Monday, January 15, 2007

Mak's Wonton Noodles

I raved about how good the wontons are at Mak's on Wing Kut Street before, so to be fair, I went to the other more well known Mak's on Wellington Street as well, and in short, I can now say with complete confidence that the wontons at the Wing Kut Street store are better.

The two stores, despite sharing the same name, are actually separately owned, although I believe that initially, they weren't.

The portions at Wellington St. are smaller but cost more than at Wing Kut St. ($25 vs. $21). The up side is that this store is easier to find and is brighter, though both are just as cozy. The wonton soup at Wing Kut is undoubtedly more pleasing, with its savoury, peppery flavour, and the wontons themselves seem to have better prawns and tastier pork.

I guess that's all I can say - at least I know where I'm going for wonton noodles from now on.

Mak's Noodle Ltd.
G/F, 77 Wellington Street
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2854 3810

Friday, January 12, 2007

Carb-conscious on the search for a breadwinner - Le Velo, Tufei Pain Pain, Lime Organics

(Read: Anorexic gold-digger on the loose... not.)

I LURVE bread, and all manner of carbs for that matter. Who can resist a perfect, steaming bowl of Japanese rice, a plate of hand-made pasta, or an excellent loaf of sourdough? (All can be hideously expensive) I don't know about you, but I can't anyway. They call these things 'staples' for a reason, you know. If I had to go on the Atkins diet, I think I'd rather be obese. Besides, there are so many different diets out there. Maybe an all-carb diet would work too?

Anyhoo, this post isn't about dieting. (None of my posts will ever be about dieting or pro-dieting at least. Bomb me if I ever do it.) It's about my recent bread-hunt. It just so happens I found out that there are two reputedly good bakeries within walking distance of my office. Both names take inspiration from French, which is appropriate I suppose, since the French do indeed eat a lot of bread and thus make plenty of it, but by no means are they the only leading baking nation. Italy, Germany, India, China even, has their own bread-making history. I guess people in this city too often associate good food with French culture. The owners probably went to France and fell in love with the bread there. If they'd gone to Italy instead, I'm sure they would have loved the bread there too. One place is called Le Vélo (The Bicycle) and the second is called Tufei Painpain (tufei = burglar in Mandarin, pain = bread in French). Both are bakeries (i.e. bake on site) and have a café on the same premises.

Le Vélo's café of about 25 seats was absolutely packed when I wanted to go in (around 1330) - I came at this time on purpose, thinking that all the nearby office people would have left by then - so I took a stroll around the neighbourhood (very uninteresting - Le Vélo shares the street with old lightbox (advertising) manufacturers and plastics wholesalers - typical old Sheung Wan, of the non-tourist variety) and went back at 1400, by which time about half the customers had left. They offer set lunches other than sandwiches, but since I was there for the bread...

The sandwich options weren't very interesting - smoked salmon bagel, salami foccaccia, egg salad baguette (ew!) etc. I settled on a roast beef baguette. The set includes a starter of soup and a coffee/tea. All pretty standard. The layout of the café is pretty standard too. I wasn't expecting a place that screams "wonton noodle place". I'm exaggerating a little, but the cleanliness of the tables, floors and visible counter areas really have to be looked at. The soup comes with several slices of bread - I got one slice of baguette and two rye-looking ones with specks of candied orange peel worked into it. All were very chewy and slightly dry and stringy- I kept thinking they might have microwaved it because the outer surface of the slices seemed like they were beginning to dry. I even left a piece out for longer to see if it would harden. But it didn't, so the bread proves itself very chewy with abnormally strong strands of gluten. *ponders* The baguette that became my sandwich was much better. Although its exterior wasn't exactly crispy, it exuded a character more similar to a country-style loaf (campagnard) - doughy, dense, and bouncy without being tough. What I hate most about some baguettes is that you have to wrestle it to secure each bite. Coffee at the end wasn't too bad either, and their lattes are cheap in Hong Kong standards ($19 - stand-alone).

Tufei Painpain seems much less popular at lunchtime despite the fact that they also have lunch sets. IMO, there are two reasons. Firstly, it's way up on Caine Rd. in the highly residential mid-levels, up past the heart of SoHo. Secondly, it seems like it hardly ever opens. Their website says they're only open Wednesday through Saturday or something lazy like that. They must have picked that up in France... (j/k, no offense - artisans need their rest and time for creative thought haha)

No time for a sit down lunch today though (I'd spent too much time walking up the hill and buying coffee - a very good one, nonetheless - from Lime Organics on the way), so I bought a pain au levain and ate it on my walk back. It wins, hands down, as my pick for the bestEST bread in Hong Kong. For the time being, anyway. I know Lime Organics has bread every Saturday and there's a Chinese place called Gourmet Kitchen (I don't even know if it's still in existence...) that apparently houses an avid baker. But for now, I'm happy.

Le Vélo
9 Jervois St. **MOVED**
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong

Tufei Painpain
58 Caine Road **MOVED**
Hong Kong
Open: Tues-Sun (so the website says...)

Lime Organics **CLOSED**
2 Elgin St
SoHo, Central
Hong Kong

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Ce n'etait pas si bon - bonbon Cafe

A Cordon Bleu trained chef, very favourable reviews and cute décor have not, in this particular case, added up to a good dining experience.

The service people seem incapable of smiling - and that is the smallest of my complaints about them. Our bread was microwaved (for goodness sakes, bread loses its moisture and HARDENS as it cools if you heat it in the microwave), they gave us sherry glasses for our sparkling and some wine glasses were cloudy. Food was served before the previous course was finished (this is a tiny fourteen-seater, mind you), they referred to our post-meal coffee/tea as 餐飲 (a "meal drink" as in one you'd have with your happy meal at Mickey D's)... No, the service was not good. I should really be getting used to it in Hong Kong, but alas.

As for food, I could have been in any old restaurant - French, American, British, it wouldn't have made any difference. The most French thing on my plate of pan-fried pigeon was probably the sad-looking french beans, which were boring, but probably only because I'd had them at home for lunch earlier that day and seen them on the supermarket shelves looking all yellowy and unhealthy.

Apologies - the photos didn't turn out too well because of insufficient lighting, my reluctance to use the flash mode because I hate white light, and basically, a sh*tty camera.

Goat's cheese and hazelnut in filo

Okay, for an amateur cook like me, filo may be a little tricky to handle - sheets prone to ripping, keeping it all moist etc. But for a trained chef, it really shouldn't look like this - a piece of crumpled up paper from a five year-old throwing a tantrum. Tasted fine, but I'm a hazelnut freak. Put them on mouldy toast and I'll still eat it. Point made I think.

Sweet potato and apple soup

Looked and tasted more like apple puree for babies, but who said baby food was bad?
Pan-fried pigeon with foie gras
See what I mean by meat and three veg? And I think it really takes a photo to communicate how huge my prices of pigeon were. I think I've had duck that's smaller! Perhaps it was the knife, but I had a hard time sawing through it. To that end, I'd better get my teeth checked too. It was slightly undercooked, and scared my bird-flu conscious relatives away a little.

Creme brulée
Likely to be the only thing I can't complain about in the meal, which doesn't really say much. It was fine; the texture closer to the bottom was better than near the top - can anyone explain? Some sort of sedimentary effect?

To their defense, it was a public holiday, but on the same note, we did pay a hefty premium ($400/head as opposed to around $250). Percentage-wise, this is huge, and it's a big ask for a little café like this. I can't believe I gave up Commercial Radio's awards ceremony for this.

bonbon Cafe
G/F, Shop A2-A3
96 Electric Road (Enter form Tsing Fung Street)
Tin Hau
Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2525 2523