Friday, December 28, 2012

Fukuoka - Kaji Honten

It’s almost criminal not to eat Fugu in Fukuoka, which is a local specialty. And the reason for that is that it is criminal not to be licensed and serve the poisonous puffer of a fish. And so it is said that eating Fugu is like dicing with death and the price of a Fugu meal is commensurate with the years of training a chef requires before passing the requisite examinations to be licensed. While I’ve never experienced it, some say that there is a slight tingle after consumption that is reminiscent of the numbness one feels after having been poisoned by Fugu or rather tetradoxin, the chemical in the Fugu’s innards, which causes death.

We asked the hotel for a recommendation, not having done much homework prior. We were told they couldn’t make reservations yet as the restaurant wasn’t open for the day yet. The taxi driver who took us to the doorstep of Teraoka, only to discover it was shut for Christmas Day, kindly drove us to a local joint called Kaji, who according to its website, has been in existence since 1959.

The main area had a boat like structure filled with live seafood although I didn’t see any puffer fish. No English is spoken but they have a limited English menu and you can get by on sign language (ie. just point and don’t ask).

First up: warm up with a Sake with a torched fin of the puffer fish. No tingles here and didn't taste of much other than someone dropping a piece of seafood into your alcohol by accident. Wasn’t bad but the combination wasn’t what it was made out to be.

I opted for a light course (having eaten all day, surprise surprise).

Sashimi of Fugu is a little chewier than other sashimi. But the chewing, if prolonged, allows you to taste the sweetness of the fish, provided you go easy on the addictive Ponzu sauce, that accompanies it.

The tempura course had but one piece of Fugu tempura which was quite tasty. The texture breaks down with heat to be a little more cottony but retaining a little bounce, so it was actually quite good.

To finish, I had a porridge made with pieces of Fugu and a fish stock. With an egg broken over it and finsihed with spring onions and Nori flakes, it was pretty much comfort food to the finish line, and in my book, the most satisfying way to eat Fugu.

The Fugu hotpot definitely makes my list of to-dos, cos you know what, I lived to tell this tale.

博多割烹 かじ 本店

2丁目-3-11Nakasu, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka,
Fukuoka Prefecture 810-0801

Tel: +81-92-291-2219

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fukuoka - Ichiran and then some

As I’ve always said and tweeted many times over: Ramen and coffee are best friends. In my book anyways. There’s something very satisfying about the combination and in that order of course. While everyone knows there’s good ramen to be had in Fukuoka, I wasn’t so sure about the coffee scene and whether coffee bars were as commonplace as in the bigger cities I’ve visited.

Join the queue
But first things first: a visit to Ichiran. One of the meccas of ramen in Fukuoka with many branches over Kyushu.

Vending machine for noodles
It’s not a full service restaurant so you literally have to get a meal ticket from the vending machine out front, then join the queue. Once it’s your turn the greeter shows you to your seat and then all you deal with is a pair of hands behind a curtain that unveils into the kitchen. You hardly see the server because there is no real need to. This is serious business where even if you come as a party, you eat individually, in your own little cubicle no less.

A little homework before you get your grub
Fill out your preferences including strength of noodles to the garnishes and whether you need a Kaetama (an extra serving of noodles for your leftover soup).
The reason we came here
That wondrous bowl arrives a few minutes later and then any chatter dies down, only to be replaced by slurps, oohs and aahs. Yes, it is a delicious concoction of rich but ungreasy stock made from pork bones, then consumed with very al dente noodles (iron and steel tensile strength), tender and thinly sliced pork shoulder and given a little kick with a lot of spring onions and their special chili sauce.

Do her thing with the hand drip
Although diehards tend to want to savor the goodness for longer, I like finishing my experience with a very good coffee. In this case, we were lucky to chance upon a little hole in the wall a couple of doors down the little alley from Ichiran, run by a very friendly lady and her husband. The hand drips on the counter attracted me to it and saved me from the huge Starbucks and Seattle’s Best on the street just perpendicular to the alley. Phew!

Le Petit Prince menu
Unfortunately our Japanese language skills were non-existent so we couldn’t even enjoy the menu she put inside The Little Prince reprint. But sign language and more pointing got us far enough to get us a well roasted hand dripped pour of aromatic but light coffee. And of course the out-of-the-world strawberry cream cake which another nice little lady at the counter with us nodded in approval.

The wowzer of a strawberry cream cake
Even despite the language barrier, they were excitedly talking about us and the fact that they had visitors all the way from Singapore.  (We assume all good since we heard Singapore like 7 times in 30 minutes).  And so helpful were they that they even tried to find us our dinner venue on their iPad. Guess we do need these great gadgets to bridge communication gaps afterall!

一蘭 天神店
天神1-10-15, 福岡市中央区
福岡県 810-0001

Oasis Coffee
天神2-3-39, 福岡市中央区
福岡県 810-0001

*Disclaimer: I don't read Japanese and have relied on the world wide web and foursquare to figure out addresses so if you get lost, just enjoy the city!  I do know that at least I got the area right!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fukuoka - Naginoki なぎの木

Canal City Mall

I can't remember the last time I spent Christmas away from home.  A little odd especially since Fukuoka isn't actually known for its Christmas spirit, although there no short of Christmas lights at Canal city, which sits on the bank of the river that runs through the city.  Landing in sunshine did little to take away the bite of the cold except being able to wear cool shades almost anywhere, well until about 5.30 when it starts to get dark.

Fukuoka is exciting for the local cuisine that it is famous for, most notably Hakata ramen (more on that later when I actually get out to try some).

Most places will tell you that Fukuoka is home of the "nabe" or hotpot, and nothing short of beef or pork offal will do.  Sounds a little off putting?  My motsunabe of beef giblets was better than expected.  It was hard to tell actually which part of the cow they used in bite sized pieces of fat and chew combined but in a classic stock of soy with cabbage, chives and tofu, it made for a heartwarming Christmas dish.  Better than turkey!

Mentaiko tempura
Black sugar plum wine
A side of tempura, with its salty spiciness, made for a great starter with a black sugar plum wine on the rocks.  Another great way to warm up too.

It's going to be a cold Christmas but the food here in Fukuoka should do wonders to warm things up, especially at a Yatai (street vendor)?

Merry Christmas!

中央区西中洲10-1, 福岡市
福岡県 810-0002
Tel: +91-92-7372020

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hong Kong - Wu Kong Shanghai Restaurant 滬江大飯店

It's an institution in Hong Kong.  It is as the cliche goes: tried and tested.  It is also a great bet, as I've learnt, to get modern renditions of traditional tastes from the Shanghai region without feeling like you've sold out.  And the late-ish Friday night craving for a hairy crab set menu didn't disappoint.  Set A, that is.  Yes, it's more expensive but it was good value compared with my similar hairy crab meal at nearby Shanghai Min a couple of weeks ago.  

Braised Hairy crab and Sharks' Fin
Un-politically correct but a nice way to warm the soul after sitting at a freezing salon for 3 hours.  Not the best bowl of fins I've had but it was generous for the crab roe and tasted more like roe soup than sharks fin.  With a dash of vinegar, we were off to a good start.

Stir fried hairy crab on steamed glutinous rice with stir fried Dou Miao
Although I found the glutinous rice a tad sweet, the stir fried hairy crab was just unadulterated goodness concentrated.  With a different vinegar laced with smashed ginger, same but different.  Very enjoyable.  An accompanying bowl of dou miao (pea shoots) ensured we got our fiber intake for the day.

Hairy Crab Xiao Long Bao
I'll be honest.  I'm not a big fan of XLBs.  I don't generally like eating the unknown and many a meals which I've had on the mainland guessing to myself what meat they use in the XLB filling...  This was was generously laced with hairy crab meat and actually quite good.  My benchmark is Din Tai Fung, which I still crown as my fave.

My trick for eating the XLB without sacrificing the soup is to actually nip a little hole at the top, pour in some vinegar, then pour all the liquid onto a spoon and drink.  I devour the rest slowly.  Not the most traditional way, but hey, I get the goodness first then decide if I want to even eat the rest.  For the record, I finished this one.

The real McCoy
Not the biggest..  but get real, this is a prix fixe offering.

Could do with a little more roe but at least this one tasted real and good.  Roe was flavorful and rich.  Out of this world with yet another vinegar that was sweet - think balsamic.  Very good.  A little deeper into the season when the crabs are pregnant with more, and we're talking serious business here.

Glutinous rice balls with a sweet sesame filling in ginger broth
To finish, a typical dessert of glutinous rice balls stuffed with a sweet sesame molten paste hits the spot. Although the skin was not thin and chewy, the filling was pretty good and made up for a thick, powdery skin.  Ginger broth was milder than the last cuppa ginger tea, which had enough heat to chase any Yin-ness away from the crab.  

Yes, Chinese believe hairy crabs are extremely Yin by nature and so to harmonise the body during and after consumption, a lot of ginger is introduced (in sauces, teas, and desserts).  What we didn't order at this eat-and-run was an aged bottle of Huadiao, a Chinese yellow wine typically consumed with preserved plums, which also provides enough Yang-ness to balance.  And for those who are dying to ask, no, dining with a male companion is not enough.

Unit B, 17/F, Lee Theatre Plaza
99 Percival Street
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2506 1018

Monday, October 22, 2012

Hong Kong - Chikayaki 千賀燒

This place certainly has a lot of mixed reviews and a lot of one-time reviews on the Openrice machine, that you have to wonder how much of it is actually based on actual eating experiences.  I've been on 2 occasions in the last couple of months and only because I happen to be in the CWB area, and old favorite Rakuen is hard to get into without a reservation.  There is a lot of apprehension walking into Chikayaki because it is just so quiet.  On my first visit, there were just 2 tables (including mine).  On the second, it was a little more boisterous (5 including mine).. 

But the food isn't bad.  Well, it won't be the best Japanese restaurant you've eaten at in the CWB area, but you won't come away feeling like you've had a bad meal.  And the big plus is not having to fuss about getting in nor getting a reservation.  And it's quiet so you can actually have a decent conversation unlike most low-ceilinged Japanese eateries. 

Fish salad
The menu is pretty wide and you can order a good range of things depending on what you're in the mood for.  I am pretty fussy about my sashimi and sushi so I won't go overboard here since it's not going to give you a lot of satisfaction. 

Pacific Saury (if you can spot them underneath the garden)
But they do some creative work with the fish they have, which makes it pretty tasty since it not all just about the fish.  So you do cut them some slack.

Soft boiled egg with Uni and salmon roe
This is one combination which you cannot get sick of.  In this case, this was the only hiccup with service we faced, which was otherwise friendly and competent.  We were told that they couldn't serve this because the chef let the egg overcook and that it would take too long to make another one.  When we said we could wait for the next egg, they were almost disappointed and had to have a mini conference with the chef before agreeing to make another order.  A little bizarre since it wasn't that late but we were served this towards the end of the meal. 

Grilled chicken "knuckles", squid "mouths" and minced chicken
Japanese Shishitos, cod fish and Wagyu beef
Grilled items lived up to the "yaki" in its name and are enjoyable even if just a tad over salted.  The minced chicken and cod were most enjoyable of the choices we got.  Perhaps the salt factor was the ploy to get you to load up on beer or sake.  But I was quite happy with my Kyoho grape calpis soda and downed a couple easily. 

Inaniwa udon in fish soup
To end, this bowl of rich fish broth loaded with lotsa veggies was a comfort send off.  Hearty but not heavy, this was goodness in a bowl.  

This is not a bad alternative to Irori in the same building even if it's not as good but perhaps budding establishments just need that second chance.  After all, competition keeps everyone honest and the consumer is the ultimate winner. 

7/F, Bartlock Centre
3 Yiu Wa Street
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2156 0503

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Singapore - Cocotte Communal Restaurant Bar

The Hotel
Singapore's Little India is revamping.  It is becoming trendy and with the sprouting of a couple of subway stations serving the area, the residential market is also on the up and up.  And with an increasing market to serve, it is no wonder the restaurant scene here is going to extend beyond thosais and accompanying sambars.

Bread and beurre
The Wanderlust Hotel, a newish boutique hotel in the area, houses Cocotte, which offers casual French food.  It is dimly lit but it isn't romantic, but it is rustic and the food is pretty enjoyable all round.

For dinner, they offer a prix fixe menu with several items that require sharing.  Based on what you choose, dinner can get a little expensive despite the entry price but overall enjoyable since the quality of the food is pretty good.

French radishes with butter and Maldon flakes
A French classic started us off.  This one is all about the produce which did not disappoint.  Crunchy radishes with a slight bittersweet taste made smooth and fragrant with the butter, then highlighted with salt.

French oysters - Brittany
Briny but not overly so, this was more sea sweet than sea salty.  Very nice with a twist of lemon and a garlic vinaigrette.

Seafood casserole
This was an excellent seafood pot.  All imported (ok, there was the carbon footprint thing) but oh so fresh.  The brown crab had such sweet and soft flesh that little chewing was necessary to savor the creamy roe and flesh together.  The mussels, shrimps and scampi were also very good.  It was a huge pot and it got a little much at the end.  A tad salty and I could have been a little drunk from the generous white wine which may not have totally evaporated in the cooking process *smiles..

Accompanying fries and walnut salad were a nice break from all the seafood.  The fries a little too dangerously so since we were not daunted by how much there was.

Apple Tart
Dinner ended on a very sweet note with the apple tart.  Perfect crisp with medium cooked apples.  We could have done with a little more ice cream but nobody's complaining.

PS. I don't speak French but there appears to be a few meanings to Cocotte.  I wonder what the message was when they thought of the name.  A little naughty or a little community.  Go figure.

No. 2 Dickson Road
Tel: +65-62981188

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Hong Kong - Strip House by Harlan Goldstein

I've never had a bad meal at a Harlan Goldstein establishment.  That's a pretty tall order in the fickle and inconstent F&B world today.  I've enjoyed them all, from Tuscany by H (a pity it had to go) to Gold.  Oh I did have a a very meh meal - at H One - but that was after Harlan was no longer associated with the H.  So don't be fooled.

Strip House is Harlan's latest venture and yes it does steaks, and yes, pretty well.  But it has a whole bag of goodies, within a smallish menu mind you, that you don't really have to eat beef if you don't want to. 

House cured bacon
This was 2 wonderful strips of pork belly, subtly smoked and salted then grilled.  So many ways it could go wrong, but this was delish.  One might even say it was a tad small... 
Crab cakes

But many rave about this one in the appetiser section, and rightly so.  So good we had to have 2 orders.  This was a literal interpretation of the name of the dish.  Huge lumps of crab meat molded into a cake, then lightly pan fried.  And then a lobster bisque like sauce to match.  If you like crab, you can probably eat this all day.

Onion loaf
Good but I've had better.  But even then, we polished off the whole loaf.  If you like soft and fluffy this would be your loaf.  I like a little chew in my breads but otherwise, a bit more whiff of onion would have made this a loaf of desire. 
New York Strip
This was a pretty decent piece of meat.  With enough marbling yet not too much so folks who like some bite, can chew through (but without too much work).  Well grilled with a good pink centre, this was enjoyable.  The sprig of rosemary on garlic is a nice touch, subtle enough not to overwhelm.  

Kick Ass Mac Cheese
Yes, that kind of language is used on the menu.  Because statements of fact are not offensive?  Yes, it was kick ass.  And yes, I would eat it again even if it doesn't look like much.  I'm not shallow like that.

Sizzling brownie
It was the more dramatic of the 2 desserts with our server pouring chocolate sauce into the hot griddle to make it sizzle.  But it was just a lot of chocolate for me that I could barely open my mouth.  Good for sharing since it would be one heck of a meal in itself. 

Lemon cake
This was the sweet winner hands down.  Lemony liquid insides encased in a moist cake.  Paired with vanilla ice cream and cooked cherries, perfectly light finish to an otherwise heavy meal.  So light it's possible to have 2, well almost possible. 

Oh and did I mention we had a patient and sweet server too, who had to put up with a slightly stressed group of individuals who had a hard week?  She did a great job of winding us down into the weekend too.  Great job!  I'm sorry I forgot your name!  But I'm sure I'll see you again.

5/F, Grand Progress Building
15-16 Lan Kwai Fong
Tel: +852-2521 8638

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hong Kong - Above & Beyond 天外天

It's not out of this world but it certainly is above and beyond.  It is above and beyond what most other Chinese restaurants who seek to modernise Chinese cuisine for today's palate offers.  It is the use of better ingredients that translates into better enjoyment of the produce, something which has been lacking on the Chinese food scene even in the upper middle echelons, which is a real disappointment since it doesn't translate to better value pricing.  

Above & Beyond in my 2 recent visits at least tries to deliver on the promise of good value pricing.  And based on tastes and views alone, is pretty much up there in the clouds, sitting atop the new-ish Hotel Icon in TST East, oddly enough.  But it is perhaps the slightly out of the way location which allows it to deliver.  

Smoked Bresse Pigeon with Oolong Tea Leaves
All dishes were enjoyable but perhaps the standout was the smoked pigeon.  Not a huge fan of pigeon, but this changed my opinion.  Not the skinny dry ones I've had in Shatin, but a tasty (not gamey) bird that was juicy and had hints of fragrant Oolong coming through.  

Suckling pig trotters in abalone sauce
Of the appetizers we ordered, the collagen fix from the baby pig trotters were juicy and tender.  The sauce was good although I didn't get much of a whiff of abalone.  

Steamed crab with glutinous rice

The Rice
The steamed crab over glutinous rice was good but in my opinion, nothing beats the crab and rice combo at Xin Dau Ji.  The glutinous rice here was a tad too soft for me, but that's just personal since I prefer my grains very separate and apart.  The crab was definitely good quality and full of meat and roe.   

Fried shrimp patties with basil

Spareribs in plum sauce and poached pears in red wine
Spareribs well deep fried but I was sold on the pears in red wine.  Great way to lift an otherwise heavy dish.

Stir fried shrimps with lychees
Another dish to use fruit to give it a natural sweetness and freshness.

Chilled Mango Pudding

Sweetened almond cream with egg white

Baked sago pudding

Desserts were surprisingly good, especially the mango pudding in summer.  Good quality and naturally sweet, unlike the often used artificial mango puree these days.

It's not a cheap place but it offers great value.  Even dim sum at lunch is a treat.  My only complaint at lunch is a less than attentive service you get for dinner.  But you can only blame it on having to share the attention with like minded customers who swamp to what is an obscure area to me to lunch above and beyond TST.

28/F, Hotel ICON
17 Science Museum Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-3400 1318