Thursday, 28 February 2013

HK Sweet Treats & Coffee 2013

Hiroshi (宏)
Owned by a Japanese tea specialist, Sato-san, Hiroshi offers both Japanese cakes and noodles, with a bit of French sweets on the side. The shop / café was an instant hit in HK. Their forte is green tea; Hiroshi uses prestigious “first tea” (the youngest tea leaves of the season) for a selection of their desserts. Mister bought me their matcha chiffon cake when he picked me up at the airport; and various swiss rolls for dessert.

Swiss roll: Coffee, Green tea, Strawberry and original
The sponges were soft, airy and moist, not too sweet, but deliciously eggy. Green tea was particularly well done, leaving a delicate fragrance trailing as an aftertaste; coffee had a smoky, roasted aroma. That said swiss rolls are not my first choice of cakes, but these are worth trying.

Lab Made Ice Cream
The little ice cream shop claims to serve ‘molecular ice cream’. Well, it’s just made with liquid Nitrogen, exactly like Chin Chin Laboratories in London. There are more gimmicks in the flavours they offer here, mostly traditional Chinese desserts, like glutinous balls with crushed peanuts or sesame rolls.

I thought it was extremely disappointing. Unlike Chin Chin, there were 4 staff crowded in a workstation, routinely dumping masses of liquid nitro into a mixing bowl and mass produced each flavour. All looking extremely fed up and not wearing goggles!

The result is that the ice cream doesn’t have the smooth, soft gelato texture, as the masses of nitro froze the mixture without getting enough air in. Flavours were pure gimmicks – mine was pathetic; boring box-standard vanilla with chopped peanuts and coconut shreds sprinkled on top. It tasted like a coconut cornetto, for £3.50 too!

Xiao Tian Gu (小甜谷)
Just opposite the unsatisfactory Lab Made, is the dessert shop that triggered much talk of town a few years back, partly because it was opened by a celeb and hence for a lot of support from bigger celebrities; partly for their ultra rich steamed milk pudding with Japanese Hokkaido milk.

It’s pretty good.

Holly Brown
This coffee shop has opened up 5 branches in less than 2 years, serving good coffees and ice cream.

The ice cream toppings and combinations are mixed on a cold metal board. I had 'Rock On! Vanilla' - Mediocre stuff if I’m honest.

Barista Jam
Coffee culture has grown in HK too. A small population of coffee geeks have settled in and they blend and roast their own coffee.

I love this hidden gem in the older part near Central.

This place was serious about their coffee; Mister said on a quieter day, the baristas would happily chat about their specialty beans and offer you to taste various methods. It reminded me of a mini Prufrock.

Happy together (甜蜜蜜)
For some reason, this street is lined with dessert shops, and more interestingly, each shop is swamped with people and massive queues. I can’t comment on others, but this shop failed on every level.
Their signature puff pastry tofu pudding was disgusting. After a 10min wait, the pudding was lukewarm, watery and oddly swimming in chocolate water. Mister’s deep-fried pancake was oozing with oil, spoilt further by cheap cheap mango ice cream. Mum’s baked banana was oddly wrapped undercooked filo pastry and Dad’s mango pudding tasted of cheap, artificial flavourings. Gross. 

I skipped all the new French patisserie and chocolatiers; I know Eric Keyser has made his name here, but I can have that back in Europe. In addition, there are too many small cake shops with very young pastry chefs who trained briefly in Paris, opening their shops in more suburban areas to avoid the insanely expensive rent. I don't know if they are worth the trek, I mean 2 years training in a French cooking school... maybe I'll wait. 

Nostalgic Delicacies in Hong Kong

“Tea restaurants” are local treasures of Hong Kong; how we see tea restaurants in HK is like how the British view their pubs, except we get "tights milk tea" instead of alcohol. I know, British takes pride in the English Tea, but HK has developed a technique to brew tea, which is then enriched by smooth evaporated milk - the product is pretty invincible. These tea restaurants used to be the cheap eats where the locals have all 3 meals of the day.

The sad news is, with the increased demands for powdered milk, luxurious brands and precious jewellery from Mainland China, developers and commercial property owners make crazy amount of money by leasing out to these chain retailers, and forces the small, local businesses out by quadrupling rent. These tea restaurants either starting cutting costs by procuring low quality cheap supplies, cutting corners, or just close down. Unless they do business like Tsui Wah, a business so successful it became the first PLC tea restaurant and have branches around the city like banks. Like all PLCs, their goal and focus is to maximise profits for investors. Enough said.

Older districts, like Sham Shui Po and Cheung Sha Wan, have so far been spared from the unification pandemic. This is where my Dad took me to traditional tea restaurants, that serve the good old top quality food I grew up with.

Sun Wah Café and Gold Garden Café
For breakfast, I had satay beef noodles and scrambled eggs. This is how satay is supposed to taste like; nutty, aromatic and flavoursome, not some watery brown soup with beef tenderized to soluble mass by sodium bicarbonate.

For tea, it’s egg tart and HK-style French toast time. Nothing beats egg tarts with fluffy puff pastry fresh out of the oven, with tongue-burning wobbly custard.

Both of these cafes do a sterling job of churning out the local delicacies. Service is non-existent; during peak times you are supposed to eat and go, but boy it’s satisfying.

Capital Café
There is an element of celebrity effect with Capital Café. In short this is a slightly modernized tea restaurant. I grew up with breakfasts in Australia Milk Company (Jordan), and I mean kindergarten times, like 20 years ago, long before their silly queue were formed. Seeing this trend and obsession with scrambled eggs and thick toasts, Capital Café was born.

They do a fine job. Good tea, good eggs and good toast. HK-ers have spaghetti in soup, don’t ask, but CC does it better than Australia Milk. They also have a signature School Master Toast, which is truffle paste topped with cheese, well worth a try.

Empire City Roasted Duck

I didn’t get round to eat out at too many Chinese restaurants this time, but Empire City at K11 definitely worth a mention. Their signature dish is Peking duck, and they do a fine job with the totally grease-free crispy skin. In addition, I would recommend the potstickers, xiao long bao and lotus leaf fried rice with duck.

Japanese in Hong Kong

Sen-ryo (千両)

I must have dedicated 2 full days to gorge on Japanese food. Sadly the Itacho chain has deteriorated in quality and doesn’t make the cut anymore. Luckily Mister found Sen-ryo.
There are multiple branches of Sen-ryo, and the one at Tsim Sha Tsui claims that all their sashimi grade fish are freshly imported from Japan daily.

We opted for our usual favourites; O-toro, sea urchin and oyster sushi were notably excellent. Fish were fresh, sweet and definitely of premium grade. I know I said things have become more expensive, but it’s still significantly cheaper than London. We had o-toro, sea urchin, ikura, oyster, shrimp with paste, scallop, yellowtail belly, spicy salmon and torched salmon, bill came to less than £20 per head.

Gyu-Kaku (牛角)
Last time I went to Morihachi for Japanese grill meat. My brother recommended a more economic alternative, Gyu-Kaku. The wait was ridiculous at the Tsim Sha Tsui LCX branch, they do take bookings but half of the restaurant is reserved for walk-in diners. We waited for 90mins, I went from not-hungry-at-all to I-will-order-everything-on-the menu.
As with all Japanese BBQ restaurants, the focus is on beef.

Chilli oil tofu
We had this as a starter. It looks crazily spicy, but to our pleasant surprise, the topping was mainly crispy fried garlic, super fragrant and the contrasting texture with the silky tofu was delightful. Slightly spicy to give a tingling feeling on tongue, but nothing scalp-numbing.

Premium Wagyu Rib-eye

Ahh this was absolutely scrumptious; marbled fat that gently sizzled I could eat this everyday.

Special Skirt Steak

With Mister in charge of the grilling, I think this was my favourite. Served with butter that slowly melted over the succulent meat... I even preferred this to the wagyu rib eye!

We also had egg yolk rib-eye, pork cheek, pork intestine, shrimp with mayonnaise and soft-boiled egg rice. The beef dishes were gorgeous, beautiful fat distribution that became the mouth-watering juicy coating on the meat upon grilling, oozing with beefy flavours. The soft-boil egg with rice was addictive and the shrimps with yolky mayo was surprisingly tasty. We devoured everything; each mouthful with groans of satisfaction. The only dish that Morihachi does better was pig intestine, which was quite sinewy and lined with lard here.

Yu San (魚鮮生)
I heard of this little gem in Wan Chai from HK Epicurus. He commended on the freshness of the sashimi and relatively good value for money. We opted for omakase at $300 per head and took this platter home to enjoy with sake that Mister bought.
It consisted of: o-toro, jumbo botan shrimp, sea urchin, cooked abalone, red clams, mackerel, scallop, yellowtail belly and salmon belly.

The sashimi pieces were colossal, and more importantly ultra fresh. One of the best things about omakase is that we get try food that we don’t usually order with a la carte, like abalone and botan shrimp, which were both excellent. The sea urchin could be some of the best I have ever eaten, and needless to say the o-toro was heavenly.

Kosyu (湖舟)
Two years ago I had the most satisfying lunch at Kosyu. It has since relocated across the road and prices for lunch rose by 50%, demanding c. £25 for a sashimi lunch set as a minimum. Ouch.

The good news is sashimi is still top class here; baby pink, melt-in-mouth o-toro; fresh, sweet uni; fat-packed yellowtail belly and some very crafty chopped squid… all justifies the price tag.

Japanese cuisine still dominates the restaurant scene in Hong Kong. I know ramen bars and udon restaurants have been spreading from Japan too, but I didn’t get a chance to try out any this trip. When given the choice of noodles and sashimi, the latter always wins!

You may also like: Japanese in Me (2011), Dim Sums HK

Monday, 25 February 2013

Iggy’s, Singapore

As the highest ranking World’s Best restaurant in Asia, Iggy’s was one of the reasons I came to Singapore. That said reviews haven’t been unanimously positive, fellow bloggers have recommended their lunch being good value for money, but dinner being sorely overpriced and overrated. Lunch it is then.

Lunch is offered at 4-courses for c. £45pp, 2 options per course. The menu looks French with a fair share of Japanese influence and an impressive range of international ingredients.

Amuse Bouche

Foie Gras pear, balsamic, shiso
It was a huge slab of foie gras, gently seared and barely holding the wobbly liver in shape, its nutty grease oozing out with a light poke of the knife. It was truly indulgent, the liver just dissolved away… with a little tingles on tongue as the popping candy danced away. It was a brilliant touch to give this classic dish a modern surprise; my highlight of the meal.

Pappardelle Wagyu, piquillo, pomegranate
My cholesterol-conscious parents both opted for the pasta starter. This was comparatively lighter and more refreshing with the slightly citrusy pomegranate seeds. A few pieces of waygu sashimi were hidden under the pile to give some roundness to the dish.

Egg Pinot Noir, bacon, mushroom
I think this was the size of my amuse bouche, if not smaller. The soft boiled egg yolk erupted to mix with the concentrated mushroom broth and cured ham shavings. The flavours were intense, almost like a very strong stock, and I thought it worked well with the custardy yolk.

Spaghettini cod’s milt, spring onion
Japanese eat cod’s milt as a delicacy and yup, it is indeed the fish sperm sac. And no I didn’t tell my parents that when they said they wanted some carbs.

I don’t think I could pick out the taste of milt, I certainly didn’t spot anything that looked like one. This was creamy but not heavy, finished with a touch of subtle heat. A fairly forgettable dish really.

Pork Belly Gobo, yam mikan
The root vegetables were bland; I guess the bitter-sweetness from the satsuma mandarin was supposed to dominate and lift the weight off the fatty pork. I don’t know, I think there was too much bitterness in the mandarin and the dish tipped off balance. I didn’t enjoyed it very much, though Dad thought it was quite good.

70°C Wagyu Cheek Pinot Noir, mustard
These were incredibly tender, the meat simply collapsed. Mum thought it was too soft, she didn’t like the lack of meat structure. I quite liked it; I liked how the intertwined fat dissolved with the muscles. That said the slow cooking method somewhat masked wagyu beef characteristics.

Forrest Berries Bloody orange, lime mascarpone, campari
I didn’t try it – Mum said blood orange sorbet was quite sour. I gathered it wasn’t my kind of dessert.

Kaya & Teh Tarik Brioche French toast, coconut pandan
Definitely my kind of dessert. The crusty cube of French toast was infused with ice cream in the centre; the tea-flavoured sorbet and foam was perfect with the smooth kaya. It was like a Singapore’s signature breakfast deconstructed.

The starters were superb, particularly the foie gras with popping candy; the mains were less impressive, nonetheless well executed. I enjoyed it. Given I had been feasting on local food in hawker centres for 2 days, this was a pleasant change. I wouldn’t say it was an unforgettable meal though.

On a side note: The dining room was freezing cold. We were seated right under the air conditioner and we asked to be moved away from it. And the staff kindly seated us under another aircon ventilation point.

The Hilton Hotel
Level 3
581 Orchard Road
Singapore 238883
Tel: (+65) 6732 2234

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Amber Mandarin Oriental Landmark (Hong Kong)

Mister spoilt me in every way during this brief trip. A leisurely lunch at the 2-Michelin star Amber was just one of the many treats he prepared. I smirked when he was greeted as Doctor Leung as we came out of the elevator. Strangely I was glowing with pride inside.

Amuse Bouche Foie Gras lollipop & Crab crepe

The roll was particularly good, creamed crab meat infused with lime and lemongrass to a thick cream-like texture, wrapped in a crispy wafer.

Royal oyster no.1 served over pickled kyuri cucumber jell-o, greek ‘hung’ yoghurt, fresh green apple sorbet
This could have been a winning combination. The crisp cleanness of the cucumber and refreshing sweetness of green apple should almost always work with oysters. Unfortunately there was too much crunchiness in the accompaniments it drowned the oysters. Or the oysters weren’t strong enough in flavour. I felt this dish tipped off balance with over-complexity.

Duck Foie Gras ballotine, pink lady apples with verjus, puree of kabocha pumpkin, crispy ginger bread
The liver terrine was smooth and less heavy with the pepper kick, went well with the warm toasted airy brioche served on the side. It was nice, but not remarkable.

Wild Venison stew ravioli, with Barolo vinegar glazed heirloom beetroots, cranberries & pickled pearl onion shells
Mister wasn’t too sure about this giant raviolo stuffed with shredded venison so I offered to swap. I thought it was okay, the meat carried powerful gamey tang that was carefully balanced by the various succulent cubes on the top. I must admit it was lacking in finesse and flavours were one-dimensional. 

Iberian Pork ‘Pluma’ dusted with ‘quatre epices’ then chargrilled, kabocha pumpkin, fresh hazelnuts & vintage sherry vinaigrette
It was easy to see why the Maitre’d whole heartedly recommended this; tender blocks of Iberian pork with evenly distributed fat cooked beautifully to medium rare. There was a touch of fusion with the Chinese spices on the pork, and it drew out the nuttiness of the meat. This brought me back to the happy days when we had a similar dish by Nuno Mendes in Taste of London, except this was even better.

Coconut ice cream lollies

Tainnori 64% chocolate & black tea ‘delice’ over a meyer lemon jell-o & milk sorbet
Note to self: never have lemon jelly related desserts, ever. During one of my visits to Sketch in London, I was served a lemon gelatin something. I left it almost untouched because it was face-wincingly sour. This was too. No way this could have been milk sorbet, it was lime. The chocolate delice was fine, dense and indulgent, but trust me, nowhere rich enough to call in a lemon to lift the weight.

Chestnut ice cream, brown rum marinated raisins & pastry ‘diplomat’ cream served as a deconstructed ‘millefeuille’
Mister’s choice was ace. Crispy, buttery pastry with custard-like cream and mildly sweet chestnut puree. This was gorgeous.

Petit Fours

Presentation was great; 3 tiers of miniature goodies. I was served coffee before my dessert, leaving the petit fours a bit too heavy on their own at the end. Had I been offered the choice, I would have preferred having my macchiato with the small sweet treats.

Service was generally excellent, except for one server who quite frankly, tainted the meal to an extent.  It’s her pace; the hurried shuffles, rushed introductions to the dishes and snatching our plates the second after I placed the cutlery on my finished plate. When setting our new cutlery, she rattled the silverware in the box, started with my fork, then Mister’s set and then finishing with my knife and crossed over to place another spoon, looking everywhere except for the table that she was working on. I mean you don’t have to smile but it’d be nice if you didn’t look so angry.

Overall the meal was pleasant. Though I would say it didn’t hit all the spots for me, yet nothing was outlandishly bad. I think Amber delivered a Michelin lunch, perhaps not necessarily a 2-star one. Given the choice, I’d probably opt for L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. That said I enjoyed it and I am very glad I tried it.

Just a note to friends less familiar with Central: There is a Mandarin Oriental and a Mandarin Oriental Landmark. These are two different buildings, though in proximity. The former houses the Mandarin Grill and Pierre while the latter nests Amber and the Joel Roubuchon selection.

The Landmark Mandarin Oriental
15 Queen's Road Central
Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 2132 0188