Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Over egg-cited

Gai daan zai, aka egg waffles, egg puffs, egg rolls, or 雞蛋仔 were a huge part of my childhood. When we first moved back to Hong Kong from Melbourne, I was nine years old, and very stubborn (I still am - as in stubborn, not nine). I insisted that I was better off in Australia and had major issues repatriating to Hong Kong. I would rebel, in my own little way (I was always timid out of home) by acting up at school - bursting out crying in the middle of class, aggravating teachers and classmates for no particular reason, missing the school bus (i.e. things that traditional Asian parents would take notice of). I hated my parents for dragging me back.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Oh, Pierre: The emails

Before I go on to a "normal" post about my recent dinner at the Mandarin Oriental's French restaurant Pierre, here are the emails exchanged with the restaurant after the meal. I think my sentiments have been fairly well expressed in the emails below. (Stilted 140 character overviews can be found on Twitter). I shall therefore provide no further comment. What's your take?
From: [me]
To: Pierre, MOHG
Date: Nov 5, 2009
Subject: Pierre, 4 Nov 2009

Dear Sir/Madam,

It pains me that this email has to be written, as the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong has always been one of my favourite hotels, not only in the SAR, but globally, precisely because of its fantastic F&B outlets that have always exceeded my expectations on all fronts - cuisine, wine, ambiance and service.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Some of Hong Kong's most overrated restaurants

Each have their merits, and it doesn't mean these restaurants are bad, but I think their "names precede the truth" (名過於實 | Cantonese: ming gwo yu sut | Mandarin: ming guo yu shi) as we say in Chinese...

Hutong (and Aqua) - all about the view. Hutong's lamb ribs I love, but everything else, um, I don't have polite things to say about...
Xi Yan - there are better private kitchens
Luk Yu - more about the atmos than the food. There's better old school dim sum at Lin Heung
Mak's (Wellington Street) - Ho Hung Kee is just as good (+ many others) for wonton meen
Sang Kee congee - congee is thin, watery and overcooked nowadays (used to be better)
Tonkichi - the waiting list/line is a bit ridiculous for an inconsistent product
Lung King Heen - it's up there with the best, but it's not the holy grail of Cantonese food, so stop saying it is
Ovologue - gwailo (ie. foreigner - equivalent to gaijin in Japan and farang in Thailand) posing to be innovative and 'authentic', whatever that means (and however that matters) - gold leaves and abalone in teeny weeny portions on fancy schmacy crockery with sauces that don't taste or don't match, and sometimes cold (when it's not supposed to be) - it's just not good food

Bo Innovation is also one of the most talked-about places in Hong Kong - especially since it gained its two Michelin-star status, but I haven't tried it yet, so watch this space... [edit: I have now - see here]

These are just some quick notes off the top of my head (and to get off my chest). What have your experiences been like? Any to add/subtract? Bring it on. I'm geared up for hate mail. (Though I should reiterate that each of these restaurants have their merits and obviously exist for a/some reason(s) - some more understandable than others... and that these are of course, my personal, humble opinion.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Growing up sucks

When I was younger, this was one of my family's favourite izakayas. They've now moved up the street and look like a sad Hongkie style Japanese restaurant instead of the rustic/lived in izakaya it once was. The food is still pretty decent, but the service was a bit blunt and their last order is at 11pm - not very izakaya-ish in my books...

Chopped tuna and cucumber roll (6 pieces, but I was too hungry...)
The spring onion was perhaps a little overpowering, but then again, it's sometimes normal at izakayas, where the drinking is just as important - the logic being you need flavourful food to go with the robust beverages.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Stir fry diner - Kam Ho

The full name of this place is 金豪肥牛豬骨煲 (lit. Kam Ho fatty beef and pork bone hotpot), but I didn't see anyone having fatty beef nor hotpot.  I call restaurants like these "stir fry diners" - in Hong Kong Cantonese we call them 小炒皇 siu chau wong, meaning "king of little stir fries". Decor-wise they look half way between the much chronicled cha chaan teng (local style cafes) and bustling Chinese restaurants, with a rowdy hint dai pai dong (roadside/market eateries). They've got the easy-wipe tiled floors and fluorescent lighting of the cafes, the round tables of the restaurants, sans tablecloths and napkins and the loud, shouting waiters of the markets. There are quite a few of these, mostly in densely populated areas (where in Hong Kong isn't densely populated? Um, ok, they're in more densely populated areas, close to housing complexes etc.) where they would be substitutes to dinners at home. You'd be wrong to think these are home-cooking places though, these are notorious MSG and peanut oil wonderlands.

Enough introductory natter, let's get back to this one, Kam Ho. It's in Sham Shui Po and we went because even I can get bored of T'ang Court, and my auntie, who suggested this place, had just been to Ming Court that day for lunch. (We are so, like, spoilt, omg). Seriously, we needed something different. Kam Ho is in Sham Shui Po, an area famous for several things - computer and electronics-related thingamajigs, working girls and cheap (and sometimes good) food. It's extremely densely populated and was where my grandma brought up my mom and her siblings. Appropriately, we came back with my grandma.

It was quite late by the time we got there - around 9pm, the place was packed and everything on other people's tables looked good. (Again, no one was having the namesake hotpot). The waiters were loud, but extremely friendly and gave us suggestions for what to eat. Unfortunately, as we later found out, most of the dishes they're famed for were sold out, except for these...

Chicken and shark fin soup. (Are PETA running after me?) The shark fin used here is just the odds and ends - not the classy vermicelli-like stuff, but it was good enough for me. Shark fin soup for me is always more about the soup anyway (shark fin itself has no taste). The soup had a rich, milky quality to it, probably due to the addition of chicken bones. And guess what, no sign of MSG!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Singapore: FiftyThree

amuse gueule: potato chips with yogurt powder

We allowed ourselves one "fine" meal in Singapore. It was a toss up between Iggy's and FiftyThree. The former has been around for a long time and is generally known as one of the best fine dining establishments in the Lion City. I think they were even awarded best restaurant by the Miele Guide. I heard lunch there was a bargain (as fine dining goes) and was eager to try, but alas, they were full every day we were there. The latter is the newest endeavour of the venerable (well, in Singers anyway) Les Amis group, who also own Cepage in Hong Kong. I liked Cepage, but the reason why I wanted to go to FiftyThree was because I'd heard that the chef had trained at The Fat Duck, Noma, and several other notable eateries. They were full almost every day too, as they only have seven tables, but were able to fit us in for lunch, even though I'd wanted to go for dinner. The chef, Michael Han, kindly devised a special menu for us, which would include both lunch and dinner dishes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Coffee in Hong Kong - Soft Aroma wafts on

A while ago I posted the sad news that Soft Aroma in Causeway Bay, one of the few places one can get a proper coffee, had closed. The good news is, they've re-opened in Sheung Wan. I've been a couple of times now and while the cafe is smaller, it has a cool little teeny outdoor seating area (more like a deep windowsill) and their coffee is still good. Food is a bit lacking though (my tiramisu was rubbery, and bland), and bad ventilation means cooking smells from the kitchen mercilessly attack the seating area (smelling amatriciana when you should be smelling beans is a bit disconcerting). Nonetheless I'm glad they hadn't gone under. It's always nice to know that there's a market for proper coffee.

P.S. My fave at the moment is Fuel Espresso, Soft Aroma's is good, but lacks a little strength and character.

Soft Aroma
105 Wing Lok St
Sheung Wan
+852 2541 0666

For more good coffee in Hong Kong, see my posts on Fuel Espresso and Cafe Zambra.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Salad burst - Applegreen

Last week I finally made it to Applegreen, a chain that bursted onto the Hong Kong dining scene about 6 months ago, that's been bursting at the seams ever since, and for the record, left me bursting by the end.

The fare is "American", the signature being salads, though they also have American-Italian style pastas and main courses. Sounds like TGI Friday's and Ruby Tuesday (why the names of weekdays, by the way?), without the ribs, wings and bistro/diner decor. The Causeway Bay outlet we went to (there's also one in Mongkok) looked like a page ripped out of a Japanese magazine - brightly lit, light birch-like woods everywhere, lantern-like lamps, a bit of art even and straight lines all around. It looked more like a Scandinavian cafe in Tokyo than an American restaurant in Hong Kong.

To start I had a half-portion of caesar with grilled chicken. All the salads came with a slice of poppyseed and orange cake for some reason, but no bread. Can someone explain? Where in the states do people eat salad with a slice of cake? Anyway, cake aside, the salad was very good - crisp, fresh with just the right amount of dressing, and grilled chicken already diced (not everyone's cuppa, but I like that I didn't have to do any more cutting). The half portion was basically one Hong Kong-sized portion - I was full by the end of it, and I think it only cost about HK$60.

Singapore: Miscellaneous eats

I arrived in Singapore on a late Thursday night a few weeks ago. Before that, the last time I landed in Changi was when I was about ten years old, which is longer than I care to remember... So this was all new to me - the airport, the streets - nothing looked familiar at all. It felt strange, as if my last visit was just a story my parents made up.

All this means I prepared for this trip like it was a completely foreign place. I trawled the internet, asked friends and family, and consulted travel guides. I tried to go to as many places on my list as possible, but in reality, given the horribly wet weather and our nice hotel rooms, we stayed in and were lazy and not entirely adventurous...

We landed, dropped our bags, and went for supper at Makansutra Glutton's Bay, Esplanade, which was recommended as one of the best places for hawker food. It started raining as soon as we got off the cab so we hid under the umbrellas at the open air hawker area and quickly gorged two plates - satays, which were wayyyyyy too sweet for me (but seems to be the norm in these parts - had similarly sweet satays in KL a month before) - so sweet that I've started calling them meat lollipops. The second thing was this stir fried carrot cake (actually turnip, but carrot and turnip are sometimes called the same thing in Chinese), full of sweet (maybe a bit too sweet), thick soy sauce goodness. The cake was soft without being mushy, and maybe even a little elastic/chewy.

Chin Chin Eating House on Purvis Street - this wasn't on my list at all - we had wanted to go to Yet Con for chicken rice, but were lazing around in the hotel for so long that we got there just as they were closing. Hungry, we went into the first place we saw - Chin Chin across the street. The auntie recommended we have their 'famous' pork chop - we saw a prize they got from a certain "Green Guide" for their pork chops specifically - but it was a complete flop (I guess that can only mean that the reviewers of the "Green Guide", whatever it is, have vastly different taste from yours truly). We were luckier with the mutton claypot (above) which was kind of like a rich, Malaysian-style bah kut teh (as opposed to Singaporean BKT which tends to be lighter and more peppery) with mutton instead of pork ribs.

For our final dinner we went to Jumbo on Dempsey Hill, as I felt guilty that we'd not had crab in Singapore. Pepper crab really isn't my thing (crab in general, isn't) so I asked around for the best place for chilli crab - Jumbo seemed to come up most, although for convenience (we were staying on Sentosa at this stage) we didn't go to the one on East Coast. In hindsight, maybe we should have because I was quite disappointed with our meal here. The crab didn't taste fresh at all, the sauce was too tart, but otherwise it was quite flat and bland... The second photo is of something I've forgotten the name of, but it's basically a Chinese cruller (yau za guai in Cantonese or you tiao in Mandarin) filled with shrimp paste, coated in sesame seeds and deep fried. It sounded like the perfect crossover of the super-crisp and elastic, gluten cruller and the Eurasian favourite, shrimp toast, but alas, the cruller lacked any kind of gluten 'stretchiness' and the shrimp paste almost tasteless. In short, I wouldn't go back.

Our last meal - a lightening quick chicken rice after we grabbed souvenirs for our hungry Hong Kong friends who specifically requested that we get them barbequed pork slices from Lim Chee Guan. We wanted to walk to Maxwell Food Centre, but I had stupidly packed my map into my luggage and no one around us was helpful with directions, so after a sweaty detour down a random Chinatown street, we settled on Tiong Bahru Boneless Hainanese Chicken Rice. For SG$2 I got a small plate of decent chicken rice and for another $1, a weird barley cordial (which was nothing like the refreshing barley beverages I had in Malaysia) that tasted like cold, sweet rice pudding. I think it was our cheapest meal in Singapore, and it was far from the worst.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Melbourne: just a quickie

"Quick" was pretty much the theme of my entire Melbourne trip. I flew out of Hong Kong Friday night, arrived Sat morning, ate, saw people and cleared out my room (parents are renting out my childhood home) in 36 hours, (almost missed my flight) and left Sunday night. Crazy, but do-able and surprisingly relaxing. Something about the air in Melb methinks.

Anyway this post will be a quickie too. After dinner at Hako (mediocre, might post about it later - then again, I might not, you'll just have to take my word for it that it was so-so), we pottered down for a (quick) drink and spin around Spice Market (never seen Melbourne so dressed up and anal about the door), then down to The Press Club for dessert.

The 'breakfast'

(Apologies for the horrid photo, still camera-less at that stage)

SO good - apparently almost no one orders this, perhaps coz of the obscure name - but you should if you go (and if it's still on the menu...). Inspired by a breakfast George (Calombaris) had in Greece. Full of refreshing, light, tart flavours, even people who don't normally order dessert will enjoy it. Starting from bottom, going clockwise - berry 'smoothie'; yogurt with honey and preserved figs & sultanas; 'muesli bar' (behind second smoothie) with popped rice, held together with honey; 'lollipop' - ice cream coated with white chocolate

We also got to preview another dessert (basically a super rich salted caramel slice), because - disclaimer - my friend is a chef there - but was too busy stuffing myself and forgot to take a pic...

Had a glass of Alain Brumont Pacherenc Doux 'Les Larmes Celestes' Petit Manseng 2004 too, not incredibly exciting on the nose, but on the palate it was kind of light honey-ish with a hint of toasted... something. Went pretty well with the Breakfast actually.

The Press Club
72 Flinders St (cnr Exhibition)
City, Melbourne
+61 3 9677 9677

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Singapore: Bak Chor Mee

So it's not the prettiest looking bowl of noodles, but it was one of my more memorable meals in Singapore.

Everyone, from contributors at foodie forums, to local Singaporeans, to my picky friends and colleagues, told me that if I was going to 'do' a food court, it would have to be Food Republic at Wisma Atria. No one gave me a specific stall name though - the general advice was to join the longest queue.

The queue (simple spelt as "Q" in Singapore - very cute) was only second to that of Sergeant Chicken Rice next door. Neither had more than 8-10 people at a time - there were probably 3 people ahead of me at this Bak Chor Mee stall, but it did take a while, because there was only one little old man manning the stoves. You choose a dish (usually some combination of noodles, mushroom, pork mince, dumplings, fish balls), pick a noodle and pay the auntie. The auntie then puts all your raw ingredients into a bowl and puts it in line. As you're lining up, you'll see the numerous newspaper clippings of the little old man - he seems to be quite the noodle man. When it's your turn, you arrive at a glass counter, facing the little old man, and he cooks the contents of your bowl to order. There, you can tell him how spicy you want your broth to be and he'll adjust the sambal as appropriate.

The noodles were cooked just right - springy, tender but not mushy, the soup savoury, in a thick, rich, Chinese bean paste like way, with a hint of chilli (I asked for a teeny weeny speck). The dumpling wasn't great, but the fried fish ball and soy-braised Chinese mushrooms were delish. The latter came out of a tub of soy-like marinade around the stove, which the chef would add clear broth to every so often - I like to believe the marinade tub has never been cleaned out and that traces of the first ever marinade made is still there. After all, that's how Chinese noodlemakers are supposed to keep their broths 'living'.

Our set came with a deep-fried tofu, which was surprisingly good - I liked the intense soy flavour combined with the spring onion, and the weight/density of the tofu - and still warm and crisp on the outside - that's rarely the case in Hong Kong eateries - they pre-fry everything and just dish 'em out.

No culinary revelation, but it's always nice to know where you can get a totally satisfying bowl of noodles.

Bak Chor Mee stall
Food Republic
4/F Wisma Atria
Orchard Rd

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Coffee in Hong Kong - Wanchai

It's not often that I'm roaming around Wanchai on any given day, especially on a scorching, pre-typhoon summer's day, but I was last week because I had a couple of hours before a dinner in Causeway Bay and realised I had (miraculously) some spare time, so I flipped out my 'want to try list' (yes, I really do carry one with me all the time) and under 'Wanchai' found Zambra. Zambra is by no means new - I'd been to their very first branch in Central, on the corner of Wellington and On Lan Streets, but I wasn't so impressed - the blend that day was quite acidic and not, for lack of a better phrase, my style, and before I could make it back, it closed. From memory they seemed to have moved or opened in a quite a few places - none of which were in areas I frequent, hence the delayed visit.

Caffe Latte

The coffeeshop is on a busy, but unlikely corner in Wanchai - steps from putrid girly bars and nightlife that makes Lan Kwai Fong during the Rugby 7's look refined, but there are a lot of offices around here so I suspect that's the rationale for the bizarre location (it's not even close to the MTR). Funnily enough, there's also a Pacific Coffee right opposite. It's a 2-storey cafe, fairly spacious, but aesthetics and comfort were obviously not the first thing that came to mind when they did the boring, medium-tan wood interiors. Although a nicer environment in which to drink my coffee would have been nice, I'm really here for the brew - which was nothing like the stringent, dark liquid I had had years ago in their Central shop. I stupidly forgot to note what their bean/blend was that day, but this was very mild, yet not so mild that I couldn't taste the coffee. It had a distinctive, velvetly, chocolately texture and taste. Very interesting. Oftentimes even seasoned coffee drinkers attribute strength of flavour to quality, but this proved that that's not always true.

The milk was frothed perfectly and I got a little doggie drawn on too (sorry my photography really sucks, and I still haven't gotten myself a camera yet after my old one died while in the Cameron Highlands), though I was a little surprised that the girl who took my order immediately assumed I wanted skim milk (blasphemous in my books), though I don't blame her, given my pudginess...

Anyway, Zambra's coffee is really good, though the blend of the day makes a huge difference (thankfully, unlike Starbucks or Pacific, I don't know why they bother). Again, I would really like it if they had better seats, and if they were in more convenient location... (they have free WiFi too!)

Cafe Zambra
239 Jaffe Rd (cnr Stewart Rd)
Hong Kong
+852 2598 1322

For more good coffee, see a previous post about Fuel Espresso

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Gone porkers - Yut Kee, Kuala Lumpur

Amazing roast pork from Yut Kee

This wasn't our first stop in KL, but it was certainly the most memorable. This kopitiam (coffee house) is as old as the hills and deservedly famous.

While I was trawling the blog of the good folks at Eating Asia, I stumbled upon their post on Yut Kee's rolled pork roast, a relatively recent addition to their repertoire (read the full story from EA here), and only available on Fridays and Sundays. When I checked my itinerary, I jumped with joy when I found we'd be in town on a Friday.

So, Friday came and I made sure everyone was ready to go by 11.45am, because apparently the roast comes out around this time and is sold out by 1pm (actually earlier, as I would later learn). According to trusty Google Maps (you must know that I'm being sarcastic there...) Yut Kee was just a couple of streets away from our hotel (Hotel Renaissance, which by the way, is okay, if you stay in the West Wing), but I had to make sure it was walkable, and the concierge at the hotel confirmed this, "10 minutes walk, this way," he said, pointing in the direction we should head, and lo and behold, two treacherous crossings and a bit of sweat later, we arrived at Yut Kee*.

We faced an almost-empty restaurant - there were maybe two other tables of two or three diners, having some combination of kaya toast, kopi and boiled egg. I think I might have been just a wee bit disappointed at that point as I was expecting it to be heaving with throngs of hungry KL-ites, since it seemed Yut Kee had some sort of a cult status. But then I saw them. The rolled roasts, placed under the open air, as if to seduce fickle gastronomic souls like mine, on a foldaway table by the cashier, on the shop's terrace. There were four of them, caramel-coloured cylinders of porcine goodness, with a fifth one under the hands and knife of an expert carver auntie. I watched as auntie's swift motions released each slice from the main body, then making it lean at a helpless, limp angle and finally, allowing it to lay flat on the carving board, a diminuitive coin of stuffing exposed. I could almost see the slice blush at the efficient drama of its birth.

"Two slices per serve, you many serves you want?" Auntie asked, after I stood there looking like a five-year-old, drooling.

"Six," I declared without consulting the five others (yes there were five others, I wasn't ordering six for myself, greedy as I appear to be...)

The pork arrived, 2 slices a serve as promised, on plastic plates with house-made white wine apple sauce on the side. Seeing such a 'western' thing on crockery so typical of a kopitiam/cha chan teng was an interesting contrast. The flesh was pink, flavoursome and juicy, and the crackling had a brittle, caramel-like quality to it, in that it wasn't fragile, but extremely crisp - it would break into shards rather than crumbs. The skin had been evenly pierced and scored pre-roasting, so that enough air bubbles formed on its surface to gain that incredible crispness. We cut the slices up into smaller squares, like Canto-style roast pork and ate it with chopsticks (in keeping with the plastic plate tenor!). I've been back in HK for more than 2 weeks now and I'm still dreaming about it - probably one of the most satisfying dishes I've had in a while.

Another awesome dish here was the belachan fried rice - but I'll put that in a later post and keep your thoughts lingering on that pork. If you go to KL, make sure you're there on a Friday or Sunday, and don't you dare miss this (or at least don't tell me if you do).

*There was clear Chinese signage too, which to us, native speakers of Hong Kong Cantonese, read "Yick Gei". (The slight phonetic changes between the Malay and Hong Kong varieties of Cantonese never fail to intrigue - I have yet to investigate...)

Yut Kee
35 Jalan Dang Wangi (from Dang Wangi monorail/Jalan Ampang, heading away from KLCC, turn right into Dang Wangi, cross the bridge and 1 more street, you'll soon see it on your right - about 5-10 mins walk from Dang Wangi monorail)
Kuala Lumpur
+60 3 2698 8108
8am-5pm, closed Mondays and last Sunday of the month, pork roast available Fridays and Sundays from about 11.30am, I'd get there before 12.30pm.

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IR 1968

beef & chicken satays

Can't really go wrong with these, and almost every table had at least 1 serve!

Gado Gado

Pretty good, probably too much iceberg for my liking, and they used fried tofu 'puffs' - I prefer pan-fried cubes of tofu, and there could have been a bit more bean sprouts. That said, the sauce was nice and nutty.

Egg & tofu stir-fry (sorry I've forgotten the real name)

Best dish of the night. Crunchy and soft at the right places, at the same time. Sweet/savoury pangs of kecap manis and peanut sauce offset by the tofu and cucumber.

Kari Ayam (Curry chicken)

Way too much coconut milk in this one - it wasn't spicy at all! (Nothing that night was spicy in fact...)

Nasi Goreng I

Nicely done, we forgot to ask for sunny-side up egg, so got a fully-cooked one instead (yuck), but otherwise, the rice was well-fried and seasoned (though lacking in chilli - again! And I'm not particularly chilli-tolerant either).

Nasi Goreng II (with the huuuuuge prawn cracker!)

Beef Rendang

Nice cut of beef (brisket with a good proportion of tendon), not but very nicely cooked - it was a bit tough, the sauce looked overcooked, dark and split and it didn't taste very 'rendang-y' either...

The food here is passable, but disappointing if you want a 'real' Indonesian experience, as there's hardly any spice in anything (among other issues)! I'm certainly not dying to come again, though because of its location (shopping central), hip-ish fitout (though seats aren't particularly comfy - the limp cushions need replacing!) and presentation of what's usually seen as cheap and cheerful, it is very popular with the yuppie crowd (it was full the night I was there and many tables saw second sittings), so if you decide to go, book ahead.

Indonesian Restaurant 1968
Leighton Rd
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
+852 2577 9981

Friday, July 03, 2009

Macau Part I: Dim Sum

A few weeks ago I went to Macau for a weekend (actually I went 2 weekends in a row). I hadn't been since all the new casinos and their respective Michelin-starred restaurants had opened, so I made sure I bagged a few this time. Maybe I'm becoming old and unadventurous like a Chinatown grandpa, but for some reason, I went and had Chinese for lunch on both days...

The Eight

Steamed beef balls with morels

Very, very tasty with fresh beef that was just cooked through (rather than all grey and overcooked like most beef balls that have spent too much time on the trusty steamer, these were still slightly pink inside). The morels helped, of course, make it super tasty - there were slices on top and under the beef, kinda like the bread of an overstuffed sandwich. With such dominating flavours, I thought they could have toned the sauce down a little - it was quite salty and I ended up smearing it off the beef.

Steamed spare ribs with Thai basil

Looks fairly traditional, with diced up black beans, but it was actually laced with hair-thin strips of Thai basil, which shone through unexpectedly, but beautifully. If only the ribs were in larger dices, then it would've been perfect.

Char Siu (BBQ pork)

Wasn't so excited about this one - it looks pretty yum in the photo, but it was very lean - too lean - on one end, and fat-only on the other. Our fault, I suppose, for not ordering 'half fat-lean' (半肥瘦), which means streaky/marbled (like streaky bacon).

Prawn cheung fun (steamed rice paper rolls)

Thin, translucent and slippery rice paper, huge prawns, good soy sauce - can't really get better than that. The individual parcels are again, a little unconventional, but much less clumsy when it comes to dividing it...

The Eight's swanky Alan Chan-designed interiors. Think Megu Hong Kong with Chinese accents

Tim's Kitchen

Steamed spare ribs

As you've probably guessed, this is my 'control' dish - I order it pretty much at every yum cha place I visit, and this is one of the best I've had. The morsels were cut to the right size (often they are too small, so it's like you're nibbling/pecking like a starved pigeon - it's probably done that way so that it doesn't take so long to marinate & cook through). These were perfectly sized - one human bite-full, juicy, porky and tasty with the traditional black bean, soy etc. marinade. For the uncompromising traditionalist, this wins over The Eight, but since I'm like, so avant garde, I choose The Eight's surprisingly compatible Thai basil-tainted for taste; but this one still wins for the perfect size.

Siu mai (steamed pork dumplings) with salmon roe

To me, the salmon roe was rather pointless. It adds colour, but little else to the dish. Nonetheless it was good, if not a little standard.

Shrimp dumplings in spinach dumpling wrapper

Strangely you can't really see from the photo, but these dumplings were actually green, like someone decided to lightly spraypaint them with a wheatgrass shot, because spinach juice was added to the wrapping. It didn't really make any difference to the taste but anyway, these were good - fresh, crunchy, subtly-flavoured whole shrimps (I think there were two apiece), and a slippery, elastic wrapper that was fine, but not paper-thin. While I do appreciate the skill involved in making a wrapper so thin you can see the filling, I don't believe that thickness is the be all and end all - how smooth/fine it is is also important. A lot of mediocre restaurants serve dumplings with wrappers that are rough and look like they have huge pores - this is in part due to over-steaming, but also to do with how smooth it was in the first place. Unfortunately I haven't been able to find out what factors lead to these differences, but watch this space...

Yeung Chow fried rice

I ordered this because it's so, so basic, but at the same time, so hard to get right. I don't think there's a proper combination of things that go into YC fried rice, at some places they just toss in whatever's left over; here, they put in Chinese sausage (lap cheung) and prawns, both of which are kinda pricey, which is what the average diner here would expect, I suppose. This was quite well done - not a single grain of rice stuck to another. You'd expect that though, given the amount of oil in it, but then again, despite being able to see the glisten of the oil, it didn't seem too oily when I was eating it - quite bizarre, but it was great - savoury spiked with the slightly sweet sausage, chewy grains of rice - I'm not complaining.

So the verdict is, I wish I had a regular yum cha spot close to home that was like Tim's Kitchen - traditional Cantonese dim sum done (very) well, and I wouldn't mind the new, but tacky decor if it was a neighbourhood regular. For food, presentation and ambience, The Eight can't be beat (despite the vulgar Grand Lisboa lobby), though the conservative may have a hard time accepting the slightly fusion-ised menu and low lights.

The Eight
2/F Grand Lisboa Hotel (aka the 'new' Lisboa)
+853 2803 7788

Tim's Kitchen
G/F East Wing, Lisboa Hotel (the 'old' Lisboa - enter from the side with the wavy multi-coloured mosaic canopy, facing the big roundabout, not the side directly opposite the Grand Lisboa)
+853 799 7382

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guangzhou & Panyu Part II

nb. reposted from old blog, visited in May 2008

I was going to go to the deservedly famous Ngan Gei in Guangzhou the second morning, but alas, we were staying too far out to warrant the drive for me alone, so I settled for hotel brekkie, which was very surprisingly ok - they actually made decent 'western' breads like brioche and wholeweat loaves, unlike the usual yellowy, sweet, custard-powder-contaminated affair you get in China.

Lunch was at a place called Ji Cun (literally Chicken Village) in Panyu. One comment: The best chicken I've had in a long, long time. Their 'crystal steamed chicken', which is just, well, steamed chicken, was excellent - incredibly tasty and juicy. The bird is tiny compared to the frozen/chilled (whatever, they are both evil on the poultry-lover's scale) variety we get in HK, or heaven forbid Australia (ever tried chicken that tastes like water? Go to Australia...). Though to Oz's credit, this kind of chicken isn't exactly fleshy - Cantonese people in general like bones, we think it gives the flesh more flavour (prob due to proximity to marrow, or just for want of texture...)

Another highlight was the panfried stuffed beancurd - they make the beancurd on site, and while it wasn't the silkiest, it had the richness of freshly ground soybeans.

beancurd stuffed with fish paste; stir-fried congealed pig's blood; roasted fish fillets; the bowl in which the signature steamed chicken was in; excellent pork belly in bean paste (Chinese miso) topped with large shards of pickled ginger; pork bone and turnip soup; fish steamed with chicken; entrance to Ji Cun

Ji Cun 鸡村
550-575 Ying Bin Lu
Panyu City
+86 02084661010

Guangzhou & Panyu Part I

nb. reposted from old blog, visited in May 2008

Tagged along with my parents to China for their property trawl and found that I can't even afford to buy a decent apartment in China these days. *sigh*

I did, however, come by some good Chinese food...

Our first meal was at the Grand Hyatt at Songshan Lake, which was by far the most expensive and almost predictably, the least spectacular... The dim sum menu was teeny - I ordered a char siu so (BBQ pork pastries) and it came out like freezer puff pastry hastily folded around a miniscule bit of badly made pork. The other dishes were decent though, like the thinly-sliced poached pork with minced garlic (suan ni bai rou). Still, it was grossly overpriced for mainland standards. Didn't help that the staff kept breaking plates right behind us and that our private washroom (we were in a private dining room) was finished with extremely sub-par fittings.

That afternoon we got to our hotel in Panyu, which is twenty minutes away from Tianhe district in Guangzhou, and proceeded to have dinner at Shichu (Private Kitchen/Chef), the 'premium' outlet of Guangzhou fave Bing Sheng. The only difference between the two, imo, was that Shichu is made up of a series of private rooms, while in Bing Shengyou sit in a conventional restaurant dining room. Bing Sheng junior is fairly decent decor-wise, and considering that the food wasn't much different, I'd probably just go to Bing Sheng next time. The champion of this meal was the braised duck with taro. Actually, it was the taro that really shone. It was steamed and cut into large chunks, but otherwise appeared to have undergone no further manipulation. The texture of the tuber itself was what won our hearts. In Cantonese cuisine we always look for 'fun' (powdery) taro - which means it's neither waxy nor mushy - it can be broken into clean cut pieces, but retains quite a bit of moisture, resulting in a 'powdery' texture. It's not so much a matter of season, but the way in which it was grown, and it takes a skilled chef or housewife to pick a good one. So anyway, this taro was exactly that, thus the evening was mostly spent with me hogging the taro and smothering it in the remainder of the duck's thickened dark soy sauce. The other standout dish was the slow cooked pig's trotter with sweet potatoes. Again, it was the starch component that won me over - soft, sweet and full of meaty flavours as a result of its duration in the claypot.

After dinner we went looking for dessert and ended up at another Guangzhou stalwart, Kai Ji (or Hoi Gei in Cantonese). They're famous for Canto sweet soups, but I didn't find them that interesting...

Anyway, yum yum yum. Day Two to come...

Shichu (by Bing Sheng)
178 Tianhe Dong Lu
+86 20 8757 5699

Kai Ji
889 Longjin Dong Lu