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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Go Koong: It All Just Keeps Getting Better

A “go-to” place is an absolute necessity in my life. In LA, it fluctuated between Susina, Amandine, and this particular bench in front of Dodd Hall. In New York, I had Bouchon Bakery and Central Park :) - places that put a giant smile on your face no matter how many times you go; places that make you feel comfortable yet don’t bore you. I need places like that. And since about two months ago, I’ve found my new “go-to” place in Go Koong, also known as my absolute favorite restaurant in town.

I must’ve been here a gajillion times already, and every time is better than the last. I really can’t find anything I dislike about the restaurant. This time around, I managed to tear myself away from my beloved seafood pajun to explore other parts of the menu. We went with the daegoo gooi/grilled silver codfish ($140) to start off (that is, following the amazing banchans <3!

(Codfish: grilled to loveliness)

The following dish was somewhat disappointing in comparison and probably my least favorite of all the dishes I’ve had at Go Koong. This was the haemool dwenjiang jungol/seafood and bean paste soup hot pot ($300). The broth was way too salty to be had on its own (well, it was miso after all) and the shrimps – though impressively large, weren’t as fresh and firm-fleshed as I would’ve liked (but I loved the fact that the stellar staff team help you de-shell your shrimp). Thank God though that this dish was followed by the absolute high of the entire evening – the danhobakgaalbijjim/steamed sweet pumpkin with beef ribs ($188). O TO THE M-G…this was amazing. Truly, madly, deeply. The ribs were soft, and so tender, they fell clean off the bone. Flavor-wise, it was a perfect balance of savoriness with a tinge of aromatic sweetness from being steamed inside the pumpkin. And the pumpkin, what can I say about the pumpkin to do it justice? It was beautiful. With a soft, almost crumbly texture and a rich yet unheavy sweetness. It actually tasted somewhat like mooncake egg yolk. Without a doubt, my new favorite dish at my favorite restaurant.

(Seafood hot pot: meh...)

(Steamed pumpkin with ribs: can I marry you?)

(Please ignore the dirty plate)

Next up was the complimentary Korean styled scrambled eggs. I know I must’ve said it before but I really do love Go Koong’s food generosity. They’re always spoiling us with free goodies on top of the other heap of goodies we already have on our table. The eggs were nothing too special but, for some reason, I found myself finishing the whole thing and craving a second serving. Food champion much? Hells ya! The last savory course was the mool nengmyun/homemade buckwheat noodles in chilled beef broth ($90). A PERFECT closer – being light and chilled. It was easy on the stomach after the absolute feast we had just eaten. I love the slurp-worthy, chewy noodles and the sweet, refreshing chilled radish strips went extremely well with them. I mixed in a giant spoonful of spicy sauce and a little mustard and downed everything with a happy heart. We ended the night sipping our after-meal chilled cinnamon tea, with a giant satisfied smile on our faces and a very well-fed stomach. I’ve found my “go-to” place and I hope you find yours.

(The K-style scramble)

(Chilled noodles)

FOOD: 5/5
SERVICE: 4.5/5

GO KOONG ($$$)
202, Toyomall
94 Granville Road
Tsim Sha Tsui

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kam Hing: A Very Girly “Da Lang”

(Chiu Chow soy braised platter: satisfying)

Greasy tables, men in white undervests, a big bottle of Tsing Tao beer and some no-frills Chiu Chow fare… the perfect setting for a two-hour girl talk session.

I chomped away on the Chiu Chow soy sauce braised platter, dipping slices of red sausage, tofu, and goose into the vinegar sauce while listening to how I needed to man up and stop being so self-consciously nervous. Ugh, easier said than done. I then moved onto the surprisingly addictive scrambled eggs with bitter gourd – bitter but with a slight tinge of sweetness, a perfect pair with the scrambled eggs.

(Bitter but good)

(Oyster Omelet)

The much anticipated oyster omelet arrived in the midst of hilarious convo. Deep-flavored baby oysters set in a flour-egg batter. Some oyster-less bites (the bits around the edges) was a tad too floury, but the dish was delish towards the centre. The three dishes, plus the beer and a bowl of plain congee came out the about $80 per person for the two of us, with plenty leftovers to pack away. Not bad at all. And on top of the satisfying food, there was good alch-y and some fantastic girly gossip… all these combined made eating at this grotty restaurant seem even more fun than dining at some of the nicest five star restos in the city. It's true - sometimes, all you need is beer and some awesome company.

FOOD: 3.5/5

398-400 Queen’s Road West
Sai Yung Ping
Western District