Monday, December 31, 2012

My top 20 dishes of 2012

Baked char siu buns at Lung King Heen, Four Seasons Hong Kong
As I'm picking my Top 20, I realise I haven't travelled very much at all this year, and you probably already know why. It's funny, because I used to have to leave Hong Kong every few months, else I'd feel claustrophobic or just generally be itching to go away. This year has been so jam-packed with hugely fun things, I guess claustrophobia just got pushed out of the way.

I'm also cheating when I titled this post "top 20 dishes", because while some were individual dishes, others were full meals.

Anyway, without further ado, and in no particular order:

Roast goose leg (drumstick) on rice noodles at Yat Lok
Roast goose leg (drumstick) on rice noodles at Yat Lok
Until you've gnawed and nibbled your way down the blistered, smoky, crispy skin of this fine roast goose, you have not experienced the goodness of a Cantonese siu mei (barbecue). For an afternoon snack, the noodles are enough, but for lunch, I'd have it on a plate of rice. (And if no one's watching, I get the leg whole rather than chopped, and I tear into it like a 5 year-old.)

Sunday roast at St. Betty
St Betty
I did some PR for them this year, during the transition from the ho-hum Bettys Kitschen (some would be less polite) to the now shining St Betty. Aside from the Andre Fu decor, everything has changed. I have so much respect for chef Shane Osborn (you might know him from Pied a Terre in London), who is such a professional, and most of all, so, so passionate about food. He's dived head first into Hong Kong's food scene, taking on great ingredients, like local roselle and lemon leaves, that some foreign chefs had never even bothered to bat an eyelid at. And plus, his food is both technically and conceptually stellar - I've eaten there more times than you can imagine because of my little gig there (which, by the way, has ended, in case you hadn't realised - otherwise I couldn't write about them here!), and not once had I felt that it was a drag. Not once. Hong Kong is so obsessed with "authentic" French (and Italian, to some extent) when it comes to western dining, it saddens me that people (including some chefs) don't realise that the very basis of a cuisine is to eat what's around you. Flying things in is a luxury that came about when planes were invented, not a necessity when it comes to great food. I'm not saying St Betty is a  strict locavore restaurant per se, it doesn't have to be - I mean, we can hardly get local milk - I just mean that sometimes it makes sense for western kitchens to source locally too. Using local lemons instead of Californian ones, for instance, when they're just as good as each other. We shouldn't think by default that things must be imported. Ok, I have totally strayed into something else now, oops.

Anyway, the Sunday roast at St Betty is amazing, especially the gravy - my, I could drink that stuff! Needless to say, it's made from scratch. I hope Hong Kong grows some better roasting potatoes soon too, so they wouldn't have the sugar/starch issue with their potatoes in the future.

Bottom right: Grass-fed Wagyu beef for two at St Betty
On another beef-related note, the grass-fed Wagyu rib at St Betty is also amazing, have it as rare as you can take it. It will rock your carnivorous brain.

Baked barbecued pork (char siu) buns from Fu Sing

Baked barbecued pork (char siu) buns 
I've had them at Lung King Heen, Fu Sing, Tim Ho Wan and Dim Sum Square, and seriously, wherever you have them, just make sure they've come straight out of the oven and are piping hot. Okay, maybe wait 5 minutes if you can, because you'll get yourself some serious burns.

To deal with Cantonese food, you need to be okay with a couple of things - one, is that flavours can be subtle, eg. steamed fish with ginger and soy, steamed brown sugar cakes, and two, salty-sweet flavours. I can wax lyrical about these buns, but if you can't do salty-sweet, you won't like them, full stop. (More for me!) The crust is almost pure sugar, and inside, the already glorious char siu is cooked with a soy-maltose-onion gravy. You think chocolate-coated bacon is awesome? Well have some of this, and we'll talk.

Lard with rice at Tai Wing Wah
Lard with rice at Tai Wing Wah 
While out doing a story for the Australian Gourmet Traveller this year (the story is in the December issue, check it out!), I went to Tai Wing Wah to have their lard and rice, and baked fish intestines. The lard is a slightly purified version of the drippings from roast pigs (the crispy kind, Canto style). That, and dark soy, and plain white rice... Mmm... I'm not looking forward to my check-up.

Roast Aylesbury duck breast, toasted grains. lentils, quince at Cumulus Inc 
Cumulus Inc
Probably my best meal of 2013. Restaurants like Cumulus are what makes Australia light years ahead of any other country in terms of truly understanding ingredients, their qualities, and techniques required to cook them. Read the full post here.

Cha gwo by residents of Choi Yuen Chuen
Cha gwo
Cha gwo are Hakka dumplings filled with basically anything you like. These in particular were filled with preserved vegetables and minced pork, and were had at a discussion held at Baptist University of Hong Kong entitled "Lost Food: Food, Knowledge, Culture". The talk itself was eye-opening (read Charmaine's write up in Hong Kong Tatler Dining here). From ecology and culture in the far reaches of Mainland China, to the life of a traditional farming community in Hong Kong, to urban rooftop farming, it was a spectacular overview, from macro to micro, of food culture and how food and its sources affect us on so many levels - personally, politically, ecologically, culturally - food is everything.

These cha gwo were made by the residents of Choi Yuen Chuen, a Hakka farming village that is at the centre of an important struggle against the Hong Kong Government's plans to rip up the area for development. Residents as well as supporters have been working hard at maintaining the original way of life, as well as organising activities for cityfolk to learn more about ecology and farming, in the hopes that the popularity of the land's usage will keep it safe from destruction. Check out their Facebook page to find out what activities are on, and join them!

Not only were these delicious - al dente wrappers made with glutinous rice flour, delicious homemade preserved veg - they served as a reminder of the tranquil, communal ways of village life, something that is fast disappearing from this urban jungle.

Tonkatsu curry rice with soft scrambled egg, Izumi Curry
Tonkatsu curry rice with soft scrambled egg, Izumi Curry
In case you think I've gone all idyllic on you, let me bring you back to one of the most crowded places in Hong Kong - Causeway Bay, and its newest mall, Hysan Place. This probably goes against everything I believe in - except tasty food - but what's life without a bit of controv, hey. Izumi Curry's curry is actually a tad spicy, departing, therefore, from the usual sweet(ish) Japanese curry. It's also a very dark, demi-glace-like colour. Their tonkotsu crust stays relatively crispy for quite a while, and that soft scrambled egg - it's as if chickens could hatch clouds.

Gold coin chicken at The Chairman
Gold Coin Chicken (Gum chin gai) at The Chairman
Also featured in the Gourmet Traveller story, I chose this gold coin chicken partially because it's served with a slight twist. Unlike the classic ones at Manor etc., where the barbecued livers are served on little steamed buns or pancakes, The Chairman serves them on deep-fried mantou. Yes. Deep-fried. The textures are just amazing, and the thicker, harder bun is actually able to physically support the liver; the frying also gives it an extra edge, flavour-wise, that works really well with the heaviness of the liver, rather than just being a mode of transport, so to speak.

Guincho a Galera
Possibly the only "proper" Portuguese restaurant in Macau - ironic, given its colonial past - but somehow all the "Portuguese" restaurants in Macau have been localised. Some are extremely tasty, they're just not Portuguese! The pork and clams really stole the show - the juiciness of the pork, the sweetness of the clams... words fail me. You need to go. I need to go.

Beer brioche, beer ice cream and stewed pear
The dessert of beer ice cream and beer brioche was spectacular - that crust on the brioche (the brioche was fried like pain perdu and caramelised to a crisp). I can't wait to go back. (P.S. I wrote about them for the Wall Street Journal this year if you want to read more.)

The Lobby Lounge at Grand Hyatt Macau
Pastries at Grand Hyatt Macau
On the subject of Macau, here's another place I can't wait to go back to - The Lobby Lounge of the Grand Hyatt Macau. The pastry chef at GH is the uber-talented Regis Monges (yes, the husband of the equally-talented Heidi Leon Monges), and his macarons are the best I've had in a long time. Maybe ever. Everyone is getting sick of the macaron trend, but this guy's macarons are no trend. They are pure art. (Art that I forgot to take a photo of because I inhaled a whole box of them before I knew what hit me). He also makes caneles and madeleines (pictured) and all sorts of baked and sweet things that I'm getting a sugar high just by thinking about them.

Second from left: Guayaquil at Jean-Paul Hevin
Guayaquil at Jean-Paul Hevin
This is, hands-down, the best chocolate cake I have had all year. It's light as air, yet so rich with cocoa and just everything that's good about chocolate, minus the heavy bits. A dream. 

Pan-fried abalone with garlic and chilli at Aberdeen Wholesale Seafood Market
Pan-fried abalone with garlic and chilli at Aberdeen Wholesale Seafood Market
Confession: I don't like the dried-and-reconstituted abalone that the Chinese serve at banquets or for special occasions. I don't care that it costs a bajillion dollars per gram, or that it took 60 hours to make, it tastes like a shoe sole cooked in gravy, and usually even the gravy's bad. But fresh abalone is different. It's fresh, bouncy, smells like the sea, and like many types of seafood, it's best steamed or pan-fried with garlic and chilli, like this lovely specimen here. Read the full post here.

Deep-fried squid at Sang Kee
Deep-fried squid at Sang Kee
So delicious, we ordered three plates of the stuff in one sitting. You can read the full post here.

Chicken pho at ChomChom
Chicken pho at ChomChom
When people talk about pho in Hong Kong, they always think of beef, as if no other kind of pho existed. Sure, ChomChom has beef pho, but I love the chicken one. The broth is so heartwarming that I could easily insert a "Chicken Soup for the ----- Soul" pun here. Yes, I could, but I won't, for all our sakes.

Amateur Gourmet guest chef dinner by Dylan Jones of Bo.lan
Amateur Gourmet guest chef dinner by Dylan Jones of Bo.lan
I've written about the cooking class, but I realised I never wrote about the dinner. You'd think that it would be pretty easy to find good Thai food in Hong Kong, with us being relatively close to Thailand, but that's simply not true. So when Dylan, the lan in Bo.lan agreed to come to Hong Kong, at the request of Amateur Gourmet, I somewhat crazily signed myself up for 2 dinners and a cooking class. But actually, it was far from crazy, this was the best Thai food I could get short of jumping on a plane to Bangkok.

Taiwanese Beef Noodles at San Xing
Taiwanese Beef Noodles at San Xing
Im really sad this place closed! So far, I'm yet to find a place that does good Taiwanese beef noodles. Please tell me if you have a favourite!

Peking duck at Kowloon Tang
Peking duck at Kowloon Tang
Hands down, no joke, even after Beijing, the best Peking duck I've had. Full blog post here.

Pork ribs at The Salted Pig
Pork ribs at The Salted Pig
Sous vide, then grilled, pink to perfection. It's so hard to get a bit of pink pork in this town, and the fact that The Salted Pig offers at a reasonable price is just the cherry on top.

Wagyu Onglet at Bistronomique
Wagyu Onglet at Bistronomique
After my obsession with Otto e Mezzo and St Betty's ribs, my next beef-y love is this Wagyu onglet, which I just had for Christmas lunch this year. Tender, relaxed, juicy and oh, so beef-y.

Chinese New Year at my mom's!
Chinese New Year Vegetarian Feast at my mom's
Sorry guys, you can't all go and find this place to eat at, because it's my mom's house. My mom is an amazing cook (how else do you end up with a picky kid like me?) and while she's not vegetarian full-time, she makes the most awesome vegetarian meals. While the Gregorian calendar is starting anew, I'm looking forward to the start of the lunar new year too, when I can get my dirty lil hands on some of this!

Happy New Year, everyone! Eat, drink and be merry in 2013!


  1. on my multiple trips back to hk i never got to go aberdeen for seafood! i must make time to go next time! i cant wait to eat all those char sui baos!

  2. Anonymous4:07 pm

    everything looks so good. i know where to go when i head to HK (for the first time). your blog is so droolworthy!