Sunday, 29 March 2015

Adelboden, Switzerland

You may have noticed it's been over a month since I Iast posted anything remotely related to the London dining scene. I'm afraid I'm still out and about. Moreover I've recently ended my 7.5-year relationship with my MacBook, yes that's the black plastic one as seen on Season 1 Sex and the City. And yes a MacBook does last that long, obviously some pretty-pleases and fluttering eyelashes at the Genius Bar helped. This means I have found some good drafts that I never got round to posting... 

But this one is hot off the press - I'm writing this as I sit at the boarding gate on my way back to London. 

There is a list of things I'm trying to get through before end of next month and a ski trip with Cynthia is very much near the top. Without this lab partner I would not have got through the practical exams; she was smart enough to task me with labelling eppendorf tubes, while she dealt with the calculations, actual lab work and ultimately dictated my lab reports... I'm forever thankful for her not losing her shit when I couldn't even label and count from 1-100. I got confused after 75... Anyhow I have much admiration for her and she deserves a proper goodbye before I go. The girl is always a step ahead and moved to Basel in November last year, from there we took a 2.5 hour journey to Adelboden, a cute little Swiss village that serves a good base for skiers.

It's been 6 years since I took the Chan clan here to Switzerland for my graduation trip. Adelboden is slightly off the tourist track, most of whom have been drawn west to Interlaken. Like any other ski town, the main road is lined with chalets and hotels, simple restaurants and bars. After gearing up in town, we took the small cable car across to Oey, and swapped for the gondola lift that took us up to Sillerenbuhl.

The pistes are brilliant:

After a hard day on the slopes, we made full use of the Finnish sauna in the garden, jacuzzi pools and steam room to start the blood flowing through our legs again. So so good....

As Cynthia braved the winds and snow on the slope on the last day, I decided to take the day off. One of the keys to happiness is to accept what you can't do, because there is so much more you can do. It had nothing to do with my aching muscles and bruised bum. *Ahem*. Instead I went on the sunny slope trail  along Hornliweg. Unfortunately sticking to the well signed-posted trail isn't quite my forte, I ended venturing a little further up and a little further out. The 2-hour trek ended up being a 4-hour brisk walk down unmarked paths, snow piles and muddy lanes... Well... Yolo right?

At least the mulled wine at the end of the trek was well-deserved. I don't drink mulled wine in London because it's usually loaded with cinnamon, that awfully intrusive spice. But mulled wine everywhere else tastes completely different. It's sweet with a refreshing citrusy fragrance, spices are gentle on the nose with floral notes, none of that acidic nonsense which resembles boiled off-wines.

Food was surprisingly good. The suisse aren't usually known for their culinary expertise, that said the restaurants we have eaten at proved to be very capable. 

We had a gorgeous cheese fondue recommended by the hotel, just opposite the cable cars to Sillerenbuhl. A very old joint that offers nothing else but variations of the melted cheese pot. We risked stinking of cheese and enjoyed a massive fondue infused with mushrooms, plus a cold meat platter to share. 

The second evening we wanted to try Alte Tavern, but it was fully booked - always a good sign for good food. Alder Restaurant opposite the bus station managed to squeeze us in. An extensive menu with comfort options, made even merrier with super friendly staff.

Thank you for a wonderful weekend, Cynthia. More importantly, thank you for being wonderful.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Chubu: Nagoya, Takayama, Shiragawako, Okuhida, Osaka (Japan)

Japan and I have a love-hate relationship. Let’s focus on love.

The original plan was Hokkaido for snow king crab and outdoor hot spring in the snow. He said November, then December and by January I knew it wasn’t going to happen. There is only so much disappointment one could handle; one could only lie to oneself for so long, so fuck it. Mama Chan and I changed plans; she wanted to visit Shiragawago, so I planned for Chubu (Central Japan) instead.

We landed in Nagoya and made a stop for Maruya, which is renowned for their Hitsumabushi (grilled eel rice). Located on the 9th Floor of Meitetsu department store directly above the station, it was the only restaurant with chairs lined up for the usual queue. 
The grilled eel rice was phenomenal. There are 3 steps to enjoy this bad boy, as illustrated in the menu:
  1. Mix the grilled eel with rice
  2. Then mix in the wasabi, chopped spring onion and seaweed
  3. Pour the soup into the rice and condiments into the rice

The eel was so soft, cooked with the smoky and sweet sauce, mingled with round and bouncy rice - it was the most perfect start of a trip. 

Deeply satisfied with a full stomach, we took the Wide View Limited Express train from Nagoya to Takayama - 2.5 hr.

Our hotel in Takayama was a short 3min walk from the station, about 10mins to the old city area. I couldn’t fault the hotel in any way. We booked a Japanese style room, which was spacious by Japan standard. The onsen (hot spring) facilities were brilliant; a large indoor pool with sauna plus a smaller outdoor onsen that overlooks the city. There were also 3 private onsens at no extra cost.

We visited Shiragakwago the following morning - a 50min bus ride from the Nohi Bus Terminal right next to the train station. It was snowing pretty hard on the day, the small UNESCO village had a distinctive charm.

When we got back to the old city in the Takayama, we tried a few hida beef dishes, including hida beef don, ramen and sushi. The main eats are along the old streets: 

Hide beef sushi:

There were 2 kiosks that sell hida beef sushi, we tried both. The more expensive one was a thousand times better; beef melted in mouth as the rich bovine grease fused into the bouncy rice… 

Matcha ice cream and matcha/red bean eclair:

Steamed Hida Beef Bun:

From Takayama we took the bus to the Okuhida region to the Shin-Hotaka near the Japanese Alps. Hot spring in the snow was still on my agenda even if it wasn’t going to be in Hokkaido. 

The hida beef sukiyaki was delicious, the sweet soy sauce started softening the marbling fat, and a quick dip in the fresh egg before the thin slices melted away in mouth.

We took the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway to the Alps. The view was breath-taking.

I skipped Kanazawa and head straight to Osaka from Okuhida via Takayama. We know Osaka well enough since our last trip. Instead of spending all our time in Namba and Shinsaibashi, we spent some time in Umeda and KyoBashi. I prefer these regions where it’s not flooded with tourists emptying all the shelves in every pharmacy along Shinsaibashi. 

Mama Chan and I had breakfast at Endo Sushi in the Kyobashi branch. The original sushi bar near the fish market was a little off-track. The quality of sushi was out of this world:

Mama Chan and I went all out with the shopping….we even made a pit stop at Rinku Shopping outlet before the airport. I targeted all the Japanese causal brands; Moussy, Sly, Beams, Merci Beaucoup and Tsumori Chisato etc….

Osaka, Kyoto & Shirahama, Japan

I found this draft and yea it’s 12-months old, but someone told me late is better than never, so here we go. 

Back in Feb 2014 Mama Chan and I popped over to Japan, ticking off Osaka, Kyoto and Shirahama in one go. Can't say we had much of an agenda, except to i) eat like fat isn't a word; ii) shop like WAGs and iii) soak in onsens like eggs. 

I genuinely believe bad restaurants do not exist in Japan, but I do have a couple of culinary highlights: 

Ichiran Raman - this ramen bar have people queueing for hours round the clock in Hong Kong. Mama Chan was smart enough to get us seated with a modest 10min wait around 5:30 after we landed in Kansai International. The ordering machine was one of the most complex mechanical ensemble I have ever encountered, it's incredible how 10 buttons in a foreign language can baffle people. We smashed a few buttons, slipped some notes in and sat down at the booths, filling out a questionnaire on how we'd like our ramen cooked, from noodle firmness to greasiness of the broth. 

Yes, Mama Chan opted for 4x spring onions, and no it was unintentional. Either the ramen was superb, a rich textured broth without being overly creamy and perfectly bouncy noodles. That said, I am not sure I would queue for more than 15mins for a bowl of ramen. I have randomly dropped into any ramen bar before and the quality was equally good...

Right next to Ichiran in Namba, there was a Takoyaki stall in the corner next to the footbridge. Seriously addictive stuff. 

Since we planned to spend a day in Kyoto, we stayed near Shin-Osaka, which was great location for longer train journeys from Osaka. We got stuffed from sampling all the freebies along the main road from Kiyomizu Temple, so we only managed to snack on some novelty items along the covered Market Nishiki. 

For dinner we came to Ajibil Sushi, which is famous for their oversized sushi. Well... a picture paints a thousand words. 

The following day we took a 2-hr train to Shirahama. Before dipping into the hot spring, we went to Tore Tore Fish market for lunch; top quality stuff at ridiculous prices.

In fact the food was so good that Mama Chan suggested we buy some super fatty toro, jumbo scallops and box-pressed saba sushi to snack on the train back to Osaka.

After a good recharge at the onsens, we returned to Osaka for more shopping and feasting:) This time we stayed nearer Namba. No trip to Osaka-fu would be complete without having some okonomiyaki. Queue at Mizuno starts around 5pm. There are only 11-seats around the teppan, but the queues moved fairly swiftly as staff makes it quite clear that they don't want people to sit around. 
There was only so much we could fit in our stomachs, but we made a good effort to bring some goodies home for Papa Chan. 

Pablo vs Rikuro 

Pablo was more like a cheese tart whereas Rikuro was a light, fluffy baked cheesecake. Personally I prefer the Pablo, the cheese filling was denser and custardy, yet remained light on the stomach. I am less of a Japanese cheesecake fan, its ultra airy and light texture is too similar to chiffon cakes. More importantly, Rikuro had a thin layer of raisins hidden at the base of the cake, which meant I had to pick them out...

Monday, 9 March 2015

Pierre at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong

Pierre Gagnaire’s Pierre at Mandarin Oriental also holds 2 Michelin stars. After the substandard meal at Caprice, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Pierre. That said restaurants at the Mandarin Oriental group have never let me down. James booked a table for 7pm; we were the first table of the evening and we had the chance to check out the view from the 25th floor overlooking Central.

Just like PG’s Sketch in London, we were served cumin sticks, colourful jewels of nibbles and a mini bread basket as we studied the menu. Each course came with 3 or 4 items, each dish showed off the full spectrum of culinary skills by creating unusual textures and complex flavours. It was a truly memorable and sophisticated dining experience. 

Perfume of the Earth
Smoked cocotte of roots vegetable, glazed pork loin and wood sorrel; Foie gras cream with Manzanilla
“Callette ardechoise” minced pork and green vegetable sausage, French grey snails, “Red sauce”
Leek ravioli and burnt onion consomme
White beetroot tart
There earthy theme was carried through all 4 dishes. The small parcel of mince pork and snails were particularly interesting as the livery flavours reminded me of Chinese sausage, paired with a thick red wine reduction. The beetroot tart also had a sweet camerbert filing to round off the course. An ingenious ensemble. 

Royal Madec with fresh ginger, frosted banana and sardine “rillettes"
Poached David Herve with Savagnin wine, leek, eel and Morteau sausage
Gilardeau with Nantes butter, slow-simmered spinach, rye toast, veil of Mortadella

James’s trio of oyster dishes were equally impressive. I forgot to snap a photo>.<
The strength of minerality and creaminess increased by the dish. Taking oysters to a new level, each was mildly poached to retained its texture, paired with gentle touches of Japanese influence of light yuzu and soy dressing, followed by richer French puree. Needless to say GIlardeau was the king of oysters.

Sea Bass / Sea Urchin
Grilled / poached line-caught thick sea bass steak, nettle puree, lemon marmalade, capers, pig’s ear and green olives
Buckwheat pancake, sea urchin with hazelnut butter, button mushroom salad
Royal-style sea urchin and beef tartar

While the thick sea bass filet was brilliantly silky and soft, the highlight was the mini steak tartare with the sweet, clean and velvety sea urchin. The mushroom salad wasn’t my kind of thing; not a fan of raw mushroom slices but the sea urchin mingled with hazelnut butter hidden beneath was very interesting, the nuttiness worked well with the luscious sea urchin.

Lamb AAA
Roasted saddle of lamb with garlic / tarragon, quinoa, outargue, smoked eggplant caviar with preserved garlic
Grilled rack of lamb, date cannelloni with Roquefort cheese, Ricotta cheese and pear
Sweetbreads, “otti” tomato pulp with sesame, lettuce leaf

The lamb saddle was perfectly roasted to medium and delectably tender; accompaniments were in precise balance with subdued smokiness from the aubergine and garlic. Lamb flavours were relatively mild due to the lean muscles though. The sweetbread wrapped in the thin lettuce leaf was quite different to what I was expecting; instead of a wobbly gelatinous morsel, the lump of sweatbread of springy with a slight chew; I prefer it melty and soft.


Around the Tea
Soft biscuit and Matcha tea ice cream
Loukoum flavoured with Mirin, diced Hohicha tea parfait, yuzu gel
Hot white tea, sago and aloe vera

The green tea essence was immense. Matcha roll was soft and airy with thick butter cream that neutralises the fragrant bitterness from the tea powder. As an avid lover for green tea desserts, this was perfect. The white tea, though mixed with springy aloe vera and sago for bouncy mouth feel, could have done with a touch of sweetness. 

Chocolate Souffle
Aragani chocolate souffle, pistachio parfait
Smooth chocolate ganache cream
Cocoa water, chocolate ice-cream and veil of Nougatine
This could have been the flattest soufflé, ever. Not much fluffy textures but the chocolate sauce melted the pistachio butter on top to create a chocolate fondant effect.

Pierre really lived up to the 2-Star reputation; I was blown away by each and everything presented to us. Even James was impressed, and that’s quite an achievement in itself. I suppose when they are charging £170 per head + £25 for a glass of wine in Hong Kong, expectations are understandably high. And boy they delivered. The knockout view paired with exquisite food, shared with one of my closest and dearest made the evening extraordinary.

Thank you James.

Level 25
5 Connaught Road
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2825 4001

You may also like: Mandarin Grill + Bar*, Amber **HK Sweet Treats