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