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

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Drawing Room, at last

I must've written about The Drawing Room, Opia's successor at JIA Hong Kong, about thirty million times by now, and at last, here's my first-hand account.

Although I always try to visit restaurants sans expectations, I couldn't help but be just a teeny weeny bit hopeful about The Drawing Room, given its pedigree and my crush on Aspasia back in the not-too-distant day.

I'd tried to make a booking since the first day the phone lines opened, alas, there are some very hungry and clued-in people out there, and I wasn't able to make a booking till later (and I did it by email). By then all their weekends for the next month or so were pretty much out of the question, so I randomly picked a date, which happened to be the day after best friend K's mom's birthday, so I made a booking for 7 people (they were 6) and invited myself to Auntie's birthday bash.

There were 2 prix fixes, a 4-course at HK$580 and an 8-course at $880. Shameless glutton that I am, I chose the latter, though we all passed our plates around in true Chinese style, so I got to try a bit of everything and the photos cover both menus.

(nb. The photos of the 4-course set are denoted by a [4] etc.; and photos courtesy of K)

Freshly baked bread to start - fluffy and warm inside, crisp out. Not my favourite type of bread, but the others on my table loved it and gobbled it up in 2 seconds flat. We kept getting refills till the waiter kindly reminded us that we had an eight-course meal coming...

Marinated snapper with Pata Negra; melon and mustard seed sauce on the side (in martini glass). [8]
I couldn't really taste the mustard seed in the sauce - to me it was just pureed rockmelon. I think the others agreed because they drank the remainder, cocktail-style, as the stemware dictated. The snapper was slippery-fresh and I liked the chewy, salty bursts of the pata negra between bites. To me, the melon sauce just confused/diluted things so mostly I ignored it.

Quail and foie gras with glazed apricot. [4]
Very tender quail, bold, flavoursome jus and fois gras that was like hot, fatty, flash-seared meaty jelly - absolutely delicious.

Roasted langoustine with pork chin, roasted garlic and smoked herring. [4]
I don't think I tried this, because I was already anticipating more langoustine & lobster, which I normally don't eat much of...

Mediterranean seafood soup with spring vegetables. [8]
A super-light broth with clams and a small chunk of fish (sorry, don't remember what kind it was). Nothing spectacular, but this is a great example of simplicity done perfectly.

Risotto with white asparagus and morels. [4]
Such a deceivingly simple name. Such a deliciously simple dish. This was much creamier than risotto that I'm usually accustomed to, it had the consistency of rice pudding, but I'm not complaining...

Langoustine lasagna with artichoke emulsion. [8]
Loved these silky sheets. Fragrant, and both ethereal and firm at the same time, with just enough elasticity (i.e. not much, remember this isn't wonton meen) - an act of genius that made it seem like I wasn't eating starch at all. Each layer was drizzled lightly with langoustine/artichoke reduction and weeny little flecks of cheese in between. The sheets were delightful, whether you cut a cross-section or sheet by sheet.

Roasted lobster and morels with lobster bisque. [8]
I was looking forward to soup, but the bisque was really no more than a flavour-packed drizzle of reduction, which turned out to be great, but the morels really stole the show.

Trio of wagyu short rib, wagyu tenderloin and ox tongue. [4]
For some reason the meat looks like charcoal in the photo - in fact it was a very deep mole kind of colour. The short rib was so tender I mistook it for slow-cooked brisket (all these years of excessive eating and I haven't learnt a thing, sigh). The tenderloin worried K as she was cutting it as it seemed relatively tough, but as we both love to say, everything is relative - the tenderloin was juicy, tender and flavoursome as ever, though not quite as flavoursome as the ox tongue, which had that extra, delectable, charcoal-y kick.

Pigeon with cotechino, lentils and black cabbage. [8]
The photo really doesn't do it justice (can't blame K, nor her brilliant new camera, because it was quite low lit). Another well-done, slow-cooked dish. I loved that the pigeon was perfectly cooked. It's been a long, long time since I've had pigeon that wasn't so overcooked my wrist would hurt from trying to saw it into pieces.

Fish of the day (forgot what it was - snapper, maybe?) in seafood sauce with green almonds. [4]
Whatever the hell "seafood sauce" was, it was nice. Yes, bad menu writing, but without it we'd forget that we were in HK, and the restaurant gods would never allow that. The fish was wonderfully poached. I wonder if they poached it in consomme or something, because while delicate, the fish definitely had great flavour.

Colorado lamb rack with artichoke puree, baby tomato, thyme and black olive. [8]
I know I said I chose the 8-course because I'm a shameless glutton, but the promise of artichoke puree was one of the big draws. When the dish arrived I couldn't find my puree - I just had to ask the waiter. To my embarassment he came back to say that the puree was encased in the zucchini flower, and to my disappointment the puree was kind of bland (thereby making my embarassment all the more worthless too. Boo). Nonetheless the lamb was great. The choice of rack was excellent - the sad 'norm' of 'fad' these days seems equate lamb racks with meticulously trimmed racks of spring lamb, which, while lean, fine and undoubtedly tender, lacks the full flavour of grown, adult lamb. I'm so glad the chefs stepped outside the box of vogue and went out to get this. All I can say is that it was what lamb's supposed to be.

Fresh cherries with honey ice-cream. [4]
Quite delicious, though I think I would have liked a bit more complexitity for a restaurant of this calibre. Rather, I want them to show me what they've got, and this... doesn't.

Peach Melba with almonds. [8]
Obviously this was Auntie's plate, but I had the same thing. This was probably the single disappointment in the entire meal. The peaches were a bit too stewy, especially without some kind of contrasting/complementary 'crunch' and the flavours subtle in neither an interesting nor refreshing way. Please improve your desserts, please!!

The restaurant has rotating exhibts of art - but no, this wasn't it - K chose to photograph pictures of mushrooms, bless.

The wine list is good too - well, for Hong Kong - with a range of drops from the usual suspects - France, Italy, Oz, US, Chile etc., but most surprising of all were the prices. The lower end of started from just below $300 - you can hardly get a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for that price at a dodgy bar on Minden Ave. I had a glass of Henry Estate 2007 Pinot Noir, from Oregon, which was so delightful I think I might have to buy a case... It was the most expensive wine by the glass, but at HK$110, it was hardly excessive (for HK - remember, everything is relative).

So, what more do I have to say? TDR is as good as, if not better than Aspasia. This and Cepage are easily the best new openings of the year - and I'm saying this mid year, that's how pleased I am. Every dish, bar the final dessert, was consistently above average. If you haven't been, go, and if you have, I think that like me, you'll want to come back again and again. And again.

The Drawing Room
JIA Hong Kong
1-5 Irving St
Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
+852 2915 6628

Posts related to The Drawing Room
  • The Drawing Room reviewed by Time Out HK
  • Stop press! The Drawing Room at JIA Hong Kong