Sunday, July 31, 2011

Hong Kong - Mandy's Private Kitchen

It's not just a dining experience, it's an excursion in itself.  A recent Sunday excursion with some like minded foodies turned out to be so grand we ate for almost 6 hours..  But set against what is probably Hong Kong's most scenic district, you don't do yourself justice if you're just there to eat.  Even in Hong Kong, where the food scene is so varied, you'd be hard pressed to find, let alone learn about Caribbean cuisine so it's a bonus when you meet Mandy and her husband, who've lived there and even have Trinidadian roots.

From my limited experience with food in that region, I did find a lot of Indian influence in what was served.  And I suppose from a historical perspective, that shouldn't be a such a surprise.  But the presence of Rum is probably what keeps it unique to that part of the world!

Rum Cooler
Step in from the summer heat and humidity, and Mandy offers you a Rum Cooler.  Quite a reprieve, and makes you wish the beach was a lot closer so you can dip yourself both in rum and the sea at the same time...  But Mandy's starters are a nice way to get the gastro juices churning...

Mango Salad
A deceptively mildly spicy and tangy mango salad is addictive and you only realise a little later when the heat kicks in, that it's all worth the pain.  If not for what my Chinese physician warned about eating too many mangoes, I could have finished this one easily.

Chick Pea and Tomato Salad
I love Chick peas.  Add anything and it'll still be good.  This one was good from the sweet cherry tomatoes and fragrant from the spring onions and coriander generously interspersed within.

Here's the Caribbean/Indian answer to French Fries.  Slightly healthier (I convince myself) from the use of gram flour, they are as addictive as french fries or even more so since the spices used give it a third dimension so you don't tire of it easily.    

Home-Made Condiments
Mandy goes the whole hog and has a good variety of condiments she does herself.  My favorite was the Scotch Bonnet pepper based one and the Mango and Raisin Chutney.  Really quite out of this world.

Caribbean Corn and Honey Bread
There are many cultures out there that do corn bread as a staple of their diets.  Mandy's version has a hint of sweet from the honey but is not overly cloying.  It is less moist than the Western versions which tend to be a little bit more cakey so some might find this too crumbly.  I liked the taste and perhaps might have preferred it a tad more moist but the upside is feeling a little more healthy eating this version.  And it is even good after a few days if you warm it and spread a good butter across.

Breaded chicken breast
I'm no fan of chicken breast but this turned out better than I thought it would.  The chicken was actually still quite moist but the winner was the batter it was coated in.  A tasty version quite similar to the pop corn chicken KFC introduced some time ago, but of course this was made better with the Caribbean spices which spiked the batter.

Leg of Lamb
This was the piece de resistance by a long shot.  So good I packed a fair bit with me to go (the only upside to 2 others not showing up)!  According to Mandy, this was only marinated for 4 days instead of the usual 5, before being slow-cooked over a charcoal fire.  That just makes me want to go back to try the real McCoy soon.  I had fun with the packed lamb and even gave my colleagues something to enjoy by heating it up in the office microwave (much to the disgust of those who don't eat lamb..) and adding generous amounts of fresh mint for a real breakfast treat!  No brushing required..

Fish Curry
I was totally distracted by the lamb and had little of everything else served afterwards.  But I did remember the fish curry to be a twist to the usual types we have though.  This was a tangy version and rather appetising.  A refreshing change which Mandy claims she's still working on.  It was already pretty good I thought..  such a perfectionist.

This was my favourite after the lamb.  I know it doesn't look like much but Mandy painstakingly takes off the stalks and only uses spinach leaves for this.  It is way better than creamed spinach.  This is pure spinach leaves stir fried with garlic until it is almost of puree consistency.  And that's just how good it was.  With little else, the combination of the 2, mixed with spring onions and coriander is just nature's garden at its best.

Pumpkin was decent too but again I was too distracted at this point by the spinach and lamb given I had limited capacity left...

Coconut flavored rice
This was actually quite good, very similar to Nasi Lemak for people familiar with it in the South East Asia region.  This is actually a much wetter version and is a tad heavy but it was actually quite good with the tangy fish curry.

Rum cake and fruit jello
By this time, we were already trying to keep from rolling on the floor from a big feast.  But no feast is complete without dessert and Mandy's rum cake and a rum-laced fruit jello did the trick without sugar overload.  If I didn't have to eat and run, I would have savored it with a good coffee.  But I did leave happy though...

@deeseebeaucoup, thanks again for organising the awesome meal and it was a pleasure to have met @cheekyangelHK and @thefakefrog over cool chat and great food from @MandysPKitchen.  Can't wait to do it again.. 
5 minutes away from Sai Kung Town Centre
Tel: +852-98169946

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Singapore - Inaho's Kitchen Bar

It's technically not a hole in the wall, and it wasn't all that difficult to find, although if you Google it cold, you would find the number on the address changes.  But I'm pretty sure it's "60" since it was on the even side of the street.  Walk up the stairs but stop short of the top and look for a door on your right.  Push it open and "voila!".  Step into a cosy, dark wood interior, with a lovely bar counter helmed by a smiley Japanese lady.  And believe me when I say this is where Japanese salary men come to seek solace and the comfort of the home-style dishes the lovely lady brings out.  And from time to time, she obliges with a return toast of Sake or Shochu, whichever it is the weary customer orders..

The dishes here are not your fancy gourmet stuff of high end Japanese restaurants.  It's a simple down-to-earth place where every dish is simply executed well.  It's stuff that you would enjoy with a bit of alcohol while winding down after the 12 hours you put in at the office.  Sodium levels are higher for balance but not uncomfortably so that even if you have something less potent, you won't wind up with your tongue hanging out for dear life at the end of the meal.

We ordered a variety of dishes from the different sections of the menu and were pleasantly surprised at how well each turned out.  Wholesome simple goodness.

Stir fry of Pork and Kimchi
We put in the order for this only after she reassured us that this wasn't heat of the Korean variety.  She was right.  And what it turned out to be was a lovely dish combining the natural sweetness of the cabbage and thin slices of pork, then given a subtle kick from the Kimchi paste.  No heat required.

Squid in Garlic Butter
Garlic and butter are simply meant to be together till the end of time.  Even if you throw in rubber, it will also taste good.  Fortunately for us, the fresh and bouncy squids lent its natural Umami into the combination making this really quite addictive.  A must-do for lovers of the sole weapon against vampires.

Konnyaku with Sweet Miso
This was an interesting combo and surprisingly good with Sake.  Konnyaku is tasteless but has supreme texture that is a crunchy gelatin.  Oddly good since it takes on the flavor of anything it is infused or slathered with.  Japanese eat it quite a bit for its supposedly nutritional qualities, and is high in fiber.  Chewing on it allows you to savor the sweet Miso paste although you cannot have too much at a go since it is sweetly salty or saltily sweet, whichever way it falls on your taste buds.  So have your Sake ready...

Grilled squid with Ponzu
Another tried and tested combination of squid and Ponzu (citrusy marinade) in this case carried by finely grated radish.  Drizzled liberally with Japanese mayonaise, which is more eggy than the Western variety, it is a guilt-ridden trip to heaven...

Finishing with a satisfying Japanese classic of Oden.  The variety of fish cakes and Konnyaku slice soaked up the sweetly rich fish broth, and made for a comforting finish.  Even if you don't care for Oden much, you should try this one and see if you change your mind.  You just might, since I did.

Thanks to D for introducing us to this little secret, even if the Japanese salary men may hate us for publicising their last spot of solace..

60A Duxton Road
Tel: +65-9090 6948

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hong Kong - Xenri No Tsuki Japanese Cuisine 千里之月鮨旬菜

In Hong Kong, it is almost as if some restaurants choose to be tucked away in commercial office space.  Without being in the food business, I hazard to guess that the strategy is not commercially fail safe for a variety of reasons that are obvious.  But for anyone in search of something different, this lends itself to the mystique of what one might find at the end of the journey.  One would also hope that you don't leave with an anti-climax at least where the food is concerned.

Xenri No Tsuki (or Xenri from hereon) is one such cosy little place on one of the busiest little lanes in bustling Causeway Bay.  The quiet you arrive at is a welcome reprieve from the chaos just 6 flights down and we happily accepted seating at the sushi counter to watch the chefs in action.

Kyoho Calpis Soda
I ordered a Kyoho Calpis Soda and took my time poring through the surprisingly long menu.  Calpis Soda in itself is already a huge fave of mine in Japanese soda land, but add the drunken fragrant sweetness of Kyoho grapes, it's seventh heaven.  Good thing it was a tall glass..

Peanut Tofu

Tuna Blood?

Sweet Julienned Radish
The amuse bouche was a trio of peanut tofu drizzled with pureed yam, coagulated Tuna's blood and the more commonly found sweet julienned radish  with toasted sesame seeds.  The tofu was excellent in texture but otherwise pretty bland.  The Tuna's blood an interesting starter but other than being a little salty and a good Sake food, I didn't find it all too exciting.

House Special Tofu Salad
The house special tofu salad is one of those made-to-death-but-you-never-tire-of salads.  And here the house-made tofu is wonderfully textured to give a very subtle bite allowing the fragrance of the yellow beans to come through as you chew.  Drizzled with a lightly vinegared sesame dressing on a cold bed of Iceberg, a wonderful summer salad to cool from the heat and humidity outside.

Japanese Oyster
Succulent, juicy, sea-sweet with a fresh twist from the zesty lime wedge. Enough said.

Carpaccio of Amberjack
The sense of arrival of this one was dramatic.  A beautiful plate to set the tone for an Italian-inspired Carpaccio of Amberjack.  It was a tad heavily dressed by Japanese standards but the black truffle oil did not overpower.  A little less oil would have been better to not overcoat the natural texture of the fish.  The lime juice cooked the fish a little but only so as to allow an enjoyable transition between the cooked and raw bits.

Amberjack 2nd way
The other half of the Amberjack was grilled at my request to allow for some variety into the meal but if I had to choose all over again, I would just have all it in the carpaccio.  The fish was on the dry side after grilling and lost a fair bit of its natural oils.  A shame since it's really quite a good fish.

Sushi rice with Minced Toro and Uni
I have a thing for minced fatty tuna and/or sea urchin on sushi rice.  It's a thing that's gone to unhealthy heights since I order it almost to the exclusion of everything else.  Almost always blindsided if I see it on the menu but it's sort of made me discerning by default.  So much so that I think that it's really quite a waste of time in most places.  Not that it's bad but if the time-honored cliche of "it's all about the source and quality of the ingredients" is not fulfilled, it's can be most unsatisfying.  This version was obviously fresh but the tuna and urchin are not the best grades, and as a result, there is little to no natural goodness coming through.  The sushi rice was also not good enough to carry it home so mental note to self is just to order something else next time.

And there will be a next time: Xenri is a nice addition to the CWB repertoire.  It's a comfy casual place to enjoy house specials and the service is a lot warmer than most places.  Smiles all around and attention to detail, a big bonus that is a rarefied find these days.  That in itself, is almost attraction enough.

6/F, Jardine Centre
50 Jardine's Bazaar
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2576 1880

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hong Kong - Bettys Kitschen

So I finally made it to Alan Yau's latest addition some weeks ago, and did like the fresh twist he's given to the old Harlan's, which used to be in the same spot.  It's a happy place to dine in and service from the time we walked in till we left was professionally friendly and un-intrusive.  Their smiley-ness is a welcome change from the scowls we've almost gotten used to in Hong Kong.

Unfortunately the food for me was a little underwhelming.  Perhaps it was what we ordered but perhaps the menu is just pretty limited and there didn't seem to be enough hints of what was good to order.  While I can't say the food was bad, it was just blah and did not seem to match a decent looking menu and presentation.

Stuffed Crab Shell 
A rather small serving of a stuffed crab shell which tasted of decently fresh crab meat but little else.  The grilled lemon slice with a caramelly finish was a nice touch but did little to bring us to new heights.

Lobster Bisque
Serving the cream, croutons and cheese on the side was a nice touch but again the bisque was a tad thin and you didn't come away thinking that there was much lobster before the bisque.  Too subtle for me.

Duck Fat Fries
These were decent but you had to eat them very quickly.  Left for a while, they became flaccid too quickly.  Tasty though.

Squid and Unpolished Rice
I had never eaten unpolished rice in a Western meal so this was out of the ordinary.  But that was really it.  Squids were nicely cooked and the Chorizo bits were wonderful but the rice didn't really do it for me.  I almost never say this but this had way too much bite.

The dessert with the warm chocolate centre
Dessert was competent even though this one has been done to death.  We only ordered it because it came recommended.  

Our choices may not have done the place justice, and I might pop in again if I'm in the vicinity.  Am not sure that I would specially make it a point to visit.  Would have been nice to add it to my IFC repertoire.  Ah well.. hopefully it makes it there a second time round.

Shop 2075, Podium Level Two
International Finance Centre Mall
8 Finance Street, Central
Tel: +852-2979 2100