Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hong Kong and Singapore - a late Q2 check in

Yet another hectic time at work but I'm determined to clock in for the second quarter, even though we are more than halfway through the 3rd.  What lazier way than just to do a Top 10 for the city I live in vs. a Top 3 for the city I come from.  So here goes.  

Starting with the European quarter (no pun intended):

Serge et le Phoque

Loved the vibe at Serge.  Lots of buzz and energy being in the middle of a traditional wet market in Hong Kong's Wanchai district.  Go before sundown to walk through what defines HK before settling down into a hipster type of bar and restaurant in a unique and rare high ceilinged space.  Only complaint is that the acoustics were poor at best and so be prepared to speak at a decibel or 10 higher than normal.  The food is innovative, fun and has some Japanese influences.  The tasting menu feeds well but does not overwhelm.  And certainly very well executed.  Merits an encore.

Akrame's Pigeon
Akrame Benallal did open shop in HK.  Cool, dark and simple interiors made for a nice setting, although the only odd thing about our table was that both of us faced the glass door.  A little unsettling perhaps but happy with WIFI and the attentive service.  Food seemed to be pretty influenced by Indian and other heavier spices and came through a little overt given the very subtle and light cooking techniques.  However, my one love of the evening was his pigeon with jelly of raspberry and grilled leeks.  Tender and juicy piece of bird and refreshing (yet untart) raspberry film was delightful and I didn't want it to end.  I still remember it now...

Tsim Sha Tsui saw a bit of action with the opening of a few exciting options.

Le Cafe 
The opening of the centuries old French bakery was welcome especially with its cafe and restaurant (more next quarter).  I found the cafe's menu a little too small to be effective given its price point and would later find Epure (its restaurant) much better value.  However, what would win me over was its almond and chicken soup.  Sounds so simple but it just tasted of luxury as soon as you drink it.  Lots of umami in the base stock and worthy of stars on its own.  Signature pastries were definitely very good.

La Locanda's pizza
La Locanda did not open to as much fanfare as Dalloyau but it has certainly gotten my stamp of best pizza in TST.  It's worth going just for the pizza.  Other stuff on the menu are ok although the caneles from the buffet table were surprisingly decent.  

Unar Coffee
And in other TST news, Unar Coffee opened at the Star Ferry Pier to bring coffee standards up in the absence of 18 Grams, now reopened in a newer space in City Super.  But months of lacking good coffee without a walk was a challenge.  Now there are are options again.  Isn't that what life is about?

Last entry in the European section is Catalunya.  I couldn't get a table for dinner but tapas on bar stools weren't too uncomfortable and certainly tasty.  It's a full meal even if you can't get the full menu.  The jamon was definitely good as were the bikinis.  A little pricey for tapas but they do come with the implicit Ferran Adria stamp so what the heck.

Skin features in the Chinese section this quarter.

Kowloon Tang's 
First, Kowloon's best Peking duck.  Pictured above is the best and crispiest part of the bird to be eaten with sugar and nothing else.  Savor the fat bursting with the sugar crystals popping.  Wondrous.  Traditional foods on the menu are executed well too and the setting is perfect for an intimate dinner, unlike most other Chinese restaurants.

T'ang Court's suckling pig
The other intimate Chinese place I like is T'ang Court.  Consistent in quality 90% of the time, it is a firm favorite given its proximity to the office.  Dim Sum although limited is certainly almost always perfectly executed.  A recent discovery which I've now ordered a few times is the suckling pig.  You're not going to get a whole pig for the price they charge but what you get are a few pieces of perfection.  The thinnest crispiest skin with the tenderest pieces of pork belly underneath.

The lone entry in the South East Asia quarter is Chachawan.  I resisted a couple of times given its no-reservations policy so a late dinner night on a public holiday worked magic.  I had hoped it was not overly hyped and was pleasantly surprised.  Hipster in its spartan decor, reminiscent of an old shophouse from the 70s.  Comfortable enough although a tad dark to really see what you're eating.  It's not pitch black but that's just me.  The crab meat omelet and the dessert rotis were winners for me.

With all the "bad stuff" we subject ourselves to everyday, it's good to cleanse ourselves once in a while unless you can embrace plant based vegetarianism wholly.  The good news here is that the stuff is pretty tasty.  My spinach and cottage cheese with chappati was pretty authentic without the usual richness expected in an Indian restaurant so no food coma afterwards, especially after a very yummy affogato.

Meanwhile, 2.5K miles away in Singapore, 3 places made my list for the quarter.

Ola's jamon
Ola Cocina del Mar's venue mislead me into thinking it would be a run-of-the-mill place.  Its neighbors in Tower 3 of the Marina Bay Financial Centre like Bibigo and dr. CAFE were underwhelming but Ola was thankfully many cuts above them.  Its 36 month aged Iberico shoulder was excellent in its natural sweetness and perfect in its meat to fat ratio.  Cliche but certainly very well executed were its paella and churros.  No wonder since its chef Daniel Chavez worked twice for the late Santi Santamaria.  Now that I know his Spanish staples are as close as you can get to Spain in Singapore, I can happily go back.  

Omakase seems to be the order of the day in restaurants these days.  Even Italian restaurants like Fratini have jumped on that bandwagon.  Chef Gabriel Fratini works the crowd as he does the food so he teleports around the restaurant quite a bit, in between sips of Rose´ and Prosecco.  Antipastis, pastas and desserts are delectable.  There were some misses in the other mains only because the tastes just didn't come together for me and not because they weren't well done.  But you can't please everybody and the neighborhood buzz this place offers is fun and casual enough for an easy evening.  Tip: go hungry since it is quite a lot of food.

Last but by no means least, is Yanting, the Chinese restaurant at the St. Regis.  We had the place booked up for Aunty A's big birthday and being a big crowd, wasn't expecting much, but the simple menu put together was well executed for the crowd and what you should expect a restaurant of that rating and calibre to deliver, and we weren't disappointed.  If I didn't have enough Chinese food in HK and needed some good quality stuff in a comfy, quiet and well serviced setting, this would be my choice.

A busy quarter at work but you wouldn't believe me if I told you that was all I did.  And happily I confess.  Until next quarter, eat well.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hong Kong - Checking In.. Q1 2014

Time has ruled me in 2014 contrary to new year's resolutions... oh well, they never worked anyway.  Good news is I've still been eating.  And what's clear is that Time has dictated that I can't really do this weekly so a quarterly check in ensures folks know I'm still alive and kicking.

Here's what I've been up to in Hong Kong, when I wasn't on the road.  
Lee House
Lee House offered up some of the best sweet and sour pork I've ever had, a light crisp batter coating very good cuts of pork which were finely balanced in its ratio of fat to meat, made more dramatic when served up on ice pebbles on a huge platter.  It's not any healthier than the traditional serving method but eating it cool somehow did make it all cool ie. less guilt even if not guilt free.  They seem to do deep fried dishes very well like the eggplant in a sweet chili sauce, which was not at all greasy on the lips.  Overall, good quality for the money you pay and they do have a menu that is a little more progressive than the "usual Chinese places" in Hong Kong.

Eel and Liver Sausage Claypot Rice from Choi's Kitchen
Since Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store decided to close last November, the winter months have seen me going to Choi's Kitchen (私房蔡) a lot more, largely to enjoy a decent quality claypot rice.  Given the place, it's not cheap by any means but they do use good ingredients.  Dishes can be on the saltier side but otherwise enjoyable.  The claypot rice is well done, and tasty enough to not require the usual condiment of soy on the side.  Rice is good and if you are patient and let it sit for a while before serving, the rice crispies are always well formed and excellent when served with a little tea over the top at the end of the meal, not unlike an ochazuke.  

Hana Sakazuki
This was my last meal at Hana Sakazuki before they shut for renovations earlier this month.  Always a good bet for freshest sashimi in town and almost a default for me for omakase dinners in terms of the range and quality.  

Sushi Mori
For sushi however, I chanced upon the new outlet of Sushi Mori and was pleased to have had that at the back of a long session at the hospital earlier in the morning.  What a welcome treat.  Very small and non-descript, I had walked past without even noticing the entrance, then literally walked backwards when I saw the word "Mori" on the wall that was after the heavy door.  So the chef did confirm that they do very very few walk-ins.  The sushi set for lunch is not cheap by any means (12 pieces for $480) but it was good value and both seafood and rice quality were superb.  I also like this style where they already the season the seafood so you only need to put it in your mouth.  I did ask the chef to go easier on the amount of wasabi he used after piece no. 2 since I felt it detracted from the good seafood he used.  Only real complaint is that they don't do anything else, not even a coffee so I had to scour for a post meal caffeine fix somewhere else.

Oshaberi Izakaya
Continuing on the Japanese theme, Oshaberi Izakaya in Tai Hang, although new, seemed to be working it just fine with a very decent crowd even on a Monday night.  It's a pretty simple menu overall but all things were well executed and a nice hangout after a long day whether by yourself or with mates.  The pricing was a little imbalanced - goya champeru was about the same as the sea urchin tempura, go figure.  But no complaints with food quality.  For those who don't consume alcohol, the choices are a little limiting though.

My final entry in the Japanese category is Dining Kitchen Vegi, a cool little space in a commercial building in Causeway Bay, and yes there are a lot of these.  This was an open kitchen with bleached wood and a patio, quite a clever use of space.  Interestingly, the chef here has a heavier focus on vegetables which probably explains the odd name of the place.  I didn't know that my tempura lunch set was exactly as they described it - shrimp and vegetables.  So I got only 2 very fresh shrimps and then pumpkin, sweet potato, french bean, shishito pepper, mushroom and carrot.  All were surprisingly fresh and sweet by Hong Kong standards.  The accompanying rice with anchovies and avocado was simple yet satisfying.  Coffee they get from Tsit Wing made for a smooth finish.

I finally got to try CIAK- in the Kitchen after hearing all the buzz (some noise) about it.  Loved the concept and while I enjoyed sitting at the pasta kitchen, I didn't enjoy smelling like it after I left but I took what I could get on a Friday night.  The casual vibe was great and with WiFi, it does mean you don't have to talk to anyone!  I liked the carpaccio of beef tongue with tuna sauce (which I have a weakness for anyway), and pizzas were good too.  Duck fat fries were also very well done.  The pasta itself was good but I didn't enjoy their rendition of Carbonara and will be sure to try something else next time.  Dessert of apple tart was underwhelming although the ice cream was good.  I would go again just by virtue of the location and for a little casual Italian menu in that part of Central.

So there were some bright spots, Hong Kong.  Hopefully I get to see a little more of you rest of year.

Lee House Restaurant 李公館
2/F, Cre Building, 303 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai 
Tel: +852-2821 3368

Choi's Kitchen 私房蔡
Shop A1, G/F, 9-11 Shepherd Street, Tai Hang

Tel: +852-3485 0501

Hana Sakazuki Japanese Restaurant 花盃日本料理 
2/F, China Tai Ping Tower, Phase II, 8 Sunning Road, Causeway Bay

Tel:+852-2577 9799

Sushi Mori 鮨森日本料理
1 Caroline Hill Road加路連山道1號地下+852 3462 2728
Oshaberi Izakaya おしゃべり居酒屋

ShopA, G/F., Ming Sun Building, 96 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang

Tel: +852-2570 0280

Dining Kitchen Vegi
3/F, L'Hart, 487-489 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay

Tel: +852-2576 6161 / 2576 6262

CIAK - in the Kitchen
Shop 327-333, 3/F., The Landmark, 15 Queen's Road, Central

Tel: +852-2522 8869

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Eating in 2013

Happy new year!  Yes, I have been tardy.  Yes, I have been MIA since October 2013.  Career wise, it was an unusually crazy 4th quarter.  It usually is anyway in the run up to the holiday season, but this time the craziness spilled right into it.  So no repeat of a vacation away but instead, a staycation in Singapore parked close to the work laptop had to do.

Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store - picture credit to an unknown artist
It is probably appropriate to bid a proper goodbye to the following, some of whom we will miss badly.  I will miss Fat Ma of Kwong Wah Store most.  Almost an institution in the Tai Hang area before the advent of other more trendy eateries, Fat Ma finally threw in the towel ironically on my birthday and will no longer deal with rising rents, a systemic issue nowadays.  I will miss her cutting wit delivered in her loud booming voice and her home-style dishes which I had fondly grown to love eating at least once a week.  It was by no means gourmet but it was a slice of home.  Properly boiled soups which had been on the fire for hours, scrambled eggs with sea prawns, perfectly steamed fish and honeyed chicken wings.  I hope to someday have the privilege of eating your food again, Fat Ma.  In the meantime, have a restful retirement.

We also said goodbye to:
- Manor and its signature cholesterol sandwiches of liver and fat, which foodies affectionately coined
- Harlan Goldstein's Strip House now replaced by his new concept Comfort
I thought I saw a tweet that suggested that The Drawing Room will close too but wasn't able to verify it.

Joo Heng's steamed Soon Hock with bean paste and lard
In Singapore, we said goodbye Mr. Soon Ah Chai, the patriarch of Joo Heng Restaurant.  I will miss his awkward smile, one that I had been accustomed to seeing since I started patronizing the place in the late 90s.  Fortunately, his family is still carrying on the roaring business, and it is still possible to have Soon Hock fish steamed the old fashioned way with piquant bean paste and lard pieces liberally sprinkled over.

And on that note, here are my lists by city.  Please note that these are places I did patronize so if your favorite did not make my list, it probably just means I didn't make it there in 2013 and will hope to this coming year.

Hong Kong

Chinese - Ming Court, Tin Lung Heen
Japanese - Sushi Sase, Gin Sai, Ronin, Sushi Toku, Butao Ramen, Hana Sakazuki
Spanish - 22 Ships
Modern European - On Lot 10
South East Asian - Fatty Crab , Cafe Malacca
Private Kitchen - Ta Pantry
Pastries and then some - Beef pie from the Mandarin Cake Shop, macarons from Pierre Herme, Eric Kayser
Down & Dirty - Yuet Wah Wui, Keung Kee, Man Fatt, Kong Hing, Sing Fatt, Yummy Vietnamese
Coffee - Kitamura, 18 Grams

Ronin's Kagoshima Beef, Maitake, Egg Yolk

Cafe Malacca's Sago Gula Melaka


Chinese - Cheng Hoo Tian, Chao Shan Cuisine, Jing Hua Restaurant
Italian - Valentino, Bruno's, Sopra
Japanese - Ikyu, Sushi Mitsuya, Wahiro , Hakata Ikkuosha
Mexican - Lower East Side
Peranakan - Candlenut, Daisy's Dream Kitchen
Spanish - Catalunya
Modern European - Bacchanalia, Toots Brasserie
Down & Dirty - Joo Heng Restaurant , Penang Seafood Restaurant, Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow
Pastries and then some - Eric Kayser, Tiong Bahru Bakery, B.A.O.
Coffee - Nylon, Penny University, Liberty Coffee, Jewel Cafe & Bar

Sushi Mitsuya

Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow


Thai - Sra BuaIssaya Siamese Club, Supanniga Eating Room
Italian - Enoteca Italiano
Bistro - Little Beast

Issaya Siamese Club

Chinese vegetarian - King's Joy
Modern European - Sureno

King's Joy


French bistro - La Queue du Chiot
Vegetarian bistro - Green Vege Cafe
Chinese bistro - Yun Se

Yun Se's mountain yam with blueberries

French - Robuchon au Dome
Possibly my best meal of the year in terms of food and service.

Robuchon's mussels - just perfect
Thanks for staying tuned to EdEats and while there is no certainty that I will be blogging that often in 2014 either, I will continue to be active on Twitter @edenalow and Instagram edenalow so I hope you  can join me there also.  May 2014 be everything you wish for it to be.