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Western Cuisine – General

Life is a combination of magic and pasta – Federico Fellini

DiVino is a great place to hang out and have a few drinks, especially since it’s located on Wazzzhappenin’ Wyndham.  The staff are so genial, and make sure it’s never a dull night in this wine bar and resto.

The first time I had dinner here we were blown away by the quality of their homemade pasta.  The home-made black pepper tagliatelle with venison ragout and garnished with Pecorino, for example, excites me every time I see it on the menu.  Luxurious slow-cooked wild venision hind generously covers the peppery thick ribbons with flair and unparalleled richness.

For those that prefer only a hint of chili and spice, humble spaghetti is given an Italian suit of white wine clams, found in their ‘Newcomers’ section.  The spaghetti is always cooked perfectly al dente, and at the same time, is cooked with the white wine sauce long enough so the flavours stick.  Like the Maine lobster linguine, which has a heavier bisque-like flavour, the dish is appreciatively generous with the seafood.

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The signature here is the 500 grams of Burrata DOP with Italian cherry tomatoes and a red onion salad, which I unfortunately have not tried (currently searching for a fellow cheese lover to share this with me).  The beef carpaccio, served with arugula salad, Parmesan cheese shavings, and artichoke hearts, is more than fair recompense.  You might also be able to change to a Bresaola if you’re not too keen on raw meat.  Slightly sweet but aged, lean yet melting, the Bresaola (below) is a fitting appetiser to that big pasta main.

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Andrew also has a soft spot for the French fries with black truffle mayonnaise.  They use hefty chunks of black truffle so this is not for the faint hearted.  I’m not crazy for the fries themselves, as I prefer sizes closer to shoestring – these are rather chunky.

At the moment, the DiVino group is taking part in white truffle season, with their ALBA truffles specially imported from Italy.


Website | Openrice | Yelp

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積存街20號地下

After some of the busiest weeks, and Jackie and Alex’s wonderful wedding weekend, I am so ready to relax and pig-out.  Something in the neighbourhood suits me just fine: close and convenient, Buddy’s Kitchen is a copacetic choice for casual Western dining.  The menu is offered simply, but the plates that swing out of this neat open kitchen are but perfectly executed.

Our favourites can actually be found on the cheaper dinner set menus. The squid ink risotto doesn’t simply feed you; it’s smooth, rich, and refined in all the right places, with a delicious bite.  Tall, dark, and handsome, this babe waltzes you all the way home feeling like a million bucks and I can honestly say I’ve never had better.

The steaks are equally generous and served with some pretty fabulous fries and Bearnaise. And if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know desserts aren’t usually on my agenda, but this creme brulee made with pandan leaf is a homely take on a French classic.

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Openrice: http://www.openrice.com/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=150490

Ever since my shitty main course at Bread Street Kitchen (to be fair: it was soft opening), I have been slowly shifting my home-chef loyalties from Ramsay to Jamie.  The way I’m starting to see it:  Jamie teaches you how to use leftover meat, and is a sweetheart to chickens, whilst Ramsay tells you that your gourmet meat is raw and throws it in the bin.  Now that’s just wasteful.

So I came across a recipe for panzanella by Jamie here:

http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/panzanella-tuscan-tomato-bread-salad

Panzanella is a Tuscan salad that uses tomatoes and leftover bread.  Not much, you say, but the dressing of vinegar, anchovies, and good extra virgin olive oil, gives this loaf something to get soaked about.  Wikipedia references the 16th-century artist and poet Bronzino, who actually calls the salad “another pleasure of this life” (“altro piacer di questa vita”) and I’m not one to disagree.

The red onions Jamie recommends in his recipe, are macerated till heavenly sweet and soft by the red wine vinegar.  This, combined with the strong saltiness of the anchovies, is something the poor Caprese would cry home to his mama about, basil leaves tucked between his mozzarella balls.

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I served this salad with a whole roasted chicken – crispy, but still moist because of a whole forked lemon that I stuff inside its cavity like no tomorrow.  You might’ve noticed the Aquarius in the corner of that photo – my go-to drink when I’m hungover.  If I can make a dinner like this when I’m hungover, there is no way anyone could screw this up.  Stale bread, tomatoes, and dressing – get it done!

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God love vinegar soaked carbs.

Level 5, JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty

As you might be aware, I was back in HK for Christmas. One of the first meals I had was at the new Flint Bar & Grill on the 5th floor of the JW Marriot Hotel.  A and I were looking for something casual yet refined – the perfect setting for a “first” date after being in London so long.  We were definitely attracted to Flint because of the ambiance – it sold us on being spacious, bold and impressive in its decor.  The service was also pretty memorable; our server was hospitable and very knowledgeable about the menu.

IMG_2251However, unfortunately the food itself didn’t leave much of a first impression.  To be fair, we had set out for a surf & turf kind of night, and when we sat down to hear that the signature 64-day aged Nebraskan rib eye and sirloin was unavailable (at 8pm), we didn’t know what to order and what to do.  We were headless chickens in a steakless abyss, clucking for the cow that never came.

I do believe Flint is deserving of a second chance because of this, but I’m afraid my Christmas quota isn’t for second chances.  The Openrice reviews on their veal cheek signature have made a second go in the near future more optimistic… So long as they don’t run out of that item too.

IMG_2254Our server directed us around the cocktail menu and Specials while we stewed in the winter of our beef-less discontent and poked at the warm bread rolls.

IMG_2244Flint does not provide a drinks menu on the site and I, being an amateur blogger after so long away from the scene, apologetically forgot to note the prices and names down for these cocktails.  Shame because these were probably the highlights of the night.  The above was their Mai Tai signature, strong and sweet.  I particularly enjoyed chewing on their addictive pineapple crisp.  The dried lime wedge, comparatively, is not to be chewed on – I learned that the bitterly hard way.  The other cocktails below were also delicious and carefully constructed.

IMG_2253 This was a warm Gold Label whisky cocktail with orange peel and cinnamon.  Recommended.

IMG_2252I loved the detail of putting the straw in the lemongrass stick.  I can’t remember the details of this but I did ask for something fresh and sweet and it did not disappoint.

IMG_2250We opted for the baked oysters ($160), but unfortunately the fresh oyster meat either lacked taste or couldn’t come close to the overwhelming cheesiness that drowned all in that half-shell.  I refer to the pancetta bits and spinach that have hopefully gone to a better place now, their names but writ in melted cheese.

IMG_2249If I didn’t see that little brown ball hidden beneath the foliage, I might’ve forgotten what this dish was.  The duck foie gras and wagyu croquettes ($160) were soft and rich but unfortunately underseasoned.  However, it paired well with the tartness of the fig reduction.  The dill was also a nice addition, as it delivered something clean and fresh to an otherwise heavy dish.  The parsley and the rest just seemed a little slapdash and unnecessary for me.

IMG_2247The seafood grill ($380) is often ordered in reviews I’ve seen, and I suppose it was one of the happier moments in the meal.  This was generally well-executed seafood: the mussels were fresh; a sweet, fat, juicy scallop was tempting me in sizzles on the hot stone plate; the lobster thermidor came with a substantial amount of roe and juiciness still in tact; and the prawn was sizable and nicely seasoned.  The only qualm I had was with the ‘catch of the day’ – I’m not even sure what fish this was.  The skin was soggy, and the flesh was only remedied after being dunked in the little pot of that rich, heavenly lobster bisque.

IMG_2246We then ordered one of the ‘specials’ – a lamb rump (spelled ‘rumb’ on the chalkboard and Specials card, but I assume they meant rump?) with a black truffle polenta and grilled baby courgettes.  Out of the entire dish, I think I was mostly a fan of the decadent polenta with gravy – also very rich and flavourful.  The lamb was in parts was inedible – if you look at the picture, you can see how it’s mostly fat.  It was rather disappointing that they’d serve us a cut like that.  Definitely not what I was expecting.

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For sides, we were set on some sauteed mushrooms ($80) in garlic butter and parsley.  It wasn’t too garlicky, which I appreciated because it let the lovely mushroomy flavours come out on the plate.  I also liked how varied the assortment was, as it gave us a lot of different textures.  All in all, this side was simple and well executed, and definitely hit the spot when everything else seemed to fall short.

I read somewhere that one of the (few) perks of being in a long-distance relationship is that every date when you’re together feels like a first date.  Not sure if this is entirely true as I like to think on our actual first date I didn’t eat myself into the form of a fat, sleepy panda…  But more importantly, we’re also a little more blunt about what we want to eat and what dishes we liked.  Flint has a wonderful space, great service, delicious drinks, and solid-sounding menu (although I can’t really understand how charging $50 for a fried free-range egg is justified), but A and I both agreed that the execution of our dishes that night left us yearning for just a little more.

60 Camberwell Church St, SE5 8QZ, London

I was over at my old flatmates’ new digs in Camberwell the other day.  She’s a bit of a hippie, although say that to her and she’ll shout you out of the room.  ‘Healthy’, ‘organic’, ‘locally-sourced’, ‘sustainable’… these are all cue words that get her hemp horn beeping, her sun-exalted body hemorrhaging from an eco-friendly climax.  And I love that about F, cos it means whenever we hang out I get to feel like, if only for a vegan lunch, I’m clean-living.  A galette at Maloko Creperie was no exception to this transitory glimpse into the Greener Life.

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18/F, The One, 100 Nathan Road, TST

Actress Carina Lau has recently opened three ventures on the 18th Floor of The One: Tapagria, Kyo-Shun and Zurrolia.  Andrew and I chose to check out Tapagria for a more casual Spanish dine in. Zurrolia, also on this floor, is the fine-dining alternative.

Unsure what to expect, but secretly aching for an authentic, masterfully concocted sangria, I crossed my fingers desperately.  One sip from their deep red jar of Wild Berry ($330; 1/2: $290), embellished with blackberries and all manners of sweetness in Cachaça, and my fingers weren’t the only things happily loosened.

I do remember looking at their food menu online as I was on my way  (read: trying to work out the frustrating puzzle of elevators and lifts leading up to this mysterious floor at The One), and wondered dismally if the illustrations were a half-assed Windows Accessories Paint job.  I suppose, in some ways, one shouldn’t judge the restaurant by its menu.

IMG_1846The stand-out was without a doubt the paella*!  Incredibly rich, perfectly-seasoned rice was jeweled with a few fresh treasures from the sea – mussels, clams, and prawns.  I loved the delicious depth of flavour, and might have to admit that it’s probably one of the better paellas I’ve tasted in Hong Kong.  Sadly, it’s tapas-sized, so you might have to be the better man and let your partner steal away the lone prawn.

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London, everywhere in London.  This review was at the branch near Camden Passage.

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I’ve been told that Byron burger joints have been popping up all around London.  The dining concept is simple: to keep it simple – minimum fuss, no frills.  It’s a shame that seasoning the patties, as well as my courgette fries, seems to be much too much ‘fuss’ for these guys.

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26/F, Stanley 11, Stanley Street, Central

Liberty Private Works sits on the top floor of the Stanley 11 Building, seating only a handful of diners at 7.30pm, then 8.30pm, every day.  When you make a commitment to LPW (because let’s be clear: it is a commitment, not simply a reservation), you sign yourself off to a whole evening at the culinary circus.  From 7.30 to close to midnight, you and only a few others are privy to the French technical theatrics of Chef Vicky Cheng’s carefully crafted menu, the broad strokes of edible genius that fly across the plate, the excruciating, painstaking details masterfully executed with almost contortionist flair, and hopefully, as time passes, a few memorable moments to be savoured on the palate.

However, like the circus, four hours watching chefs work the culinary acrobatics, juggling two sets of diners and making a show of it, can drag on a fair bit.. One scan around the private kitchen’s honestly rather bored-looking diners at 10pm made me feel like I wasn’t the only one simply lacking patience – that this occasion was protracted almost to the point of pompousness.  Chef Vicky Cheng is a star in HK, I don’t think anyone can deny this – his extensive Michelin-starred resume and tutelage under Daniel Boulud show in the food and presentation of LPW – so perhaps then the words ‘less is more’ might work in his favour.  We don’t need hours of proof – we get it!  You have fun now.

Plans to return?  Hmm, I’m sure I’d get more fidgety the second time around… but a tasting menu at $800 is incredibly reasonable, and LPW is a unique dining experience in Hong Kong that I don’t think should be passed up.  This might sound like sacrilege, but I really wish there was some kind of ‘Liberty Express’ where one could sit down for just an hour, say – maybe even two – to enjoy some of Chef Vicky’s creations from LPW.  I guess Liberty Exchange is meant to cut it close.

breadAs we were waiting for the late diners (who comes late to a group sitting?!), we tucked into some crispy bread ‘sticks’ and a roasted red pepper dip.

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1/F, 63 Wyndham Street, Central

IMG_1588[1]One step inside Restoration and you feel transported.  Scattering the space is the eclectic yet elegant touch of New Orleans decor, with rooms dimly lit yet still lovingly warm and inviting.  Bar stool diners had a better view of Chef Jack Carson and the team in the hot kitchen, but our table was cosy, humble and gave us enough privacy.  From the window-side, one could look down from the first floor to the seemingly distant Wyndham Street and grating pace of Hong Kong’s party district.

What looked like painted and restored vintage furniture pieces could be found in the corners of your eyes, in the small details but in a big way.  A few quaint gerber daisies at the center of our table was the clincher, bringing me somewhere I’ve surely never been.  But immediately, I felt at home, or at least somewhere familiar.  The service was similarly warm, as well as knowledgeable and attentive.

I was excited to taste what I already felt comforted by: The Big Easy.

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108, Hollywood Road, SOHO, Sheung Wan

And rightly so!  See here: http://www.restaurantweek.hk

Admittedly, I didn’t go to the Press Room for Restaurant Week, but have been quite a few times – including during their Promotion Period (May 27 to August 31, 2013) for 40% off on Tuesdays.  I love their simple yet humbling take on French-European cuisine, and the fact they are a restaurant that stays true to the notion of casual dining.

The portions are anything but pretentious, and their policy of actually taking reservations is a breath of fresh air.  It’s always nice to know when you’re allowed to dig into your dinner, and that you won’t be stuck in a queue like you’re outside Volar wearing Crocs with socks.  It’s also rather nice to know that what you do end up digging into will actually fill you up – you know, like a dinner should.  So snaps for the Press Room for actually sticking to their guns and congratulations on a much-deserved ‘Best Restaurant’ award at Restaurant Week!

I present a few photographs from my latest Press Room foodie trip.  They were taken a few weeks back so I apologies if the details are a little blurry.  I have the memory of a goldfish.  (Which is another reason why I blog.)

ImageThe oyster selection is impressive, with 6 oysters setting you back $186.  The French type at the front here was incredibly creamy, plump and full-flavoured.  If you prefer the brinier options, they also have Tasmanian oysters with high salt characters.  Check the blackboard for their selections.  I’ve still not gotten around to ordering the Plateux de Fruits de Mer ($220 per person; with lobster: $396) but from eyeing up other tables, it’s a whopper.

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