Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Caprice, Hong Kong

Caprice was once awarded 3 Michelin Stars under the leadership of Chef Vincent Thierry. Since his departure, Caprice has had a star removed and Chef Fabrice Vulin has taken over the kitchen to win that prestigious status back. After days of Chinese meals over the CNY period, I booked a table for 4 for lunch.

We were seated by the window to take in the beautiful view of Victoria Harbour, a view that’s included in the price tag. The menu was dominated by black truffle, at least 40% of the menu had black truffle as an ingredient… 

The amuse bouche was a herring custard with chopped cabbage and apple - the velvety mousse was incredibly fishy, balanced by the crisp cleanness of the vegetable. I did’t like the crunch and pungent raw cabbage though, and the stiff shreds made it difficult to eat with a little spoon. Could have thought it through better.

Pan seared Duck Foie Gras, Raw and Cooked Hokkaido Pumpkin
Mama Chan and I both went for foie gras. I loved it; the richness, the melt-in-mouth feel, the greasy fragrance, balanced by the sugary sweet pumpkin puree. Mama Chan found it took much and swapped it for the chicken pate en croute with Bro. 

Poached Farm Egg, Leeks in French Dressing and Young Spinach Leaves
The poached egg was hidden under the leaves. Perfectly cooked with a runny egg yolk that spilled over the leek millefeuille. The dish was served cold, flavours were one-dimensional and quite bland. Not the most palatable ensemble.

Chicken Breast Pate en Croute, Pistachio and Winter Black Truffle
Quite a dull starter, I was pushing for the squid and crab cannelloni option but hey. The crust was particularly crumbly and buttery, that aside, pate is pate.

Japanese Scallop Boudin, Young Spinach Leaves and Black Truffle
This was the highlight of the meal. The scallop boudin was bouncy and full of oceanic sweetness, worked well with the savoury spinach puree. Truffle shavings were unnoticed.

Bresse Chicken Leg Pot au Feu, Vegetables in a Tarragon and Yellow Wine Bouillon
This was disappointing. The condensed chicken leg forfeited the tenderness of thigh meat, which lacked succulence as the jus has been squeezed out. The bouillon had great depth but the balance was ruined by the small cabbage parcel, inside which the diced chicken giblet was carelessly over-seasoned.

Braised Beef Shoulder in Red Wine Sauce, Lumaconi Stuffed with Mushroom and Colonnata Pork
The colossal pasta shells were sitting on a thick disc of beef shoulder, scattered with small cubes of pork and truffle shreds. The sous-vide shoulder carried a strong smoky aroma, the meat was tender without losing its firm, dense structure. However the sauce, which was too salty, didn’t infiltrate and couldn’t bring the dish together.

Chocolate and Caramel Profiteroles, Peanut and Inaya Chocolate Ice Cream
This was skilfully faultless; the profiteroles had a thin crispy shell, filled with chocolate ice cream, topped with chocolate mousse, a crumbly disc and thick indulgent chocolate sauce.

Our lunch at Caprice was underwhelming to be honest. Out of the 6 dishes, only the foie gras and scallop boudin were up to fine-dining standard, probably not even 1 Michelin star, let alone two.The other dishes were too heavy on seasoning and generally unbalanced. I couldn’t work out why they were  sprinkling black truffle on every dish; it was being used as a garnish, casually dropped on salads and foam, where there wasn’t enough heat to bring out the truffle fragrance. They might as well scatter wood shavings on the dish.

I have a small bone to pick with service too. On the whole the service team was professional, swift and full of smiles. We did, however, feel slightly rushed as they started clearing some of our plates even though Mama Chan was still finishing hers. Apart from that, we were well looked after. The view was incredible, the decor splendid and the ambience extravagant, but unfortunately the food wasn’t up to scratch.

Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong
8 Finance Street
Hong Kong

Tel: +852 3196 8888

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Blacklock - Seals the Meat Juice

The city was busy with romance on Valentines Day; my first as a singleton since the age of 15. Well, at least I don't have to pretend to like roses. Lucky for me, Flora's better half was out of town so I get her as my date to check out Blacklock's soft launch. 

Hidden in the basement on Great Windmill Street, Blacklock was opened by ex-Hawksmoor employees to serve chops. A very simple menu with 3 kinds of chops and an array of sides, all done on the grill. Chops were going for £4 each or a stack of 4 for £12; sides were £3 a pop; there is also the option of going all-in at £20pp. The cocktails were a steal at £5. I had the Nettle Gimlet , sweet and strong, while Flora tried the Grandma's Spiked Lemonade, pleasantly citrusy and easy to drink.  

Crisps - Egg and Anchovy
This was no doubt taken from Foxlow. The small pile of soft silky scrambled eggs was neatly circled by a thin strip of anchovy. It was well balanced, the eggs mingled and soften the crispy disc before the punchy anchovy kicked in. We liked it so much we went for another round.

Crisps - Cheese and Pickle
They gave this to us by mistake - we had it anyway. The entire ensemble was completely different to the egg and anchovy. This was predominantly crunchy from the refreshing pickles, which neutralised the thin sheet of stilton hidden under the pile. It was a palate-awakening nibble.

Skinny Chops from top: Lamb, Beef, Pork
Thanks to the homemade charcoal grill that could rock up to 300 odd degrees, all three types of chops were extremely succulent. The vintage irons locked the meat juice in as soon as the chops hit the grill, while the flames worked on a charred crispy edge. 

Out of the three we liked lamb chops best, cooked to a beautiful ruby medium with a healthy rind of crispy fat, where the milky flavours came from. We had to go for seconds. The beef was a short rib cut that was relatively thinner, so the meat was more cooked-through. It was still tender and juicy, though the flavours were somewhat diluted unlike dry-aged beef - but not everyone is a spoilt git.

We had another round of drinks. The Aperol Negroni was really strong, as Flora put it, a manly drink.

The pork was bigger than the others. It could have been the juiciest pork chop I've had in town and that thick rind of lard was guiltily nutty. We found the meat nearer the bone undercooked, much rarer than medium. I'm comfortable with pink pork as long as it's safe, but even the staff agreed this was rarer than usual. They assured us it was safe, happy to take it off our bill nevertheless - we left it.

At the time of writing neither of us have symptoms of food poisoning. If this happens to be the final post I publish on here - you know who did it.

10-hour ash roasted sweet potato & Kale and parmesan
We tried out a lot of the sides too. The roast sweet potato resembled a mash packed back into it skin, served with a dollop of butter and a handful of herbs. The two ends were quite burnt and bitter but these can easily be scraped off. The kale light with a tangy dressing.

Barbecued baby gems & Charred Courgettes, chicory and stilton
We thought the baby gems were too burnt and bitter, and all the moisture had evaporated from the grilling. The courgettes were much better with the small lumps of stilton.

For dessert it was white chocolate cheesecake with berries. Our server brought out the whole tray of cheesecake and scoop a portion onto our plate. Quite a good sale strategy, and a great way to end the meal.

We both enjoyed Blacklock. The food was good, nothing ground-breaking but deeply satisfying with piles of juicy meat. Service was super friendly and swift; yea there were a couple of hiccups like sending us the wrong crisps, but none of them were deal-breakers. The vibe was stripped back and easy-going, it was a speakeasy feel to it. I'm definitely coming back for more.

The Basement
24 Great Windmill Street

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Sunday, 8 February 2015

Rex & Mariano - Blissful Simplicity

Rex and Mariano is the latest venture by my favourite restaurant people; Beast, I love. Goodman, I love. Smack Lobster, I love. Burger & Lobster, I love. Yea they know what they are doing.

As pioneers of the dining scene in London, R&M offers cheap but quality seafood by cutting out the middleman. They are also using an IPad ordering system, a concept which many restaurants have tried and failed. What R&M does differently is to reduce the service charge to 5%; it has received mixed reviews, we'll see.

Water was brought to us the moment we were seated.We started with some olives and the bread selection as we navigated through the IPad. Relax, it's really not rocket science - you scroll, tap on things you like and tap submit. Then the food gets delivered by real people, with a smile, very speedily. 

Rock Oyster, lemon, tabasco, vinaigrette

The rock oysters were a bargain at £1.50 each. Quite lean but strong on minerals, clean and crisp.

Burrata, smoked tomato, focaccia
Lee has never had burrata so I had to introduce her to this stretchy, creamy, luscious cheese. R&M stuck to the basics here by pairing it with cherry tomatoes, smoked tomato and a balsamic reduction on a herby, fragrant slice of focaccia. The combination of sweet and tangy cherry tomatoes and milky burrata worked beautifully. A simple dish done well.

Then I reached for the IPad and keyed in our second round of order - at our own pace and the food arrived in no time. Smooth operation.

Sea Bass Carpaccio olive oil, lemon, tomato, chive
I loved the carpaccio here, though I'm sure this isn't text book carpaccio. Unlike the more conventional wafer-thin carpaccio that shows off chef's knife skills, the raw fish slices here were thick, topped with a smear of fresh tomato puree and drizzle of olive oil. It had chew and a bouncy mouth-feel. The fish itself still had little flavour, but the freshness was brought out by the clean taste from the tomatoes. It was so simply done with balance and excellent quality fish.

Tuna Tartare Avocado, chilli, sesame oil
Plenty of tuna cubes on a bed of avocado mash, with a minor kick from the pinch of chilli. The sesame oil was a particular nice touch to leave a nutty aftertaste. 

The courgette fries were also exceptional.

Grilled Red prawns lemon, olive oil, salt
The Sicilian red prawns were supposed to revolutionise the seafood scene. I heard they also serve them at Beast from the newly introduced a la carte menu and they have been a hit. I reckon I would still stick to their steak and crab set though. Anyhow.

The small prawns had big flavours. And the highlight was hidden in the disproportionately massive heads... you gotta suck. The heads were packed with sweet and savoury oceanic goodness, and the rich taste of umami was mind-blowingly satisfying. 

Lee already had her first oyster, first burrata, first carpaccio and first tuna tartare up to this point of the evening, sucking prawn heads was pushing it a bit far - which meant more for me. I wasn't too sure about the actual prawn meat, which was surprisingly mushy. I like big fleshy prawns with a crunch, though I can't fault these in terms of flavour.

Espresso ice cream and lemon sorbet with limoncello
We were offered dessert on the house - I blame it on Lee's alluring charm.

It's hardly fancy dessert, but to follow the theme of the restaurant, it's simple things done really well. The espresso ice cream was strong, but so so good; lemon sorbet was refreshing with bits of crumble. I don't usually like limoncello, but this one was pretty damn good as the taste of alcohol was very subdued.

I enjoyed Rex & Mariano immensely. The cooking could not get simpler, just straight forward grilling, with olive oil and salt, maybe even a squeeze of lemon if you're feeling adventurous - so we know it's not culinary skills that they sell here. Yet we could not fault the quality and freshness of the ingredients. One could argue these can be done at home - true but I don't know where to get Sicilian red prawns and isn't that the case with most seafood dish? Especially when the prices here are pretty unbeatable.

The IPad ordering system was easy enough. It didn't take away the human touch as service was very personable and our server came to check on us regularly, the manager even sat down with us for a good chat. I can understand it's not everyone's cup of tea, but when they slash the service charge to 5%... what's not to like here?

2 St Annes Court
Tel: 0207 437 0566

Rex & Mariano on Urbanspoon
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Monday, 2 February 2015

St John - Not so Awful Offal

I struggled to write anything in the last couple of weeks. I started this blog 3 years ago when I tried to piece myself back together, took a while but eventually I began to feel comfortable in my own skin. Feeling I'm back at square one and crazily picking out my flaws, I looked at my About Me page from three years and realised how my world has grown - I'm stronger than I thought. So I updated my page and life goes on.

St John is a curious one. Known for their offal dishes and gets a Michelin star for serving them, I have been meaning to check it off my list, but it was surprisingly difficult to find someone who doesn’t mind the odd kidney. Twenty good reasons later, Shan put a date down and called for a table – done.

Not your typical Michelin star restaurant decor, St John was renovated from a ham and bacon smokehouse and few changes were made to the building. The white-washed walls, scratched wooden floor boards and bright white lights reminded me of the canteens in mental hospitals depicted in movies, you know, like the one in Shutter Island and Changeling, along with the waiting staff in white uniform looking decidedly blasé.

We were munching on the sourdough baked in-house while pondering over which offal dish to take on. When we asked our server for recommendations, she basically read out the menu. Yes, thank you for explaining what ‘Arbroath Smokie’ was, but no I do not need you to explain parsnips and beetroot. I’m starting to think I’m the one that looks illiterate; this isn’t the first time... the mental theme continues. We went for a bottle of easy-drinking Gamay.

Roast Bone Marrow & Parsley Salad

This would have been my usual choice, but I was feeling adventurous and went for baked trotters, so instead Shan bore the hard work of scraping bone marrow onto the sourdough toast, sprinkling the parsley leaves and topped with a drizzle of lemon juice. 

It's impossible to go wrong with bone marrow. Fact. The sourdough toast soaked up the fragrant grease, which the gently dressed parsley salad helped to balance. The marrow simply dissolved away in mouth to leave the richest trail of bovine goodness. So so good. 

While I really enjoyed it, I can't give much credit to the kitchen. I can quite easily replicate the dish with minimum effort... Hawksmoor cuts the bone length-way which makes the marrow more accessible than what they have done here.

Baked Trotter & Quail Eggs
My baked trotter was absolutely delicious. The stew was packed with the gelatinous cartilage and soft shredded meat from the trotters, slow cooked to bring out the depth of the flavours. It was a comforting dish - I could have easily devoured another helping.

Devilled Kidneys on Toast
It doesn't look great... the colour and shape, Shan and I went pretty wild with our imagination. Let's not spell everything out here.

Well, it's lamb kidneys. A lot of it. On a piece of toast. Floating on gravy. Lots of it too. I am just not sure what to make of it. The kidneys were bouncy, the mouth feel was akin to coarse pate, not quite velvety but not grainy either, it was textured smoothness. The cooking was precise. Thankfully they didn't carry the strong pungent smell of offals, just a hint from the iron but the thick, savoury gravy dominated. Shan begrudgingly took his half of the dish, can't say he was particularly enthusiastic about finishing it. We agreed it wasn't unpleasant, though presentation was slightly off-putting, glad we tried but probably not again.

Roast Middlewhite, Squash & Watercress
This was their signature dish, and it was a damn good slab of roast. The pork was glistening in its sweet meat juice, oozing succulence. The moisture was well-retained leaving the meat soft and tender. The crackling was beautifully roasted to a fragile brittleness on the top but a good crunch at the base, followed by a thin layer of gooey lard for that piggy nuttiness. We agreed it reminded us of the Chinese version of roast pork, but perhaps less fatty. It was no doubt the highlight of the meal.

I really liked the dressing on the greens and the sugary roast pumpkin on the side too. 

Salted Chocolate & Caramel Tart
We ordered half a dozen of madeleines and the salted caramel chocolate tart while we waited. The tart itself was really nice, rich and bittersweet. What I didn't like was the yoghurt ice cream, I was expecting something sweet but instead got an unsweetened frozen yoghurt.

The madeleines were as good as I remembered them from St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields. Buttery, rich, fluffy... I got an extra bite coz I'm special.

After we left St John, we had to re-confirm if it was awarded with a Michelin star. It didn't feel like it. Apart from the plateful of kidneys, which was a challenge we set ourselves, all the dishes were very enjoyable. However none of them had much finesse, twist or obvious exemplary culinary technique. Perhaps we were expecting a very technical meal, or something fancier. Instead we got straight-forward and comforting British dishes. We had mixed feelings; it was a great meal, but I'm unlikely to be rushing back.

St John Restaurant
26 St John Street
Tel: 0207 251 0848

St John on Urbanspoon