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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