Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hong Kong - Fatty Crab 肥蟹

Malaysian inspired cuisine cooked up by a bunch of New Yorkers.  Hmm....  I had to think about that one for a bit.  I don't even eat Singapore/Malaysian food in Hong Kong since I get home quite a bit and don't get into crazy cravings.  So would I take the chance of a no-reservations place on a Friday night in Central for Malaysian food literally cooked up by New Yorkers (I didn't spot an Asian from the sliver opening of the kitchen door closest to our table).  Seriously.

No one spoke Chinese in the joint.  I don't even think they spoke English.  It was as Nu Yawk as the Statue of Liberty.  And it was Greenwich village vibe cool.  Good music and a wide array of fun cocktails.  They can do mock on request.  Definitely noisy and the acoustics amplified it.

And the food?

Like a lot of places these days which tout sharing so everyone gets a taste of everything, we were advised on picking from the different sections in the menu - raw, skinny and fatty.  They also have sides like in good ole fashioned America.  Since there were only 2 of us, we skipped to the chase and and had 3 fattys!

Watermelon Pickle and Crispy Pork
This was as good a pork as you can get anywhere, even in Hong Kong, where pork is the territory's meat of choice.  Pork is very much in our blood and we can have it in several courses of a meal.  But I digress.  This was perfectly crisp on the outside so it envelopes a melt-in-the-mouth combo of fat and flesh.  The watermelon was split into 2 categories.  The red sweet and juicy part we are all used to consuming especially in the thick of summer.  Then they pickled the pale green section between the red and the skin.  With a really really tart dressing reminiscent of the pickle dishes which many old school Chinese restaurants still serve, only much tarter.  There was also a lot of herb varieties over the top which reminded me of many-a-dish in Vietnam where herbs are the order of the day.  Nice, fresh and light for something from the Fatty section, but personally, I could do with just the out-of-the-world pork and fresh watermelon cubes.

Nasi Lemak
This was a 50/50 order since there isn't much you can do to justify badly executed nasi lemak.  But you know what?  It was good it its own right.  Not quite what you're used to on the streets of KL or even from a hawker center in Singapore, but this was nasi lemak at a finer level.  The piece de resistance was a very good piece of curry chicken leg which took center stage.  This dish could have been called curry chicken rice and still be great.  A slow poached egg when broken, added to the richness of the gravy.  Bliss.  Snags?  Sambal had too much heat and not sweet enough.  I would also have like a lot more ikan bilis but that's just me.

Chilli Crab
This scored points with me for the use of Dungeness crab, which I love.  And surprisingly, a really good Pullman toast which had chew to it.  The gravy was not the kind I'm used to although it went well with the toast.  This was not the eggy gravy with a tomato base but rather had a lot more sambal in the base and more pungent.  Wasn't bad though.

Peanut Butter kinda dessert
Perhaps the one disappointment was dessert.  We should have stuck on theme but got distracted as we would by anything with peanut butter in it.  Well, this dish probably suffered more from the choice of a jam jar as a serving platform since it was hard to get a little bit of everything making every spoonful messy and one-dimensional.  I also dislike whipped cream so it made it worse.  On a flatter dish, this would have been way more enjoyable.

Overall, lotsa fun and good quality food (just don't think of it as a Malaysian experience).  It's a theme restaurant for crying out loud.  And you do have to, to be heard over the noise, and to get past the only broken link in communication who stands out front waiting to receive guests.  Her aside, it's good service all round without the service charge.  Yes, tipping is "discretionary" (just like in America).

11-13 Old Bailey Rd.
Central District, Hong Kong
Tel: +852-25212033

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Singapore - Toots Brasserie

The Sultan by night (picture courtesy of Time Out Singapore)
Casual French in a colonial setting.  The ambience and location already is quite a stunner already.

The Sultan Hotel, a 4-star boutique hotel in the midst of Kampong Glam, is converted from a row of shophouses dating back to the good ole days with black and white interiors.  Glam is named for the species of trees (a Malay word) and not the hip factor this area is increasingly being associated with.

Freshly baked baguette
Just into its 3rd month of operation, Toots is helmed in the kitchen by Jason Wong - a purported 14 year veteran who is ex-Au Petit Salut.  While he doesn't quite promise to deliver the country to you, he does at least give a very good value slice of French cuisine in a lovely setting away from the bustle of CBD Singapore.

Fig salad
A lovely fig and warm blue cheese "fondue" dressing salad kickstarts our set lunch off on the right note.  Fresh and sweet figs, contrasted by a rich and pungent dressing, and contrasted with crisp Parmesan chips and crunch salad leaves.

Pork Terrine
The alternative starter of pork and vegetable terrine was also surprisingly decent, served with black mushrooms, carrots and a ravigote vinaigrette.

A classic test of any establishment claiming to be a bistro or brasserie.  My main of steak and frites topped off with an herb butter was a pretty good cut (said to be from "Nippon" 150 day Black Angus) for the price and well executed to be the medium steak I wanted.  Enjoyable but just a tad big for lunch in the tropics.  Fries were also crisp (in fact just a little too crisp for me).

Hachis Parmentier
The alternative main of braised ox tail served under a bed of gratin-ed mash was also good.  Well braised and tender, it was easy on the palate since little chewing was needed to bring out the flavors.

Profiteroles au Chocolat
Well baked Choux pastry with ice cream is always a winner and this was pretty good with a dark chocolate sauce and roasted almonds.  Good that it was also one mouthful per profiterole so you get a bit of everything in one heavenly mouthful.

Poire Belle-Helene
Presentation here was the least exciting since they forgot the ice cream and chocolate sauce.  But since we were in a hurry we just enjoyed the well poached pears on their own.

Service was definitely patchy and staff untrained despite the apologetic smiles.  Jason himself had to come out to introduce the specials and menu, so we got to see and talk to him for a little bit but there was definitely a fluster given they had a decent crowd for lunch.  Hopefully that part of the operation doesn't derail a fine concept of value French, something that's becoming a rarity in increasingly-expensive Singapore.

101 Jalan Sultan
The Sultan Singapore
+65 6292 0740

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Hong Kong - Sushi Toku 壽司德

More than 2 years after I first discovered this place, I finally made it back for dinner - something I had planned to do so since that declaration in 2011.  Since it had been a while and it was our first time for dinner, I was advised against Omakase and instead we picked items off the Specials menu.  A semi-work dinner meant I was less than able to remember names of fishies but from the selections, it was only slightly off the beaten track and mostly featured things we would have eaten before.

Starting off with a "carpaccio" of a "left-mouthed" fish.  Well, at least it's what the Chinese call them.  Although they had left and right, I was told left was right and so that's what we ended up with.  Sweet with a subtle crunch and almost a default to start with these days, it's excellent in summer with the tart ponzu soy it's served with.

Then a lightly torched pice of Kinmedai and cockles.  Although the species of cockle was supposed to be very seasonal, I wasn't that blown away.  I still like the red, raw and bloody type best..

A crowd favorite - chopped mackeral with scallions and what was a really fragrant and sweeter version of lemongrass.  Excellent with K's choice of Sake.

The cooked courses were very enjoyable despite the lack of choice since several things weren't available anymore.  A notable miss was the tempura of fresh figs which I must go back for.  The grilled eggplant with sweet miso wasn't bad though since it was still firm and not overly mushy.  Great way to eat this vegetable... or is it a fruit?

The sweet river fish or Ayu is an absolute seasonal fave with sweet and soft cottony flesh.  In bed sheet terms this would be no less than 500 threadcount.  Just lightly salted and grilled so you enjoy its natural goodness.  Accompaniments are strictly that and quite unnecessary.

This was the winner of the evening.  Good grade beef from Saga served on a hotplate and left to cook table side.  Capturing photos meant I left it to cook a tad longer than I would have liked but it was still melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  Amazing stuff.

After the beef, this very good fish tempura unfortunately paled in comparison (only in wow factor) and I was too distracted to even remember the name of the fish.  My bad.

To end, an Uni laden piece of sushi and sweet egg roll omelette.  The Uni was from Hokkaido and supremely sweet.  The Tamago was K's request although I had warned him that after my experiences at Sushi TaKe  and Sushi Sase , it would be hard to beat those.  I was unfortunately right.

Notwithstanding, we were pretty pleased with the evening's experience and the place does have enough credibility to compete with Sushi Kenjo and Sushi Hiro in the TST area.  A definite add to the TST list in my book.

Shop B, 2/F, Cameron Plaza
23-25A Cameron Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852- 2301 3555

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Singapore - Bacchanalia

Bacchanalia - a derivative of Bacchus' (Greco-Roman wine god) parties, seemed an apt name for the location of the restaurant.  Almost regal in the building which houses the openly secretive Freemasons, there is no real entrance except through a wooden door you enter only with the sole escort standing out-front.

Once in, the darker than usual ambience is almost expected, with heavy drapes, velvet chairs and a lot of dark wood, although the glass balls overhead throw us off.  And then the choice of music makes it almost a lounge or club (whatever it is the hip and trendy call their watering holes these days).

Seating in the big velvet chairs is comfortable.  The professionalism of the wait staff almost a surprise and the menu written to raise anticipation.  We were advised to order for sharing as the offerings will come a little smaller than usual.  So between the 2 of us, we got 3 starters, 3 mains and 2 desserts.

The menu was pretty innovative as far as things went.  With innovation sometimes however, the win is having experimented rather than the result in itself.  Most things fit within the range of "that wasn't too bad" to "mmmm.... enough said".

Cauliflower Gratin
Out of the wondrous descriptions of many dishes on the menu, it would surprise many that for me, the starter of cauliflower gratin was the winner hands down.  Deep fried cauliflower florets, white truffle and cheese foam, gremolata.  When the bowl of whiter-than-white cream soup arrived in a white bowl, I almost sent the boring looking thing back but spoon in and you're cauliflower dreamin.  One of the few rare moments where you regret the size of the portion.  Should have just ordered 2 of these and forgo the Fennel and Tahitian Vanilla salad, which while fresh and light did little to inspire.

Hamachi Carambola
The citrus cured Hamachi with pickled starfruit and garlic with freshly grated walnuts was a little more interesting in that none of the ingredients took center stage, especially considering the individually unique and pretty strong flavors of each.  Notwithstanding, I couldn't really say it came together perfectly either and felt the punchline was missing.  Pleasant enough though.

15 Hour Pork Belly
In the mains section, my favorite was the perfectly executed crispy pork belly, with braised red cabbage, granny smith apples and giant capers.  The chef has taken a traditionally rich and fatty dish and turned it into something you can eat for a long time.  The pork was so perfectly done that both meat and fat were melt-in-your-mouth good, accentuated by a lightly crisp crackling.

Duck Confit
This out-of-the-box duck confit was wrapped in spinach, with cucumber and corn, then served with a cucumber dashi in a Sake glass.  It definitely had hints of the Orient and the Sino-French thing was a little confusing to me but it wasn't bad, just a tad salty.  Nicely done though.

Prawn Risotto
If anything was perfect about this, it was the perfectly poached garlic oiled prawn, especially since I don't really like prawns all that much.  But I still came way unsure about the combination of compressed radicchio, strawberries and Burrata although I was able to enjoy each set of ingredients by themselves.

Japanese Momo Peach
My favorite of the 2 desserts came from a base fruit I adore.  J'adore Momo...

The poached peach en gelee was clever and enhanced the original fruit in almost its original form, and was so good that arguably did not need the peach and vanilla bavarois although I did enjoy the Jasmine silver needle ice cream.

White Chocolate and Cherry Tart
Although I was wild in anticipation about the other sweet ending, it did not live up to what I imagined it would be but at least it was Bambi-forest-like in its prettiness and made for eye candy.

Overall, a good testimonial to the chefs' pedigree from the Fat Duck, and certainly worth a visit to partake in their experiment of different flavors and textures from their diverse backgrounds.

23A Coleman Street
Tel: +65-65091453