Sunday, October 6, 2013

Hong Kong - Lunching at the Ritz Carlton

One of the biggest pluses about eating or drinking atop the 100+ storey Ritz Carlton is that the views are never the same.  And it is a stunning one no matter where you sit, no matter the weather and no matter the time of day.

Even when the clouds are so low that you can hardly see anything, it is but a different drama but dramatic nonetheless.

And on 102, there is a choice of Italian or Chinese.

Good breads on offer at Tosca are a welcome start especially the squid ink roll.

Bufala beef carpaccio, ricotta cheese cream, spring sprouts and homemade tomato jam

Grilled Octopus
Appetizers are decent enough although the centimeter thick beef carpaccio was a surprise.  Presentations were just short of stunning when compared with the view.  Produce used was superior so no real complaints there.  Pastas were only a so-so and my trio of spaghetti mounds with scampi and tomatoes were a just a tad underwhelming compared with the first course.  

Lemon tart with meringue
A citrusy sweet finish let us off with a happy enough ending and the meringue cigarettes were highly addictive.  So much so it stole the show from the tart itself.

If I could choose however, lunching at Tin Lung Heen is a little more exciting for the variety of dim sums that you can get.  Well, this is Hong Kong after all.

Baked Abalone Puffs with Minced Chicken
I haven't exhausted the menu yet but this is my favorite so far.  The abalone has a nice bite but isn't chewy and is a nice contrast to the crust which is firm but breaks down easily when in the mouth.

Baked Barbequed Buns
These are a nice alternative to traditional steamed BBQ pork buns.  A milky fragrant exterior that is fluffy with a good pork filling which was just a tad sweet for me.

Crispy roasted pork belly
Well, you can't really go wrong with this Cantonese roast staple.  TLH's version is a squatter piece which means the ratio of perfect crispy crackling to meat and fat is well, perfect.

Crispy noodle with Abalone and Chicken
This was a souped up version of the usual with the addition of abalone.  Crispy noodles well done and not greasy and abalones used were fresh and crunchy.  Lots of action on the palate with the different textures.  The fermented bean paste based sauce was surprisingly mild.

Poached Kailan with Conpoy
The use of good vegetables and conpoy came through in this really simple dish and it was a pleasure to enjoy the natural but diverse sweetness of both together.

Petit fours
The osmanthus jelly with wolfberries is a cool and light way to finish lunch without feeling like a tank before heading back to the office.  The floral scent may not be welcome by some but I love it and am usually sold to any dessert where it is represented.  Cashew cookies in the background were pretty decent too.

If you are looking to decompress and have a nice lunch where you can enjoy the views, decent food and actually converse without straining and still be heard, but don't mind paying for the experience, the Ritz actually isn't a bad choice.

Tin Lung Heen 天龍軒 | Tosca
Level 102, International Commerce Ctr.
1 Austin Road West
Kowloon, Hong Kong

Tel: +852-2263 2270

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Hong Kong - Gin Sai 吟彩

Gin Sai is part of the trio of restaurants in the new and luxurious Oakhill apartments in Wanchai, that have opened to "critical acclaim", owned by the Lai Sun group, perhaps known first and foremost for the prices of their establishments, but impossible to get last minute reservations.  (Yes, I suppose Hong Kong is still very much thriving.)  So I was pleasantly surprised to have been able to get into Gin Sai on a Friday night.  It wasn't that new when I first visited but it looked to be a "fly-swatting" night, at least on ground level.  But having valet-ed the car, it was a little too late.

I am not a huge fan of oden, a broth based dish served in wintry Japan comprising a variety of ingredients depending on where you eat it, but fish cakes, tofu and boiled radishes seem to be the order of most days.  Being one of their specialties, I actually enjoyed the very tasty but light broth which I finished.  My choices of radish, a steamed squid and meatball dumpling, alongside a deep fried tofu with chopped vegetables and ground fish were actually good.  Fresh and obviously not processed unlike some places.  Serving it with a dollop of mustard on the side added a little pungency and kick to an otherwise mild dish.

Hokkaido Potato Salad
Having traveled the week and not having eaten less than healthily, I thought a salad would be good.  But I had no difficulty succumbing to the recommended potato salad, which was bound together with a fragrant and addictive eggy dressing.  So much for fiber.  I guess the consolation is that they had lettuce on the side.

Tempura crab claw and sea urchin
This was just appropriately decadent for the lazy.  No peeling of crab necessary and lightly battered and deep fried.  Any uncomfortable heat taken away by the creamy topping of cool fresh sea urchin, the sea sweetness accentuated by a little soy sauce.  Gone too quickly...

Robatayaki ox tongue
This was supposedly French.  Whichever French ox it came from, it was pretty tender with a bite.  Just lightly seasoned and grilled to perfection, good with a little wholegrain mustard, and cold sake if you get some.

Chicken meatball
However, I didn't enjoy this as much since I too like my meatballs only lightly seasoned and with enough crunch from the cartilage they infused it with.  This one was distracting with hints of ginger and garlic.  Not overwhelming but obvious enough for it to be distracting.

Seasonal claypot rice
This was by far my favorite dish of the evening.  And we had to wait a good 45 minutes for this.  Thank goodness for free Wifi.

Claypot rice cooked to perfection with sea urchin, crab meat and egg white, laced with fresh chopped scallions.  And bonus?  More fresh sea urchin.

The result?  A sea-tasty bowl of well formed rice with a little crunch from the slightly charred bits of rice nearest the base of the claypot.  Rice was high quality and well cooked to be separate and distinct - an important factor for me.  Mouthfuls of varied textures and tastes, all different depending on what you pick up with your spoon.  So good I doggy-bagged the leftovers and had it 2 days later.  It was still good.

They had an interesting array of Western style desserts rather than the usual Japanese offerings, probably because it is the same pastry kitchen as Wagyu Takumi, the French-Japanese restaurant member of the same group.  We selected swiss rolls topped with different berries.  Use of good ingredients here ensured the result was a lightly sweet end to a decent dinner.

While prices aren't low, the plus is a comfortable and quiet dining experience away from the world of Suzie Wong that is not far away.  A big bonus in an overcrowded Hong Kong these days.

Shop 3-7, G/F The Oakhill, 
32-38 Cross Lane
Tel: +852-25741118

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bangkok - Enoteca Italiana

Bangkok's culinary haven status extends beyond Thai food, and it is in this bustling city where I have had some of my best Italian meals in the region.  For some reason, and there is probably a good one, the kitchens there can really churn out some world class renditions of Italian goodness.

The restaurant is not a big one but it is set in a really lovely garden with floor to ceiling glass so the feel to it is dramatically different if you have lunch or dinner, and add to that the permutations of dry or wet weather, sunny or overcast.  And because it is tucked well away in a soi (Thai for lane) of a soi, it may not be easy for the visitor to find so make sure you have a good driver, as we did.

Amuse Bouche
The menu isn't big and there are specials but don't expect to have a lot of variety.  They have some Italian staples but the menu is otherwise pretty innovative in turning some old favorites into modern eats.  The amuse bouche certainly kicked us off very well.  The dollop of chicken liver mousse sitting atop a polenta bed was given a real kick by a gelatinous balsamic vinegar blob, which packed a wow.

Black ink cappuccino
There was nothing cappuccino like about this one and I was happier for it.  It was in fact more like a Latte, if one were to continue in coffee speak, and a very good one at that.  Rich and creamy given more substance by pureed potato, packed with lots of umami by squirts of black ink from the squid, then given a slight chew by little chunks of squid, allowing you to savor the concoction for that much longer.  Our server was a little judgmental of me though, much to the laughter of the table .  He made me succumbed to a half-portion on account of what I had ordered and my size.  I hate to admit he was right.  The result 3 weeks later is a pining rather than a love affair that was good while it lasted.  I do want to go back...

Has to be one of the best Burattas I've had in my entire life.  Full of texture but without detracting from the creaminess.  And those tomatoes.. wow, those tomatoes.  So sweet that it could be a mistaken identity - cherries?  strawberries?  Hmm...  highlighted by flavored oils and then given a complete re-take by the anchovies on the other end.  Just so much going on in the palate but in a good way.  Brings new meaning to working up an appetite.  Definitely some work out.

Lamb raviolis
After a good workout, you just want to sit back and be pampered.  This very simple presentation of 6 thin but al dente ravioli pockets filled with shreds of lamb that had been braised for a while garnished with the gravy it had been cooked in were just that.  Simple goodness.  Fuss free and likely to be given a stamp of approval by any Italian grandmother.

Chocolate ice
After a week of good eating, and almost giving up (hard to believe), I still wanted to end on a sweet high.  I spied this on the menu and announced that anything with ice can't be all that rich.  I was half right.  This has got to be some of the best chocolate I've had in a while and it is RICH.  But on top of a bed of crushed ice, this was easily downed and every spoonful was a little crunching with a sweet end.

Petit fours
There were definitely some oohs and ahs going on at our table and even our 2 vegetarian friends were converts by the end of the night.  Perhaps the only dish that didn't seem to work was the monkfish, which J ordered.  A spoonful I tried confirmed the verdict but aside from that slip up, all else was wonderful and just a great way to end a the work week.

39 Sukumwit soi 27
North Klong Toey
Tel: +66-2-22584386

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Macau - one night at the Grand Lisboa

So somebody had a last minute "bright" idea to spend a night in Macau to celebrate a birthday.  Hmm...  I'm not a huge fan of the ex-Portuguese enclave but ok there is some pretty decent F&B action there.  Where would we stay though?

When I got news that it was going to be the Grand Lisboa, I thought to myself "oh boy, here we go...". Apart from being in the heart of the city, and not having to battle for the shortage of taxis in the city now teeming with visitors from its new motherland since 1999, the hotel is not the most pleasant to stay at unless you are a fan of wading through crowds taking photos in the public areas of the hotel, which are decked with some museum-worthy sculptures and other feng-shui pieces.

The Casino
Of course the crowds are also there to take their chance at being a tycoon, much to the happiness of the tycoon owner I'm sure.  

Room with a view
Checking in was a slightly painful affair since we strongly insisted on a non-smoking room and almost got "duped" into taking a "treated" room on a smoking floor.  After all the haggling and a 45 minute wait, we got upgraded to a pretty decent room.  A big win considering occupancy rates seemed high for Sunday afternoon.  Rooms are styled in dark wood and while decent in size, had a pretty tight shower stall.  But Hermes toiletries are a plus.

"Dan Dan" Noodles with Minced Pork and Peanuts Paste in Chilli Sauce
Since we had to wait for our room, we ventured to the Noodle and Congee Corner for a late lunch of Dan Dan noodles and pork pie.  While the pie was pretty forgettable the Dan Dan noodles were actually very good, with al dente hand pulled noodles (which we would see from the open kitchen) in an addictive spicy and crunch peanut butter like soup that had the consistency of a thick sauce.  Added to this some minced pork and fresh julienned cucumber made me think they did a cross over with Beijing's famous "Zha Jiang" noodles.

Dinner was a 10 minute walk from the hotel at 陶陶居海鮮火鍋酒家.  A re-decked but old world restaurant serving traditional Cantonese seafood dishes.  Decent food but the MSG attack afterwards which lasted a night didn't seem worth it unless you are accustomed to or do not react to MSG.

Senado Square
Even a walk around Senado Square afterwards nor dessert of Yee Shun's famous milk pudding did not take the pain away.

Fresh Water Crab Congee
The best cure to waking up to a hangover Chinese style is congee.  And what better congee than the famous Macau specialty of fresh water crab congee for room service.  It was surprisingly good value and yummy in taste.  The crab had little meat but was flavorful enough to breathe life into the congee, which became almost the milky sea where the crab might have been swimming in not too long ago.  The dough fritters were dense but fluffy, a combination hard to execute, and salted duck eggs made the meal complete with a yolky richness.

Fresh French Beurre
But no amount of breakfast was going to stop us from enjoying our hard-earned reservation at the 3-starred Robuchon au Dome, which we scored after a myriad of unsuccessful attempts via phone and a face-to-face "begging" session the night before.  Service was impeccable from dealing with a difficult situation, and turning it into a win for both guest and restaurant.  A rarity these days worth complimenting again.  I should have remembered our manager's name but cannot but want to accord her with a big "thank you" again for making the experience memorable.  The world class training at the restaurant extends to our servers who were not only polite but also as knowledgeable as they could be considering their backgrounds.

Amuse Bouche
Of course, the food was definitely awesome and at very decent prices for lunch, it is no wonder that the restaurant is booked for months ahead.  Our amuse bouche was a refreshing gazpacho over a creamy bufala base.  The contrast in flavors made for an excellent tease on the palate before we started lunch proper.

Bread Basket
It is easy to go overboard with a very good selection of breads, especially the brioche and bacon baguettes so pace yourself.

French mussels in white wine and cream
These have to be the best mussels I've had in any long or short term memory.  The consistency in each mussel's sea-sweetness and even size was amazing.  The deceptively light sauce served to enhance each  shellfish.  Served with a gold leaf and flower on the top, it has also got to be the prettiest way to serve this dish.

Caramelized upper guinea fowl thigh with pan fried foie gras and marinated cherry
My choice of the fowl, foie and cherries was also perfection in execution.  What could have otherwise been a rich dish was appropriate for lunch by the clever use of cherries.  Unlike other berries which can be too tart, the freshly sweet fruit made bolder by its marinade complimented the fowl and creamy foie well.

Dessert Trolley
No French meal is complete without dessert and I was happy to see they still use the trolley here.  Needless to say, there was a lot of good choices, and what was outstanding was the Cherry Cheese Tart and the Napolean.  Just a perfect sweet finish with a shot of Espresso.

If you can leave aside a rough ride from the ferry terminal, and battling the crowds who can get rowdy, the one-night staycation at the Grand Lisboa wasn't too miserable.  Especially since the F&B within the hotel more than makes up for everything else.  I might just brave it again if I scored another reservation at the Robuchon au Dome.

Avenida de Lisboa
Tel: +853-28283838

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bangkok - Issaya Siamese Club

The Garden
With the rapid urbanization of cities, especially in populous Asia, it is a sweet rarity to be able to enjoy dining in places like the Issaya Siamese Club.  Set in a 1920s villa, stepping in through the gates and  onto the walkway leading up to the beautiful black-and-white structure transports you back in time where there was little else to worry about except the one telex you got earlier in the afternoon instead of the 200 emails in your inbox..  and the things to be done about that one telex had to wait till the post office opened for business the next day, instead of having to get on 2 conference calls and do recap emails later the same night after dinner.

Times have changed drastically but at Issaya, you can almost feel the time machine had been set for 1925 and is going to stay there on that chillaxing pace, till you finish an enjoyable dinner with good mates.

The table is set
Decor is an all important part of making the time machine experience real and at Issaya, the ground floor dining area is a welcoming room of bold colors that miraculously come together .  The lush garden on the outside is a lovely setting to look at through the big square windows.

The bar
Smiling faces at the bar serve to open up your imagination as you cruise the menu for the concoctions these wizards can whip up for you.

Club grown produce
As you step outback, varieties of plants are grown and harvested onto Ian Kittichai's creations.

Private dining
The upper level of the villa can be reserved for private parties.  A beautiful setting sure to impress guests.

TV area
When not dining, you can even "watch TV" in the living area, although no one stopped to test if the TV still works in 2013.

Tangerine ice tea
After the grand tour, we sat down and had drinks while we pored over a pretty long and comprehensive menu.  Nothing like a long ice-cold drink to beat the heat and humidity of the city.  Instead of pondering over what to order, the 4 of us ultimately decided on splitting the 2 tasting menus since each menu required a minimum of 2 persons to execute.

Here are some highlights:

Amuse Bouche

Banana blossom and heart of palm salad, crispy shallots and roasted peanuts in a chili jam dressing
This is the much talked about salad by Ian K although I would have preferred a more delicate dressing.  I love banana blossoms but feared that they were overpowered by everything else, which thankfully happened to be decent.  I was almost tempted to ask for a second helping of banana blossoms just to balance the dish out.

Grilled imported tender beef, fresh herbs, organic vegetables in a charred bird's eye chili vinaigrette
This was extremely well executed, with enough heat to stimulate but not to overwhelm.  And the beef although quite a big piece for a mouthful, was so tender, that no effort was required to break it down, so you can still keep it elegant while savoring all of the components in one mouthful.  Good news, we each get 2 mouthfuls each.

Spiced rubbed pork baby back ribs glazed with Issaya house-blended chili paste
This didn't look like much when it was served despite the cute Japanese inspired stone stove it came on.    As it heated up at the table, the aroma started to open up the senses, and biting into it, it was not reminiscent of anything Thai but was could be any piece of world class pork rib from any cuisine and of course, melt-in-your-mouth tender.

House made shellfish sausage with Hua Hin style seafood broth
Since we shared, I didn't get any shellfish sausage, but the broth was unbelievably tasty for the thinness of the consistency.  Sea sweet but without the usual heat of a Tom Yum Goong, this was addictive and pretty in the use of paper as a serving device.  My only complaint was that it couldn't contain more given its limited size..

Tamarind glazed crispy duck leg, pan-seared foie gras, sauteed red okra leaves and crushed cashew nuts
No doubt French-inspired and techniques unmistakably so, but it still fit right into the menu without confusing.  Again well executed and despite the heaviness of the ingredients, did not wear us down at all.

Grain fed Australian veal cheek simmered in house-blended spices, hand-pressed coconut milk, and kaffir lime leaves
This and the next were perfect for the rice fiend since you can go on forever eating rice if you had these 2 dishes.  Again, a tender cut of veal that you can break down with your tongue and keeps the focus on the slightly spicy sauce made that much richer with drizzles of coconut milk.

Boneless lamb shank simmered in Mussamun curry served with pickled cucumber
A little anomaly since the boneless lamb came bone-in.  They might have meant it was fall-off-the-bone which was nothing but accurate.  I actually liked the spices in this curry even more than the previous and can prove it based on the spoonfuls of rice I had with this one over the other.

Seasonal vegetables
Likely to have been plucked from the garden too.  I would have liked less sauce with this one since the vegetables were so good since the slightly salty sauce distracted from the natural goodness of the vegetable (almost like flower buds) which I did not recognize.

Asian multigrains, Chiang Mai mushrooms, and garlic sprinkled with a mushroom-scented oil
An Asian play on a truffle risotto, just fluffier and lighter even though it was a little too well-oiled.  Aromatic from the herbs and oil and if not for the amount of food already on the table, I would have had more.

Desserts (bottom up) - Jasmine flower panna cotta, Sticky rice mochi filled with black coconut ice cream, and with fresh coconut, Saree cake (jackfruit semifreddo, Thai miso and mulberry sorbet), macaron
These were all very decent and the panna cotta and Saree cake were standouts for me in terms of creativity and in keeping with the Thai theme, despite the use of western techniques.

An awesome meal to remember for a while and definitely worthy of repeat visits.  Word of caution, the tasting menus are more than generous so make sure you are hungry especially if you go for the more expensive one.  Despite our hearty appetites, we ended up packing up leftovers which we passed to our happy drivers.  Otherwise, the a-la-carte menu has most if not all of the items you might like from the tasting menus.

4 Soi Sri Aksorn
Chua Ploeng Road
Sathorn, Bangkok
Tel: +66-2-672 9040/1