Sunday, December 6, 2009

Takeya: Foodie Friends

Dinner with foodie friends always = good times. Nothing beats chatting about good food while eating good food… and it’s also nice to have someone who doesn’t think you’re a complete freak show when you whip out your digicam to document every detail of your dinner.

IL chose the place this time and with the directions he gave me, I found myself in some nondescript alley in Hung Hom, faced with a wooden Japanese slide door with the kanji characters for Takeya hanging over it. I walked into the restaurant and fell in love. Such a cute space – very very small, granted (probably seats 15 people at a time) but so wonderfully warm and cozy. It seemed more like a friend’s house than anything. I plunked myself down on a seat and, as always, let IL decide on our dinner choices. If there’s one person I trust with my food, it’d be him.

(Clockwise from top left: potato salad, daikon, chicken neck, cheese with guts)

(Chicken skin and chicken neck)

But before any of our orders, the super-friendly/mumsy waitress, Dodo (wife of one half of Takeya’s older brother-younger brother team) brought over the plate of complimentary purple taro to start. So winter-appropriate. Sighhhh…lovely. Following the taro, the first two dishes to came in the form of a small plate of pickled daikon and a giant mound o’ potato salad ($42). The salad was flecked with bits of bacon and sliced cucumber for a nice bit of crunch, it was a hearty starter and a very easy-eating dish that I kept going back to throughout the night.

And here, can I please mention how good Takeya’s yakitori items are? Please? Because it’s definitely worth mentioning. We went with the chicken skin ($23/skewer) – cooked to crispy perfection and absolutely delish when grilled with a few flecks of salt. The ($23/skewer) was another winner with its slight crunchy mouthfeel. And being an innards person, I absolutely loved the chicken neckgrilled pig intestine ($24/skewer). Fragrant, chewy without being rubbery and so deliciously flavored.

(Cooked pig's intestine)

And following the yakitori-ed version of the pig’s innards, we also ordered a cooked-in-broth version of pig’s intestine ($58). Again, chewy and full-flavored in all the right places. But while everything up to this point was good, it all had to give way when I tried the stellar dish of the night – cheese topped with fish intestine ($48). OMG SOOOO not appetizing-sounding, I know...but SO EFFIN' GOOD!!! This dish + beer = a very good time. The intense savory flavor of the intestine pairs so beautifully with the strong taste of the cheese – the flavor combination just begs to be washed down with an ice cold beer. D-e-l-i-cious.

(Tamago: just like comfort food)

(Grilled mochi)

This high was followed by the most comforting dishes of the night – the grilled tamago ($45). Thick and fluffily light… warm and actually just a tad still-runny on the inside. The tamago felt like a pillow of eggy goodness on the tongue. Both of us were so super impressed. We rounded off the meal with a few pieces of grilled mochi ($25), which were beautiful chewy and messy on the inside but crisp golden on the outside.

And after downing two big mugs of beer each with our meal, the two of us were feeling more than satisfied and more than well-fed. Like I said, dinner with foodie friends always = good times.

FOOD: 3.75/5

TAKEYA ($$$)
31C1 Tak Man Street
Whampoa Estate
Hung Hom

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Nadaman: Prelude to a Meal - The Hotel Lobby Smell

I l-o-v-e the Shangri-La hotel lobby fragrance. Seriously, someone should bottle whatever scent that is and market it. I’d buy it. And I also love the fact that, whenever I smell that particular Shangri-La smell, it’s almost always a prelude to a wonderful meal at the hotel. Be it at Petrus on the Island or, in my most recent case, Nadaman at Kowloon Shang.

Not wanting to think about my order, I went straight for the mini kaiseki lunch option, which my lunch-company also went for. We started with a very artfully arranged set of seasonal eggplant and mushroom with sesame sauce, chestnut with miso paste, pumpkin cake roll and grilled crab meat with and beef rolled with asparagus. Too busy catching up and yammering away about which new movies were worth watching and which new restaurants worth going to, I stupidly forgot to take the lid off the eggplant and mushroom for my photo. Duh, me. Well, at least the pale purple pot it was served in was nice and pretty.

(eggplant and mushrooms in a pot, crab and gingko nuts, beef and asparagus, pumpkin cake, chestnut miso roll)

Next course was a very stomach-warming chicken soup with seasonal veggies. Very comforting – I felt like I was glowing after downing this broth and greens. I was kinda elated when the next dish to come up was sliced seasonal sea bream sashimi. I’ve recently realized just how much I love the sea bream with its delish firm flesh and lovely distinct flavor. I polished off the sashimi like nobody’s business. No joke.

(Hearty chicken soup)

(Sea bream sashimi)

The following course was probably the cutest – deep fried lotus root dumpling with shrimp, dried scallop, assorted veggies and grated radish sauce. A very interesting dish with an interlocking layering of flavors and textures. The deep fried lotus root was actually pulped to a creamy paste and was encased in the perfectly crispy “shell.” The shrimp and scallops provided most of the taste to the dish and rode well on the radish sauce. A dish that took a lot of heart to make, I can tell. This was followed by an Indian-inspired grilled silver cod and mushroom with special turmeric sauce. I love cod, I love mushrooms and I love turmeric so this was definitely a winner of a dish for me, though not exactly “Japanese-y.” The fish was soft and fluffy and the mushrooms were wonderfully fleshy. The turmeric could have been a little more prominent but I guess maybe they didn’t want to overdo it on the spices? Ah well, ‘twas good nonetheless.

(Silver cod with mushrooms and turmeric)

(Deep-fried lotus root "sphere" - cute.)

We finished the savory part of our meal with ochatsuke with grilled salmon rice ball. Again, an interesting dish with different textures and flavors. The perfectly-grilled rice ball was scoring massive brownie points with me (I love grilled carbs of any form). And after a short interlude of assorted pickles, we were brought the finishing course of homemade mango tiramisu. A light and sweet end to long and satisfying meal. And with that, and a mini bottle of sake the good folks at Nadaman let me have, I started planning in my mind, when the next time would be that I’d be back in the flower-scented Shangri-La hotel lobby.

(Grilled rice ball)

(Mango tiramisu)

FOOD: 3.75/5
SERVICE: 3.5/5

NADAMAN ($$$$)
Lower Level 2
Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel
64 Mody Road
Tsim Sha Tsui

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Charcoal Egg Waffles Cart: A Brown Paper Bag

Last week, walking back from a busy restaurant shoot, we came across something that I personally haven’t seen in a long time – an egg waffles cart with a charcoal heater. Old school. And though I had just finished a fatty Middle Eastern lunch not too long ago, with the delicious eggy pastry aroma wafting through the air, how could I resist?

(Proud Cart Owner)

I plunked down a ten while the friendly, chatty man poured a stream of egg batter from his Heineken plastic jug into the pasty mould. Not even two minutes later, there it was – a fresh piece of golden eggy waffles, à la nostalgic Hong Kong style. Crispy on the outside and warm and pillowy on the insides… sigh. Those ten bucks worth of little domes of deliciousness in a brown paper bag were, without a doubt, a very satisfying step back in time.

FOOD: 4/5

Charcoal Egg Waffles Cart ($)
Around 3-4pm
Near Ladders Street/Bridges Street Intersection

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon: Still Like Old Times

When we were young, we used to all sit at Connaught Garden and stay and gossip about all sorts of random stuff over cups of hot coffee and a spread of food. Then the Star Ferry moved somewhere else, the coffee shop people we used to say “Hi” to all left. And we all grew up and moved away.

Back to present day.

Earlier this week, I decided to take full advantage of the beautiful pre-freezing cold weather by deciding to make it “picnic lunch day.” And wanting to relive the lovely days I spent in Central Park with Bouchon Bakery’s delicious goodies in hand, I hopped on a cab to The Landmark (by the way, loving the Christmas décor!) and escalatored up to Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon for my picnic provisions.

(Flakey Almond Croissant)

After perusing the offerings at the salon, I settled for two cups of hot coffee ($40 each), a salmon and dill quiche ($32) and chicken mushroom quiche ($32), an earl grey tea cake ($40), on the friendly server’s recommendation, and a small almond croissant ($17). All to go. They wrapped everything neatly into a beautiful red paper bag and off I was, toting Robuchon goods in one hand, a hot coffee in the other and tottering my way to meet the Nelson at the old spot.

And things haven’t changed. Well, save the time constraint, Kenj being still in Australia, and that Robuchon coffee is about twice as expensive as Starbucks (which is already twice as expensive as any other place). We still mindlessly gossiped about unimportant things which were important to us though, and we still had a good time. As for the food – the quiches had a nice crumbly crust but alas, should have asked them to reheat it (duh, me). But the sweets were so delish. The earl gray cake made us fall in love with it a little, with its delicate sweetness and subtle layering of textures. And my almond croissant? Very flakey on the outside and nutty sweet on the inside. Still can’t compare to that Godsend of a croissant from Bouchon Bakery, NYC though but that REALLY set the bar and this is a close enough second for me. I was happy.

(Earl grey tea cake: our new love)

Too bad they didn’t have too much of a selection left by the time I got there. I was actually aching to try the crabmeat with avocado and tomato confit. And maybe I’ll try the sandwiches next time… or better yet, make a meal out of their pastries and desserts :) Ah well, to be honest though, it’s all about the feeling. It’s about sitting there, being happy, and feeling young again.

(An impromptu picnic)

FOOD: 3.5/5

Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon ($$)
Shop 315, 3/F
The Landmark
16 Des Voeux Road Central

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bo Innovation: The Perks of the Job

Finally, the much-delayed post about a meal so extravagant, it bordered on ridiculousness.

Wednesday, November 4th.

I found myself standing in front of the elevators at the front of J Residence. Anticipating though not really knowing what exactly it was that I was going to get. I had just received a call two days ago telling me that I was invited to try a “mind-blowing” (direct quote) menu at Bo Innovation. I didn’t really catch the name of the event… all I knew was that there would be a big-shot guest chef and that I had still never been to Bo Innovation yet (yes – shameful, I know) and I was being asked to go now. What was there to refuse?

I elevatored up to the second floor and was greeted by smiles behind a large white table out front. Asked for a business card and was handed back a nametag to pin onto my dinner jacket. A quick look around the restaurant – this was definitely not what I had expected. There must have been at least sixty seats set up taking up almost both the inside and outside dining rooms of the restaurant. I took a sip from my glass of sparkling chardonnay and looked at the menu for the night and gulped – I was in store for eighteen courses. No, I didn’t miscount… it was really, eighteen.

(Lobster Congee and abalone jelly)

Well, to be technically correct, it was actually a nine course menu, but each course was to be two dishes – one from Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation’s self-proclaimed “Demon Chef”) and one from guest chef and Australia’s 2008 Chef of the Year, Sean Connelly of Astral and Sean’s Kitchen. And as if that weren’t enough already, there would be one wine to go with each dish. Pressure. We began with an anything-but-frugal sashimi of smoked petrossian scallop, tuna toro, oscietra caviar and soy mirin jelly (Astral) and Chinese hybrid caviar, abalone jelly and lobster congee (Bo). The scallops were really quite amazing but I was taken by the lobster congee. It may not have been absolutely delicious but it was definitely an intriguing dish (in a good way of course). The “congee” had the texture of a thick paste but had an undeniably concentrated congee flavor infused with lobster. I can’t say I could really taste the abalone-ness in the jelly but the texture was a fantastic complement to the other components to the dish and the whole thing was just a beautiful burst of intense flavors on the tongue.

(smoked petrossian scallop, tuna toro, oscietra caviar, soy mirin jelly)

We then moved onto the miso soup, foie gras with quail egg wrapped in gold leaf (Astral) which was definitely one of the winners of the night in my book. The foie gras was so amazingly – delicate and silky smooth; the texture of tofu but the unmistakable earthiness of foie gras. I had a word with Chef Connelly afterwards, who told me the foie gras is added to the soup raw and is poached by the hot soup to give it that wonderful mouthfeel. Genius. And I loved how this little bite of magic was bathed in a comfortingly unfussy miso soup. Needless to say, it overshadowed the foie gras lettuce wrap with white miso Muscat sauce and rice paper (Bo).

(Miso soup, foie gras, gold quail egg)

(Foie gras lettuce wrap white miso muscat sauce rice paper)

But all eyes were drawn to course three: hunter valley snails with XO sauce and snail caviar (Astral) and Sichuan snails and watermelon (Bo). Come on, I’ve NEVER had snail caviar before… I didn’t even know snails had caviar! So forgive me if I was a little excited to try this. Well, turns out, snail caviar are just little tasteless white blobs. Urmm… I guess I’ll just stick with non-snail caviar from now on.

(Hunter valley snails with XO sauce and snail caviar)

(Sichuan snails with watermelon)

Crustaceans took over next with a hairy crab soufflé with marinated star fruit, pimm’s and pomelo jelly and aged Chinkiang vinegar (Bo). I liked the fact that I could eat hairy crab sans the messy dissecting process but I couldn’t stop thinking that the dish tasted an awful lot like prawn crackers. I mean, that’s not a bad thing – I LOVE prawn crackers, after all – I just don’t think it was what Alvin was shooting for. As for Chef Connelly, he won the table over with his signature lobster and foie gras burger (Astral). This three-bite burger was l-o-v-e-ly, especially with the sweet hoisin sauce the chef added for a bit of Hong Kong kick.

(Hairy crab souffle, marinated star fruit, pimm's and pomelo jelly)

(Lobster and foie gras burger)

A much-needed interlude palate cleanser arrived in the form of a nitro ginger tea ball. Well, to be honest, this was the “wow” thing a long time back already so I wasn’t exactly “ooh”-ing at the liquid nitrogen trick. Buuuuuut, I WAS “ooh”-ing over the following venison course. The venison steak tartare was delish, along with a duck fat chip and fried ginger, chili, garlic and shallots (Astral). And Alvin’s dish was even better than that, in my opinion. The braised venison with preserved kumquat and fruity red rice (Bo) was just a great combo of flavors. The fruity tang was distinct but still subtle, a little playful on the tongue even. And I loved how the rice had a bit of bite – a perfect complement to the fork-tender venison.

(Braised venison with preserved kumquat and fruity red rice)

(Venison tartare, ginger, chili, garlic, shallot, duck fat chip)

I was pretty much way past full already but soldiered on with course six. The kangaroo “xiao long bao” beetroot “skippy” sauce (Bo) was, sad to say, my least favorite of the night. The xiao long bao was a tad dry for my taste, with none of that lovely soupy inside famous of the XLB. The kangaroo with Sichuan pepper crust and truffled pomme puree (Astral) was better but didn’t really blow me away. Maybe I just don’t like kangaroo meat?

(Kangaroo, Sichuan pepper crust, truffled pomme puree)

Well the next two courses definitely brought it back up again, with a wagyu beef vegemite “ho fun” (Bo) and a wagyu scotch fillet, sea urchin wasabi butter and shitake mushrooms (Astral). Ah, I LOVED the Astral dish. The wagyu was tender and juicy but my absolute favorite part was the wasabi butter. So subtle yet adding a wonderful edge to the dish. And it worked so well with the flecks of sea salt. SO GOOD.

(Wagyu scotch fillet, sea urchin wasabi butter, shitake mushrooms)

Well, there were supposed to be four more dishes and four more wines to go but, sad to say, my eating capacity failed me and I had to finally say “enough.” I had eaten probably a week’s worth of food and really had zero stomach space left for dessert, as much as I wanted it. But it was truly such an amazing experience. The atmosphere was friendly, the service was absolutely topnotch (I was really very impressed with the whole team at Bo Innovation. Massive props to them), and the food? Awesome. Thanks so much to Tourism New South Wales for organizing such an amazing event and thanks to Chef Alvin and Sean for this “flight of gastronomy and wine discovery.”

And at 1am, I finally made my way back home.

Bo Innovation ($$$$$)
2/F J Residence
60 Johnston Road
Wan Chai

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pierre: Chef Olivier's Take on Things

(Amuse bouche: a perfect beginning)

Lunch at Pierre is, of course, always good times. Last time I went, I was lucky enough to meet THE actual, Msr. Pierre Gagnaire himself (yes yes, I was completely starstruck like an idiot). And though Msr. Gagnaire wasn’t in town this time around, I did get to meet the equally charming and extremely talented Chef Olivier Elzer who’s just signed on as Pierre’s new exec chef.

(Scallops: refreshing)

(63 degree eggs: MASSIVE food envy)

And because a meal at Pierre pretty much REQUIRES maximum indulgence, we went with the four-courser not-so-express lunch option ($380 for two courses, $80 for each additional course). I started with the scallops with cauliflower – very delicate and light but not the least bit bland. The scallops were delish and the dish as a whole was wonderfully refreshing, especially with its lightly tangy sauce/broth. But as good as the scallops were, I had massive food envy at WY and Johan’s 63-degree eggs after one big bite. This dish is a Pierre Gagnaire classic and Chef Olivier’s rendition was absolutely perfect. The flavors were all spot on, the egg was perfectly poached and ah, the beautiful layer of textures! Must. Order. Eggs. Next. Time.

(Beef ravioli: not mine but beautiful)

(Foie gras custard: comfort food-esque)

As for our middle course, I went with the foie gras custard. When it arrived, we all noticed that it was extremely reminiscent of Chinese steamed eggs. And just like the steamed egg dish, the foie gras custard was extremely satisfying; luxurious without being too in-your-face indulgent. But the foie was definitely overshadowed by my pork cheeks main course. So effin’ tender – I could cut through the meat with a fork. And I was absolutely loving the Indian cuisine influence with a playful hint of turmeric and other spices. Johan’s beef ravioli middle course and lamb shoulder main looked delicious enough, but I had a bite of the smoked salmon and was completely sold by that abso-effin-lutely wonderful flavor. Will get that the next time, definitely.

(Pork cheeks: with a bit of spice)

(Lamb shoulder)

(Bitter almond panna cotta: will pay attention next time)

As for desserts, I ordered the bitter almond panna cotta. To be honest though, I don’t really remember much of the panna cotta because Chef Olivier came out during this course and I was too busy chatting with him and complimenting the previous three courses. So perhaps I should go back for a second try of the panna cotta… yes, I should definitely do that… and order the 63-degree eggs while I’m at it.

FOOD: 4.5/5

PIERRE ($$$$ for lunch/$$$$$ for dinner)
25/F, Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Rd. Central

Monday, November 9, 2009

Zi Nen Ya: Just Say “No” to Whelk

(Scallops: homestyle amuse bouche. Nice piece in the back...a big hunk o' sand in the second one...)

We were pretty eager to try out this Japanese-expat-favorite in North Point. Zi Nen Ya is famous not so much for its luxurious sashimi but more for its humble, homestyle dishes. We were all set to go sashimi-less…that is, until the friendly, but perhaps a tad too eager-beaver-like waitress jumped over to our table with the nightly-specials whiteboard and started hardselling us various different “it really is extremely fresh today” sashimi. We nodded along to her suggestions of hamachi belly (MP) (which turned out to be deliciously fatty, with a lovely coating of natural fish oils over each slippery piece), sea bream (MP) (refreshingly different from the hamachi, especially when dipped in the slightly sweet clear sauce) and a fantastically crunchy fresh sea whelk sashimi. Of course, only later did we find out that the whelk was $300 a small dish! Ack!

(Sea bream: different in a good way)

(Hamachi belly: mmm...oily)

(Sea whelk: pulled up the price of the meal)

After the extravagant beginning, we went homey (which, to be honest, was the initial plan) and ordered the braised beef tongue ($95) and deep-fried Japanese taro ($55). The taro was alright – a little zingy aftertaste with an ever-so-slight taro flavor. Well-fried though. But the beef tongue? Nothing short of awesome. So amazingly tender and deeply-flavored. I didn’t need to bite the meat at all. I loved.

(Fried taro: alright)

(Beef tongue: magical)

We then went with the five-set dinner ($280) – that is, a choice of five various dishes from a set menu. The uni tofu (orig. $80) was definitely only alright. The tofu wasn’t as silky soft as we had hoped for and the soy bean flavor was a little too much, completely overpowering the uni. The steamed asari clams (orig. $60) were much better – light but full-flavored, plump and fresh and really quite delish. We then moved onto the stir-fried chicken kidney with Chinese chives (orig. $65). A can’t-lose combination that was thoroughly satisfying.

(Uni tofu: meh...)

(Steamed clams: redeeming some points...)

(Chicken kidney and chives: can't go wrong with this)

The assorted skewers (orig. $70) were dainty but comforting. Perfect grilled mushrooms, peppers with bonito, a juicy and flavorful grilled beef, ginko, crunchy salty chicken gizzards and two pieces of chicken wings. Not bad but not entirely memorable. We ended with the deep-fried oyster cutlet (orig. $60). The oysters were fatty enough and again, the restaurant’s control of deep-fried dishes really showed – the oysters weren’t the least bit oily and the inner creaminess of the mollusk remained intact. Only though, the beautiful briny oyster flavor was slightly compromised due to the deep-frying but the dish was still pretty good on the whole.

(Assorted skewers)

(Oyster cutlet: expertly fried)

Service was friendly but with only three people (not including the chefs) manning the super-busy restaurant, it wasn’t as attentive (we had to ask three times before someone finally came to refill our tea). The final bill came out to be a little more than we had initially expected but, then again, we did unknowingly order a $300 plate of sea whelk (which, to be honest, as good as it was, we could have happily done without). I wasn’t blown away this time but I do plan on revisiting because Zi Nen Ya seems like it has solid potential. And plus, next time, I’ll pass on the nightly (i.e. expensive) specials, stick with the homey classics, and experience the quality-for-value-ness of the place.

FOOD: 3.5/5
SERVICE: 3.5/5
ATMOSPHERE: 4/5 (props for being “homey”)

ZI NEN YA ($$)/($$$ if ordering from nightly specials sashimi menu)
Shop 36-38
City Garden Shopping Centre
North Point
2508 0862