Saturday, December 30, 2017

20 best dishes of 2017 - Hong Kong

One of the best things I ate in Hong Kong in 2017
It's that time of year again when I scroll through my Google photos and am reminded of the ridiculous amounts of food I eat, and how fortunate I am to call it my job. I did a lot of travel this year, including pretty epic trips to Chicago and San Sebastián, and there are still a few new restaurants I've been wanting to go to but haven't. This isn't a list of new places, although I have tried to stop myself from falling back on the classics (Seventh Son's suckling pig and The Chairman's steamed crab still haven't been beat though). Here's my list of 2017's best bites in Hong Kong in alphabetical order:

Alvy's Ma La Di Da pizza
Alvy's - ma la di da pizza. Can't say I'm attached to the mala topping, but the base itself is pretty perfect - imagine a slightly crisper, drier, teeny bit less elastic version of the classic Neapolitan variety.

An Amber "classic"
Amber - scampi with tomato, watermelon nage, espelette and coriander (Amber 'classics' - 2008). Light, refreshing, busrting with natural oceanic sweetness.

Beet - roast New Territories chicken with celeriac and black truffle. Crispy chicken skin - tick. Local sourcing - tick. Great pricing - tick. Actually IMO it doesn't need the truffle.

Belon - local corn polenta with Perigord black truffle. A bit biased as I connected the farmer (who had too much corn ready for harvest too early) with chef Daniel, but I gotta say, drying the corn to preserve it is genius because a) lowers food waste, and c) intensely, insanely sweet and delicious. 

Caprice - The Laksa
Caprice - The Laksa with lobster. Chef Guillaume's "signature" dish, somehow even better in his new home.

Happy Paradise (photo credit: Happy Paradise) - slow-cooked chicken, although apparently it's no longer served with that seductive claw 😢
Happy Paradise - slow-cooked chicken. They say don't mess with the classics, but when you eat this its like... How did they make my go-to comfort food dish even better?

Honbo burger with cheese (essential!) and sweet potato fries
Honbo - Honbo burger. The eponymous burger is my fave as it has two thinner patties, which means 2x the browning, so 2x the flavour and texture. I love their burger sauce too. Closest thing to Shake Shack (ie. good quality fast food burger but doesn't feel as junky. I'm holding my breath though because SS is coming in 2018!!!! Please don't screw it up, Maxims!)

Kin's Kitchen - blanched pig's tendons with spring onion, ginger and soy sauce. So simple, yet so much collagen-y texture and flavour. A really Cantonese dish IMO and I love it.

Dessert at Man Ho
Man Ho - deep-fried "milk" with purple sweet potato wugok crust. Super innovative Chinese dessert - delicate cuboid of milk custard, protected by a purple sweet potato shell and deep-fried with a super airy, brittle wugok batter. 

Tandoor Machli - cobia
New Punjab Club - tandoori machli. Most perfectly juicy fish I've ever had out of a tandoor (so often dry). Actually maybe most perfectly juicy fish of the year, full stop.

Went to Nikushou at the perfect time (early winter) and got this amazing snow crab
Nikushou - steamed Matsuba crab. SO SO SO SO SO SO SO F*CKING GOOD I DIE. It's highly seasonal and not cheap, but if there was a heaven for gluttons, this would be on tap.

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo - lamb and mint ragout pasta
8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo - lamb and mint ragout with really wide ribbons - I guess like lasagna sheets, but I forgot what they called it 😝 I love ragouts,  and would eat one any time of year, but they're usually available in cooler months and I love that the hint of mint makes it an acceptable spring/summer dish.

Okra - El Pollo Loco
Okra - El Pollo Loco fried chicken "samich". Best fried chicken sandwich (burger) in Hong Kong, hands down. The fried chicken batter doesn't create a super dense and crunchy shell like KFC - even if you usually like it that way, it's not the right texture for inside a burger, because the bread is soft and a thick chicken crust would overwhelm the bun's softness (and cause it to rip). This chicken has a crunchy batter, but it's light, and gosh, it's tasty.

Plumcot - millefeuille. I've come to realise that I like puff pastry that has been baked under another baking sheet. The puff is still there but the weight keeps it tighter than if it were allowed to puff freely. The increased density makes for a sort of layered flakiness that a good shortbread, or pie crust made with shortening provides. Also, I like it when the pastry is well done. Like, just moments from burnt an inedible, because then you get the full caramelised flavour, and (especially side by side) it's so much better than a "golden brown" pastry. The full caramelisation is what they do at Plumcot. To take the pastry that far seems... for lack of a better description, very French. Nicolas Lambert at Caprice does the same - he made MF for his special dessert buffet at Blue Bar this year - it's neck and neck with Plumcot's MF, but Plumcot wins mostly because I had a bigger slice. HA! In all seriousness though, I think the MF I had at Plumcot was a little lighter, although it's not absolutely perfect either because the crème pât was a little too sweet for me.

Samsen - Wagyu beef boat noodles. Actually everything I had at Samsen was excellent. I just wish I was in that area more often and could avoid the queues.

Seventh Son - suckling pig. Still the best in HK.
I hate pictures of beaks but this pigeon from Stellar House is worth the goosebumps
Stellar House - roast whole pigeon. Protip: do not get it cut. Just pick the whole bird up with your bare hands (gloves are ok too) and just dig in and let those juices flow.

Ta Vie - housemade fettucine with Fuki flower (Petasites japonicus) butter, simmered conch and night jasmine
Ta Vie - fettucine with conch and night jasmine. Part of the Ta Vie x Bulgari four hands collaboration, I'm only realising now that I loved the dish because it's actually really similar to Cantonese winter melon soup. Conches are used a lot in tonic soups, and night jasmine is essential to winter melon soup in particular. Anything that reminds me of tonic soup is a winner, because my foundational food personality is that of a #Cantonesegrandma 😛

The Chairman - steamed crab with rice noodles and chicken fat. Can't beat it! Although I've heard good things about the one at Tasting Court, which I'm dying to go to.

13 Peel / Inferno Dynamics - Burundi Natural Bourbon (Kabuya, SEGEC Mpanga washing station, from Kayanza, Burundi, to be exact). I made a cold brew concentrate out of this for my charity stall at TCSMarket's Coffee Festival, and it was so good. I loved the syrupy mouthfeel, and with subtle notes like "honeydew, apple, pomegranate" I wasn't really expecting much, so it was a fantastic surprise, and one of the few non "berry" (think, Yirgacheffe) that I instantly feel for. Actually, I've had quite a few good coffees from ID, and at least for 2017, they're my favourite Hong Kong coffee roaster.

Bonus!! Macau

The Tasting Room - jambon blanc du Noir de Bigorre; white ham from the famed Gascon pig. Usually NdB is cured and air-dried, like Spanish jamon, so it was really lovely to try fresh a white ham. The juices were the perfect delivery system for flavour - something you don't get with dried ham.

Casa Don Alfonso - pizza bianco. Super lush oozy fresh mozz on a Neapolitan base, and we had white truffle on it too, but - surprise! - it was baked in an electric oven. If you ate it blind folded you wouldn't be able to tell - only when you see that the charring spots are much smaller and frequent (rather than huge pock marks) that you might guess it wasn't a wood oven.

Lai Heen - Chaolian roast goose. Read more about it here.

Rubia Gallega is at the bottom. I gotta say though, the rest of this meal was pretty epic too.
That's it folks! I probably won't have time to write an international edition of this, but let me just say this - the absolute best thing I ate this year, regardless of geographical location, was a Rubia Gallega entrecote we bought at La Boqueria in Barcelona and cooked ourselves. I didn't want to eat meat at all after that for fear that I would forget how amazing it tasted. It made me realise that perhaps the perfect beef, for me, isn't about dry-aging, but the age of the cow/bull itself. Personally, especially in terms of steaks, I have very little interest in eating young cattle any more. The flavour just doesn't compare.

Happy New Year! See you on the other side.

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