Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hong Kong - Trattoria Doppio Zero

Following the real foodies has its advantages.  They help suss out the places worth visiting and leave out a lot of the non-value hard work of weeding out commercially driven reviews from the non.  Best of all, they support the ones who are really trying to do it right, bringing cuisine authenticity rather than compromising to suit local palates.  I know it's a delicate balancing act in trying to make a foreign concept work, but in a city like Hong Kong, the general populace is probably well-traveled enough to know.  (*hope)

My weekend experience at Doppio Zero was soundly authentic.  At least, I didn't come away feeling bastardized.  That I would be able to experience a very similar taste somewhere in the long and narrow strip that is Italy.  

Service was also knowledgeable and impeccable.  Polite without being intrusive, engaging without being overbearing.  Even a little dedication thrown in as the next table wanted a photo taken..  I rarely see a server willing to get down on his knees to get a perfect shot - what a pleasant surprise.  

Affettati - Prosciutto, speck, whipped lardo, grilled focaccia
The whipped lardo was really the star of the starters.  It's not something readily in restaurants here.  It really is just finely reground fat from a pig.  So simple, so sinful, so good, especially on a hot grilled piece of focaccia.  The cuts were alright (the prosciutto more enjoyable than the speck) and there to add a little complexity to the sodium they bring, but the lardo, yes the lardo, did it for me.

Grilled focaccia with the Affetatti

Chitarra - sea urchin, crab roe, tarragon
Since they tout possibly the freshest pastas in Hong Kong, and made no less with 00 grade flour from Italy, no justice is done unless you leave only after trying a pasta dish.  My choice of the chitarra did not disappoint for the quality of the artisanal pasta was very good.  Perfect bite and chew and able to soak in the flavors of the sea urchin, crab roe and tarragon.  I hazard a comment here because the pasta was good.  However, I would have preferred a different dimension to break the otherwise very heavy sea flavor of the dish.  I would return just to try the Bolognese and the Amatriciana..

Milk braised boneless suckling pig - roasted mushrooms, black truffle, toasted hazelnuts
This was just decadent comfort food.  You can't really see the pork but they are 2 rounds of very tender and baby fat coated pieces of meat richly coated in a heavy sauce, that is richly good.  Fans of bread can have a field day mopping up the sauce.  The mushrooms and hazelnuts added earthiness and 2 types of crunch.  This dish is best shared though since the decadence can get to you after a while.

Flowering baby cabbage - sausage, garlic, EVOO
I like that Doppio Zero has contorni or sides.  The flowering baby cabbage here is probably locally sourced Choi Sum, but given a twist with sausage and garlic.  But then again anything with sausage and garlic is yummers.  I did forget Italians like their vegetables a little more well cooked so Cantonese beware.  It is not overcooked.  Just different.

Chocolate Semi-freddo Sundae - salted caramel, brittle, amarena cherries
The dessert menu was a little small and the sundae was the only thing which attracted.  Quality was faultless although I think I prefer a full frozen ice cream.  But the accompanying salted caramel and brittle were brilliant.  And I do like well soaked cherries (in fact I'm having cherries soaked in coca cola while typing this... yes, a real cherry coke).

Thanks @e_ting and @g4gary for introducing the place.  Keep 'em coming!

G/F, The Pemberton
22 Bonham Strand
Sheung Wan
Tel: +852-2851 0682

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hong Kong - Bella Vita by Francesco

Finally got round to trying the third restaurant in 1957 & Co.'s portfolio.  This time, Italian.  After Sushi Ta-ke and Mango Tree, it just seemed appropriate to taste the final segment of the trio.  If only to just be able to say "I've tried them all.".

We started the night on the wrong note.  My point, and I do have one, is that if you are the dude showing people to their tables, you are supposed to listen for the name of the party, not throw out names at random from the reservations book and hope you hit the right one.  The game starts to get weary after 3 wrong tries and you're not even close, especially when the party is trying their best to tell you what the name of their party is.  

After that hiccup, we did make it to our table and were promptly served a cold basket of bread.  I get that they eat cold bread in Europe, but this is Hong Kong, and being spoilt by warm bread everywhere, we wanted it warmed especially on a chilly night. 

Table Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar
Bread came back warmed but didn't do justice to the condiments.  Bread was too doughy and sliced a little too thin to generate any texture or taste.  Table oil and vinegar were quite good though, as were the truffle butter and tomato paste.

Grilled Octopus with Black Pepper and Green Apple Salad
This was a refreshing entry after the not-so-pleasant start to the night.  Very well executed.  Octopus just barely cooked with a crusty, slightly charred exterior for a touch of smokiness but very tender inside.  The green apples were a nice complement of tartness and crunchiness.  

Orecchiette pasta with Sicilian red shrimp and date tomatoes
Pasta was al dente and well coated with the robust sauce of shrimps and tomatoes.  Only complaint, this was a tad salty and I had to order a Tua Rita riesling to neutralise the palate.

My “Cacciucco”, spicy Tuscan seafood soup with lobster, scallop, mussels, clams, calamari and garlic bruschetta
This was quite enjoyable, a relatively light main course and provides warmth to the soul on a cold night.  Seafood was fresh and cooked just right.  But the salt factor was even higher than the shrimp pasta, making it a little uncomfortable as the dish went on.  A little bit of a struggle towards the end.  Shame.

Apple tarte tatin and vanilla gelato
Dessert was quite ordinary.  Pastry was very flaky and airy, if you like that sort.  I prefer a little more substance so a few more layers would have worked better for me.  Otherwise, a decent finish.

Overall, it's got location going for it.  There aren't many decent Italian places in the vicinity although I have heard mixed reviews about Da Domenico, which is just across the road.  Bella Vita is a very comfy and quiet place to enjoy dinner, a big plus if the chairman of the board is a leading architect, I suppose.  A clever way to bring the corporates back even if the food isn't outstanding.  If only the people working there were happier and just smiled a little more..

11/F, Cubus
1 Hoi Ping Road
Causeway Bay
Tel: +852-2577 0699

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hong Kong - 豪門火鍋 Rich and Powerful Restaurant (*seriously)

Getting a reservation for hotpot during the cold season in Hong Kong can be a b*tch.  In a city obsessed with keeping warm to the point of almost discomfort, this is the food of choice.  Every resident just wants to gather around a bubbling pot, dunk raw food in and cook it alongside booze and conversation.  Never mind that eating scaldingly hot food is bad for you.  Make it up on that next visit to the Chinese physician and the ritual starts over again.  On my 4th attempt late Thursday night, I managed to get a reservation for a late dinner Friday night.

Condiments 混醬
While many hotpot places offer the variety of condiments, not all places do.  I like places that do since it's an integral part of the cooling process for me.  Take food out of bubbling pot, then dunk in cool sauce before consuming to avoid scalding and ulcers.  And everyone's sauce is unique depending on what and how much you put into the base soy sauce.  Creativity at its best.  Clockwise in the above pic: sesame sauce, XO sauce, fried garlic, hoisin sauce, coriander, spring onions, fresh garlic mince and fresh cut chillies.

Soup base - clear brisket stock 清湯腩
We were recommended a clear stock made from beef brisket and radish.  Simple but naturally sweet.  And every other piece of brisket wasn't too tough for consumption.

Hand Cut local beef 本地手切牛肉
Cubes of tenderloin 牛仔粒
A must-have and must-do-well at a Hong Kong hotpot is the beef.  However good everything else is, this is the main event and so we were very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the hand-cut local beef slices.  Well marbled, a touch of chew to release beefy goodness and after that, it's almost effortless melt-in-the-mouth quality.  Awesome.  The tenderloin cubes weren't too bad either but paled in comparison to the sliced beef.  Still drooling 2 days later at the memory..

Black truffle selection 黑松露精選
Every hot pot place also has its own signature item to differentiate itself from the competition.  In this case, the Rich and Powerful have a selection of items where it uses the fragrant black truffle as a highlight.  We passed on the black truffle based soup base since we thought it would just overpower everything else.  Instead, the trio of 2 types of dumplings and meatballs all with truffle centers were an interesting delight.  Just beware of squirting centers!

Organic vegetable basket 有機蔬菜籃
Everything was fresh including the basket of crunchy organic vegetable selection from baby choi sum,  watercress, lettuce and sweet corn. 

Huadiao Chicken 花雕雞
Perhaps the only thing I would give a miss is the Huadiao chicken.  This always sounds like a great dish to order but the fragrance from the wine is lost in the pot and all you get is a piece of boiled chicken, with everything else so subtle that I won't even bother.  This is best steamed at home so the chicken is just barely cooked and the sauce, a magical potion with rice.

This was one of my better hotpot experiences, eating in comfort and our female server was just the smiliest ever.  I didn't even blink at the fact that she forgot my order of vinegar 3 times over, each time accompanied by an apologetic smile which makes you shrug and smile in return.  Unheard of in this city.  I would return just for the beef and the smiles.  And isn't the English name just a real hoot!?

G/F & 1/F, Charmhill Centre
50 Hillwood Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852-2730 1118

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Singapore - Kilo

2nd floor in an old, non-descript industrial building in the middle of nowhere.  No air-conditioning in humid Singapore.  Spartan decor with touches of quirkiness, cutesy-ness, almost cosy.  A little off-beat vibe, and a mixed bag of customers.  Casual, with a supposed edge.  It is supposed to be Japanese/Italian comfort food.  My jury is still trying to figure that one out though.

Sparkling Sake
Sweet - check.  Refreshing - check.  Carbon dioxide - check.  It's not serious stuff but it was good enough to get us started.  Admittedly a little bit more of a ladies' drink - like a Sprite with alcohol.  Pleasant enough.  The drinks menu is a little quirky so this was identified as Pink, rather than sparking sake.  You therefore have to ask since the other Sake colors were green, brown and black.  We didn't really get a good explanation for the whys behind, so it was totally lost on us.


As an example, this was the "Brown" we ordered.
The menu was promising and many things sounded like things we would like so we picked fairly randomly.  The waiter did warn us that the kitchen had some issues and perhaps the regular chef was not in attendance, but beyond that, and having arrived for dinner, I'm not sure if that was meant to be a salvage attempt.

To be fair, the food wasn't bad.  It was just a little overdone.  Not overcooked, but overdone.  Too much sauce, too much salt.  If you're there to drink, you won't have a problem since you would need to drink.  Other than that little glitch, the ideas behind the food were well thought out.

Beef tartare and fries

A tad too much gherkin and sauce but otherwise a good start.  Fries a tad dry though - powdery insides rather than creamy.

12-hour pork with crackling and purple mash

By far, my favorite of the evening.  Pork was tender but not mushy, crackling providing a nice contrast in textures.  The purple mash provided nice color but nothing else.  Given the low lighting in the place, it might as well had been regular mash.

Seafood Ceviche

The ceviche was really just a salad of chunky seafood and vegetables.  With the exception of the octopus which was as chewy as a tire, and the salt factor a tad high, there wasn't much to complain about this.  Perhaps one thing was that it arrived much later than the other 2 dishes.  A little odd since this was meant to be an appetizer.  No?

Lava cake

Dessert choices were limited so we settled for the molten chocolate cake.  I think they forgot to insert the lava before baking so nothing oozed...  oh well, the cake was well just a cake.  Could give it a miss.

Overall, the place wasn't too impressive in execution.  A real shame since the menu looked exciting.  Hopefully, they work out the kinks, although they've been opened a while already.  Also, Kilo has irregular opening hours and is currently only doing dinner.  But since you need reservations anyhow, you'll always call before popping by.  I learnt that the first time the hard way.  Good thing Loysel's Toy was downstairs and a decent coffee was available to make up for the detour.

66 Kampong Bugis
Singapore 338987
Tel: +65-64673987