana
Best Toro Taku Don – Sushi Hiro
Best Goya Champeru – Yakichi
Best Japanese restaurant opening – Sushi Ta-ke
Best value in Singapore – Wahiro
Best salaryman’s secret in Singapore – Inaho's Kitchen Bar

In other food news, here’s my pick for 2011.

Best down and dirty Chiu Chow – 成發潮州菜館
Best down and dirty Hakka – Kong Hing Restaurant
Best Saikung Seafood – Sing Kee Seafood Restaurant
Best truffles – 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana
Best value Italian – Gold by Harlan Goldstein
Best suckling pig – 新斗记
Best foodies’ dinner – Sijie Sichuan Dishes
Best tea-pairing dinner – Lingnan Club / Mingcha
Best Caribbean private dining – Mandy's Private Kitchen
Best desserts – Sevva
Best fine dim sum – tie between Fook Lam Moon and T'ang Court
Best old school dim sum – Very Good Restaurant
Best brunch – Gusto
Best afternoon tea – Café Causette
Best bar - 001
Best TST openings to distract me from work – Holly Brown, Yo Mama , 18 Grams

In travel news, we did manage to hit a few places this year and try new foods.

Best Macau meal – Restaurante Espaco Lisboa
Best Barcelona Tapas – Cap Pep
Best Barcelona meal – Comerc, 24
Best Carcassone meal – Restaurant Le Parc

In tennis news, Roger Federer had yet another “bad” year, unable to win any Grand Slam in a calendar year for the first time since 2002. Such has been his phenomenal dominance of the sport. Notwithstanding, he still manages a hat trick of titles, capping off the year with the ATP World Finals trophy, Bercy which he had never won in his illustrious career, and of course his hometown Basel. Unsettling as it was, for the first time it was neither Federer nor Nadal who ended the year at No. 1 but Novak Djokovic, who had an awesome season with 41 straight match wins and 3 grand slam titles. History was also made when Li Na became the first Chinese woman to win a grand slam at Roland Garros, and appropriately so on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen massacre. Finally, my other hero Justine Henin was unable to sustain her comeback due to injuries, and had to retire a second time - Shame.

In obituaries, we lost the following people and we felt sad one way or another. Elizabeth Taylor, Steve Jobs, Seve Ballesteros, Alan Tang, Teresa Hsu and Amy Winehouse. Each individual had contributed entertainment, technology, philanthropy and/or talent in their own special way, and they will each be missed. I’m not sure many will miss Osama bin Laden, Col. Muammar Gaddafi or Kim Jong Il, and certainly some are still debating if it is even appropriate to send condolences.

Closer to home, Singapore saw 2 elections this year and the advent of social media allowed the opposition to put up much more of a credible fight. Of course, the quality of the candidates fielded was significantly more impressive. While the nation decided in polls that they should only make history in baby steps, perhaps this signals a change and the next general election ought to be nothing short of interesting. The momentum carried through a little with the Presidential Elections but again, although margins were close, it was the mainstream candidate who came through.

In entertainment, and there was not time for much, I enjoyed my first Bob Dylan concert in Beijing. It was nothing short of awesome considering Mr. D’s age. His ability to sustain a 2 hour performance with no breaks was just amazing. And it was all great music even if I couldn’t make out the lyrics! No “wow!” movies in my opinion, but the following were certainly enjoyable. "Bruce Lee: My Brother" for the nostalgia 1940s to 1960s Hong Kong brings, "非誠勿擾 II or If You Are The One II"; for a little romantic reality, and "Wuxia" for Donnie Yen and Takashi Kaneshiro.

Once again, another year to be thankful and grateful for. Thanks for reading and here’s wishing you a fantastic 2012. Eat well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hong Kong - a tale of 2 suckling pigs

The Cantonese are famous for their roasts.  No, not the kind you eat with Yorkshire pudding, but the kind where the carcass is hung or pierced through with a steel rod, then licked by open flames till crisp and done.  And where roast meats are concerned, some would take the view that the suckling pig is the holy grail.  And for good reason.  To cut short poor piggy's life because the skin is crispier and the meat more succulent and tender when cooked is reason for the premium it warrants over traditional roast pork.

And for that reason also, it is not meant for the everyday.  In the old days, if you were average Joe, perhaps wedding dinners were the only time you might see the roast piglet.  Nowadays, many Cantonese restaurants do the dish, and for those who want a treat every now and then, it is readily available, at least in Hong Kong.  But there are only a few which really tout it as the house specialty.

For traditional roast piglet, I do like the one by 新鬥記 (pronounced Sun Tow Kei in Cantonese or Xin Dou Ji in Putonghua).  I couldn't find an official English name for the place though.

Traditional Roast Piglet at 新鬥記
The crackling is done to a perfect crisp, with the fat underneath roasted away so that the taste is not greasy and on the contrary, quite addictive, especially if you've got cold beer at the table.  The meat underneath absorbs the spices rubbed on and is fragrant (none of that "piggy" taste) and tender.  Just quite perfect, really.

Kimberley's Roast Piglet
In contrast, the roast piglet at Kimberley is served 4-D, so you can still see the head and general shape of the pig.  Not for the faint-hearted who are used to eating everything filleted and balk at the sight of source of the meat they consume.  The wonder of this is the effort which goes into making this dish, where the insides of the pig are cleaned out to make way for a stuffing of richly flavored glutinous rice.

Cross-section view of Kimberley's roast piglet
The result is every diner at the table gets a "swiss roll" of rice on the inside enveloped by tender meat, then an "icing" around the cake of crisp crackling.  The combination of textures and flavors overwhelms and it is really quite rich as you struggle to fit it all in, especially since they served this as a final course.  Note to self: go even lighter with pre-dishes or just get at least 10 people at the table to enjoy this one comfortably.  For obvious reasons you cannot get a half order which you can at Sun Tow Kei.

For an overall experience, I actually like the menu at Sun Tow Kei better.

Sun Tow Kei's steamed crab on rice
The steamed crab on rice is what lures me back time and again, alongside the roast piglet.  Order these 2 dishes and you're all set.  The crab is really nothing to speak of but the rice soaks up the juices from the crab and is then accentuated liberally with roast garlic and spring onions.  Egg white is purely for texture to give the semblance that there is more crab than there is.  The result is pure carbo heaven.  I can down 2 bowls of this easily.

Whatever you fancy, both restaurants offer up their own specialties and make for an authentic Cantonese restaurant experience in Hong Kong.  If you prefer to avoid the decibel levels associated with most restaurants in Hong Kong, go to Kimberley.  Otherwise, brave the crowds at Sun Tow Kei and be prepared to wait (even if you make a reservation).

2/F, Express By Holiday Inn, 33 Sharp East Street, Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-3162 8899

君怡閣中菜廳 Kimberley Chinese Restaurant
M/F, The Kimberley Hotel, 28 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2369 8212 / 2723 3888

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hong Kong - 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana

About a week before the Michelin guide announced its 2012 list, little did we realise that Mr. Umberto Bombana would go on to score 3 stars for his restaurant.  Thanks to D, we scored reservations for this date about 10 weeks ago.  Now that it's gotten 3 stars, that 10-week wait is only likely to increase.

Alba White truffles
Was it worth the hype?  Well, I'll say as much.  It is the best place to enjoy Alba truffles in Hong Kong.  

And thanks to D, our very friendly server kept going and going..  to cheers and applause of course.  Thankfully we were hidden from public view.

Buttered Parmesan linguini with white truffles
The result:  a fabulous fragrance and taste which totally stole the show, making this one of the best pastas I've ever enjoyed.  Only complaint: since our group was large, and there was only one guy shaving, the pasta was just a tad clumpy when we finally got down to it.  But still thoroughly enjoyable.

And the rest of dinner?

Marinated Scampi - hybrid caviar, sea urchin and citrus Chantilly
A combination of the freshest ingredients.  No one can argue with that.  Naturally sweet, but those used to eating Japanese sweet shrimp might find this a tad bland by comparison.  Caviar and sea urchin make up for it.

Duo of braised pork cheek and roast medallion of pork
While the cheek was awesome - soft, tender and juicy, the rest of the dish wasn't as mind blowing.  Well executed.

Cheese platter
Hard cheeses here beat the soft cheeses in my opinion.  Unfortunately, we didn't get the names of the cheeses.  Choice of quince and apricot preserves were good matches.

Sabayon with Muscat grapes
Very pretty and refreshing.  Good for those who like just a palate freshener after dinner, with a just of hint of ostentatiousness in the form of a gold leaf over the top.

Pear tart
A tad burnt one side, but otherwise quite good.  More subtle than apple and not as sweet.

Petit fours
On the sweet side, I actually found the petit fours most enjoyable.  The use of pistachios in the nougat pieces, and the use of hazelnuts in the meringue were very, very good.  Wish they had doggie bags filled with these on our way out.

Overall, a great place to dine and enjoy the freshest which Mr. Bombana sources from around the world.  Was it 3 stars' worth?  I'm no Michelin judge so I won't even go there.  But I will go back to Otto, at least for tartufos!

Shop 202, Alexandra House
18 Chater Road, Central
Tel: +852 2537 8859