Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hong Kong - The Chinese Restaurant 凱悅軒

One of the perks we get at work is an assigned budget to spend any way we like with our department colleagues to team build or eat on in some cases, both converge into one thing.  This year, we decided to eat again, but go and try a new place.

The Chinese Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in TST is set in modern surrounds, unlike a traditional Chinese restaurant.  Quiet and serene, plush seats for comfortable seating, and plenty of privacy given the distance between tables.  I would go again if I had to entertain over Chinese food.  Only snag, it is lacking any view through its floor to ceiling windows, an unfortunate function of the hotel location and height of the restaurant.

Since we had a budget to meet (and it was some challenge getting there), we skipped the dim sum options and ate like we wanted the dinner of no return.  Food wise, we thought that overall, it was a decent experience although there wasn't anything really outstanding that we would remember this place by.  Here's what we had and what we thought were "hits" or "less than hits".

Char Siu or Roasted Pork with a sweet glace
Hit: one of the better Char Sius out there.  Served warm (albeit probably microwaved), it was the perfect cut of loin with enough fat to moisten but not overwhelm.  Sauce was a nice fragrant soy base but with enough of a sugar glace to lend a sweet aftertaste.   

Smoked Braised Chicken
This was well executed and  a nice take on the usual soy braised chicken you get from most roast meats stalls in Hong Kong.  The fragrance and smokiness from the tea leaves came through and the chicken was braised well to retain its own moistness.  But somehow, wasn't a wow with me and we got distracted by the other dishes which came fast and furious.

Hot and Sour Soup
A surprising winner.  This won't win accolades for traditionality in Sichuan but it won on its unusual sourness over heat.  Well neutralised for Hong Kong taste buds, although a perfect appetiser for its piquant tartness but not face-scrungily so.  And generous chockful of ingredients from seafood to Yunnan ham shreds to bamboo shoots.  

Buddha Jumps over the Wall 
This double boiled soup contained the works, not forgetting the pretty large abalone (discounted some since we're pretty sure it was canned rather than of the sun-dried variety).  It's one of the clearest versions that I've had, with others usually thicker and collagen filled from the fruits of the sea used to make this over hours on the boil.  This version had the abalone, sea cucumber, fish blubber, sharks' fin and lean pork.  You can taste the goodness of the ingredients but the umami was somehow missing.  Folklore has it that even the vegetarian Buddha jumped over the wall of his monastery to attack his neighbour's concoction, but I'm pretty sure this version, while good, won't have the same effect.

Deep Fried Large Wanton
This is a gigantic wanton.  The largest I've ever had.  I like deep fried but I can't like it for too long since the grease is too much.  Well, I ate the whole thing.  The fritter was surprisingly fragrant and had a subtle touch of sweet.  The pockets were filled with different things.  Mine had a bit of Char Siu, yes the winning piece we started with.  

Sweet and Sour Sauce
And here's the reason I finished the whole wanton.  The accompanying sweet and sour sauce filled with larges pieces of char siu and whole scallops and tomatoes and bell peppers.  This has got to be the freshest tasting sweet and sour sauce I've ever had.  Typically, you expect traces of ketchup.  Not in this one.  This one tasted like the tomatoes were reduced from freshly plucked to the consistency of ketchup.  Slathered over the wanton, you would want more wanton just to have more sauce.  A vicious cycle for anyone on a diet. 

Stir Fried Mung Bean Vermicelli
This one was great at first bite.  Then the aftertaste of ginger lingered on for a little too long, and masked the yummy ingredients of crunchy bean sprouts, omelette and mung bean vermicelli.  From great to good, this was.

Stir fried egg white with shrimps
Perfect with the bowl of rice we did not have.  Ask for vinegar (of the Zhejiang variety) if you order this since it wasn't served with.  The egg whites are more milky than the traditional version but some like that.  To each his own.  

Garouper done 2 ways: 1. Stir fried slices
This was a passable "ok".  The fish was fresh and therefore the chef's slightly heavy hand marred the execution.  It was a little salty, a little too brown, a little too much ginger.  So a little too bad. 

Garouper done 2 ways: 2. Steamed garouper head
The steamed version was a little better but too much garnish again spoilt the fresh fish.  If I came again, I won't order this since for the price, you are much better off with a whole steamed fresh fish where you can enjoy the natural sweetness of the fish.

Herbal jelly with Pomelo and Sago
To end, I was happy with my choice of the herbal jelly in a pomelo and mango sago.  Very fresh and light and a good way to end off a heavy meal.  This version is a slight twist over the usual ala Fatt Kee (a popular dessert joint in the territory and most famous for the sago concoction).  I can't recall if it won an intellectual property suit in the local courts against a competitor over who invented this first, but whatever it is, this has become a national dessert, and also well known in the Chinese speaking community around the region.  

Overall, The Chinese Restaurant was a lovely place to just bond with the team in nice quiet surrounds, with inane conversation outside of the work place.  Food was enjoyable and I would go back just to try the other regular dishes.

3/F, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong
18 Hanoi Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2311 1234

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hong Kong - Whisk

For C's very belated birthday dinner (sorry!), an unfortunate and unforeseen project by me meant that once again,  I left it too late to get reservations on a Friday night.  I even had the audacity to call Mirror to see if I could get a table for 3, and pre-empted the laughter of the very nice man who picked up the phone to take reservations.  Despite his "great" efforts, it was not meant to be.  Fortunately, Whisk was there to save the day (or in this case, the evening).

I had first gone to Whisk in March of 2010 and while not whisked away, was happy enough with the experience.  The same sentiments apply this time, and while there were some hits, there were definitely misses to take away from the experience.  Still a nice and comfortable place to dine and entertain in  quiet surrounds, away from the bustle of TST, but the nits still need work.  The bread is not as good as it used to be, the service not as professional as I remembered.  But overall, still a decent place in TST.

Amuse bouche of escargot in a deep fried noodle case with wasabi mayo
A nice little welcome to the restaurant.  A spongy slug encased in a crispy noodle basket with a creamy wasabi mayo.  A good showcase of textures, and promise of things to come.

Here's the Taste of Whisk Menu (with wine pairing if you like).

Japanese Scallop Sashimi
The pretty starter of a green and white island made from a base of creamy avocado and fresh crunchy scallop carpaccio was delightful.  Decorated with a colorful garden and laced with Yuzu and Oscietra caviar, the freshness on the palate was very welcomed. 

Steamed Escargot
The steamed escargots brought warmth and an unusual way of serving snails.  Wrapped in spinach, the slugs were steamed to retain the smells and tastes of a lovely spring garden, and given colour and spice from the red radish and galangal.  The combination worked and this was enjoyable to the last drop of foam.

Pan-fried duck foie gras
While the piece of liver was very well fried to a crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, the combination of pickled ginger in a Dashi broth with a twist-tie of soba didn't quite do it for me since the crispness was quite quickly lost to the dash.  I tried to push the liver to a dry spot in the bowl plate and was semi-successful, so still managed to savor the piece of liver.

Spanish Mackeral
Either the quality of the mackerel or the treatment thereof disappointed because the result was a very dry piece of fish that was a chore to get through.  The accompaniments of Zucchini, Aioli and Fish Soup did little to lift this dish.  

Iberico Pork
This dish was full of promise on the menu.  What should have been a good cut of pork, served with Jamon Iberico laced Cepe Tortellinis,  and pumpkin, onion and apricot was very disappointing in its execution.  The piece of pork was dried out and had little taste to speak of.  The condiments from the pumpkin puree to the tortellinis were also very bland.  The only thing I enjoyed were the 2 paper thin pieces of Jamon Iberico.  I left half of this dish since there was little incentive to finish it.   

Flaky Apple Tart
We swapped the menu's Mango Parfait for what we thoroughly enjoyed the last time we visited - the Flaky Apple Tart.  Perhaps it was getting this carved up for a one person and not being served in the traditional copper pan and therefore less than hot wen it got to the table, perhaps the almonds were not the best as they could have been, but our memories of this dessert were a tad marred after this day. 

Petit Fours
To end, the petit fours were an ok distraction while we continued conversation to the end of a girly dinner.  Happy Birthday C, we hope you enjoyed it despite the few glitches.  Whisked away or not, it is still one of TST's pride and joys on the fine dining scene.

5/F, The Mira
118 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2315 5999

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hong Kong - Harakan 原澗

It wasn't for lack of trying that we only got into this place after a second try.  The fact is that directions within the building leave much to be desired.  It is also ironic that there is no signage at its sister restaurant Habitu, since they share the same roof garden.  

We sit down to a pretty promising menu.  A good mix of fun vs. traditional foods.  An enticing offering of seasonal goodies.  Since we were pretty much done in after a heavy lunch, we were modest in our orders.

Homemade Goma Tofu
The home made Goma (sesame) tofu was smooth, and firmer than regular tofu, as it should be, with a subtle aroma from the roasted seeds, ground and integrated into the bean curd.  Usual condiments of salmon roe and freshly grated wasabi lend a little seasoning and heat, providing extra dimension.  What I didn't really get is the overpowering miso sauce at the bottom of the champagne glass.  It was salty, then sweet and overall, wrestled the last muscle out of the poor tofu.

Slow cooked soft ox tongue in white miso
The ox tongue appetizer would have been a promising dish if not for the overly salty miso.  If you like a spring onion heat, you would like this.  There is a lot of heat with the crunchy and deceptively sweet vegetable as it enters the palate.  But after 2 seconds of chewing, it smokes up the mouth and nostrils very quickly.  The star is the ox tongue since it is very soft from soaking up the miso during the slow braising process.  No complaints save for the sodium levels.

Abalone, fried prawn and uni maki roll
The maki was decent although unspectacularly so.  Rice was nicely done - whole grains but with a sticky enough consistency to hold all together.  The combination of crunchy chilled steamed abalone, with crispy fried prawns, and creamy sea urchin was a yummy one, with something to offer for everyone.

Fried instant noodles with fresh lobster
Fried instant noodles isn't something found at most Japanese restaurants, especially one with the tagline "Fine Japanese Dining" but definitely enticing.  Again, could have been one of those fun hearty foods you would order again, but the salt levels were just too high, and also unfortunately erred on the oily side.  Tasty enough to finish, since it isn't a big portion, but those watching their health might think twice.

This place has promise, but it still has a few nits to iron out, before it is to become a sustainable place, especially in a place like Causeway Bay, where good Japanese restaurants are a dime a dozen.

Shop 311, 3/F Lee Gardens Two
28 Yun Ping Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2882 8616

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Singapore - Japanese Restaurant Suju (Mandarin Gallery)

With the other F&B tenants at the Mandarin Gallery, Suju seems to have escaped under the radar screen.  A little odd, and it was a stroke of fortune on Christmas Eve, that we found ourselves there for lunch.  Well OK, there wasn't much choice since it was the only place without a queue.  Thankfully, the oddity ended there.  It is a high quality joint.  It's hard to tell from the outside given the usual nondescript entrances typical of many Japanese joints.  It's not cheap although lunch sets are fairly priced. 

Tempura lunch set
The tempura on rice bowl is deserving of special mention.  Suju prides itself on the quality of rice they use, and it comes through - more so in the rice bowl than the sushi.  The consistency is fluff yet with bite, and with just enough stickiness to create texture but not in a mushy way.  Suffice to say, it's easy to finish the entire decent sized rice bowl.  The tempura used quality ingredients, even if they were the ordinary assortment of shrimps, mushrooms and pumpkin.  The batter was fragrant from the oil used to deep-fry the pieces in, and was light and crisp with just a hint of a bite, akin to Agedashi Tofu, but yet not quite.  The drizzle of a slightly sweet tempura sauce added flavor, and that was it.  Hooked.  I would go back just for the tempura rice bowl, although the lady at the next table seemed to be really enjoying her Deep-fried breaded Kurobuta pork cutlet rice bowl.

The Chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) that accompanies the rice bowl set is bigger than most other places, and very smooth, with a discernible aroma of good eggs.

Perhaps the sushi set might have been a little less expensive, since I get the same standards at my regular Sushi Hiro joint in HK for about half the price.

While the catches were fresh, my one complaint was the sushi served in seaweed.  It wasn't crisp by the time it ended up at our table, and was embarrassingly difficult to bite off.  You should only try it at home - it ain't cool to play tug-of-war with your handroll in public.

Overall, the rice bowls are probably where it's at for lunch.  If I get happy a second time for lunch, I just might head back for dinner.

333A Orchard Road
Mandarin Gallery
Tel: +65-67377764

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Singapore - Bruno's Pizzeria & Grill

2 visits within a week.  Not something I do often and so when I do, it's got to be pretty decent.  Bruno's, literally in my backyard, is more than decent for a neighbourhood joint.  Joints like this will raise the suburban dining game, and ease unnecessary traffic going to town for what might be a crowded and expensive experience not worthy of the hassle.  For people who like their Italian and live east, you cannot afford to give this place a miss.  It's easily the best I've had this side of Singapore.

Over 2 visits, the selection of starters did not disappoint.  

Caesar Salad
The Caesar Salad is the kind that I love, with a strong hint of anchovies in a yolk heavy dressing, worthy of the Roman King namesake  Good quality Romaine with aromatic flakes of Parmesan, and added robustness from the hen's less than hard boiled egg.
Beef Carpaccio

The carpaccio by itself was well sliced and had beefiness coming through so no need for guesses. Joined by good friends, Arugula and Parmesan, the trio could have just been satisfied with a light drizzle of extra virgins. However, the experience was marred by the overly tart dressing of finely chopped vegetables, taking away from the 3 main characters.  

French mussel in a white wine broth
My favourite starter by far, were the mussels.  Imported from French shores, these are smaller in size, but much sweeter and of a texture more akin to clams.  A light broth subtly flavoured by a white wine and sauteed onion rings and parsley enhanced the shell friends and it's easy to pop the entire well-mounted platter without much effort.

Frutti de Mare
The platter of frutti de mare of deep-fried breaded prawns and squid rings were nicely done.  The seafood was fresh, prawns crunchy and squids bouncy but unchewy.  The batter was just a tad heavy but the chef got away with it, since it was well fried and crisp, and given a lift by both the red and white accompanying sauces.

Bread Basket

Even the bread basket was good.  A combination of a multi-grain, and white made for choice.  Both were crusty on the outside and had enough sourdough to make it fluffy but with enough of a bite to savour the fragrance of the fresh baked loafs.

The pasta selections were broad enough.  They are not your new fangled selection but a good choice of familiar hearty favourites.  

Linguini al Granchio
The linguini al granchio which is generous chunks of crab meat in a tomato cream sauce is just plain and simply good.  With the right amount of sweet, tart and boldness in the sauce, given sea-freshness from the crabs chunks and garden-freshness from the finely julienned basil, it was complex in its simplicity and enjoyable to the last mouthful.  Perhaps in Italian terms, there was a bit too much sauce for the amount of linguini on the plate, but I was happy to pick out the crab chunks out after I finished the pasta.  

Spaghetti al Vongole

The Spaghetti with clams was also competent.  The white wine based broth, similar to the mussels starter, carried the clams well.  Al dente spaghetti absorbed enough of the broth to be integrated into the dish.  And fresh parsley is a traditional must for a 3rd dimension and aroma.

Pizza with Salami and Fresh Chillies

The pizza selection is not as wide as some pizzerias but it carries enough of a variety, again more traditional than others.  It's not the best and there is a slight discount since they call themselves a pizzeria but it's still an enjoyable pie to be had.  Our choice of the salami and fresh chillies had a little too much kick from the chillies and a tad too much salt from the choice of salami used but overall it was a tasty combination to be had.  They also have "white pizzas" if you don't like tomato bases so options are still adequately aplenty.

Slow cooked Wagyu beef cheek with Marsala wine

The only mains I have tried here is the beef cheek with Marsala wine.  I do like the use of Marsala wine in dishes and almost always order anything which uses it.  This dish is very tasty and while just a tad salty, was perfect if you used the bread to lap it all up.  The beef cheeks were also very tender but had enough animal muskiness to blend perfectly well with the Marsala, which can mask everything else if the chef isn't careful enough.  A thoroughly heartily enjoyable course for the lazy carnivore in all of us.

Finally but not by any means marginalised to a corner, the dessert selection had a little something for everyone.  

Warm apple tart with Vanilla ice cream
Most people loved the apple tart with vanilla ice cream.  The flaky puff pastry is both aromatic and light from the butter.  Used to house a compote of slightly tart apples, the acidity takes away any cloy from the well cooked apples.  The combination of vanilla ice cream and salted caramel gives this traditional dessert a lift that is suitably sweet and delectable.

Warm chocolate pudding and vanilla ice cream 
Chocolate pudding has become 2nd choice for me on a dessert menu but I'm glad we ordered it on the 2nd visit.  It was a very moist pudding and dense but not heavy.  The chocolate used was also of a good enough quality so you're not just appreciating texture but also savouring the quality of the cocoa.


The Tiramisu was ironically my least favourite, this being an Italian restaurant.  I like the traditional version which is soaked in espresso.  But Bruno's version will work for those who like alcohol-laced desserts.  Heavily soaked in rum, there's a lot of heat and kick with this, especially when combined with the Mascarpone cream and cocoa dust.  It's good but just not my cup of tea.  

Bruno's is enjoyable for its surburban casualness but more important, for the quality of the unpretentious food it offers.  It is enjoyable for the friendly albeit young service.   It is earnest in its feel but matured in its delivery.  I hope that it is the beginning of better things to come in the Tanjong Katong area.  The transformation has just started.

338 Tanjong Katong Road
Tel: +65- 64404525