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