Monday, December 31, 2018

Best Things I Ate in 2018


Thanks for checking this post out. As you'll have probably realised, I don't blog anymore. I do waffle on a lot on Instagram though - you'll usually find me there.

Anyway, I thought I'd attempt my annual round up... I've travelled as much as I've been in Hong Kong this year so I'm going to have separate HK and international lists. Also, because I've missed having a good honest rant, I'm going to have a Worst Meals list. Social media is so sugary and positive these days, I thought I'd be that person and add a dash of bitter truth (I like Negronis and Old Fashioneds, what can I say).

15 best things I ate in Hong Kong in 2018
(in no particular order)

Pineapple bun egg sandwich, My Cup of Tea
My Cup of Tea in Wanchai has become my go-to solo snack spot. It's best known for its Hong Kong-style milk tea (the place is opened by the champion of a milk tea competition, yes, such a competition exists), but then I was tipped off about its egg sarnies. If you feel like something more subtle and soft, go for the basic fluffy white bread egg sandwich. If you're up for something more tastebud-blowing, go for the pineapple bun egg sandwich. The bun is buttered and toasted, meaning it's more or less crisp on all surfaces, with a light, bouncy (not liquid-y) scramble in the middle.

Salted beef jungle curry at Aaharn
It's worth braving the vile crowds downstairs at Aaharn, David Thompson's new HK outpost in Tai Kwun, for this curry alone. I didn't love every dish we had, and things were generally above my regular spice tolerance, but the jungle curry is perfect. The salted beef is SUPER salty, but it's exactly what you need with the intense spice levels of the curry. There's a touch of sourness in there too - I can't decide if it's for another hit of flavour or to balance it out, but who cares because it's perfect.

Pain perdu at La Petite Maison
I had a really good one last year at Terroir Parisien, and nothing has come close until this beauty at La Petite Maison. A gentle caramel on the outside, and a custard, just set, filling each bubble in the bread's core. I also liked the apple tart btw. The mains are good - really solid fare with good ingredients, but you pay through your nose for them.

Sushi Saito
There's no single bite at Sushi Saito I can zoom in on - I'm just generally super glad it's here. The first visit wasn't perfect, I thought the rice was weirdly stiff, but the neta was great. But since then it's been a treat every time. I'm going to be grateful that I can get in here and it's generally really good all round, because it's unlikely I'll get a booking anywhere of note in Japan. I've been getting really bad service on my last few trips there (a lot of Japanese restaurateurs hate Chinese people now, because too many have no-showed or acted like general a**holes, who can blame them) - I don't think I'm ever going to get into a hyped/awarded sushi-ya in Japan without some serious generosity. 

Bamboo shoots, Xinrongji
Xinrongji serves plenty of fancy dishes, but I have peasant tastes, so it's no surprise that a dish of exceptionally well executed veggies are what stayed in my mind after an epic meal at XRJ. They have their own farm, which is actually pretty normal these days for Chinese restaurants (and people in general of a certain income level), and although I'm not sure if these shoots are from the farm, it's somewhere I aim to visit next year.

Char siu at The Refinery
The Refinery, Taikoo Place's new member's club, takes the crown for the best char siu I've had this year. #nocharsiunolife!

Tofu, tofu skin and katsuoboshi at Borgo C
I've been going to Borgo C for over a decade now, and it's one of the few restaurants (actually, probably the only restaurant) that has survived all this time in Lei King Wan ("Soho East"). They do Hong Kong style homecooking - definitely based on Cantonese food but there are all sorts of little innovations, like this silken tofu and katsuoboshi dish, which was basically umami heaven with a bonus of textural subtleties. Unfortunately it was a special, and every time I've been since, I've asked for it, but alas, no dice.

Single bite of sweet and sour pork, The Chairman and 102 House collab
I will forever be grateful to Mr Yip of The Chairman and Josh Ng for inviting me to this meal at The Chairman, because it was here that I was introduced to Jingye and Jimmy of 102 House in Foshan. 102 House has opened my eyes to a cuisine I thought I knew like the back of my hand and I can't wait to discover more about Cantonese cuisine in the future. Read more here.

2011 Taiyouran egg yolk confit with kabocha purée, croutons, chicken skin and white truffles
Amber has closed for a few months for a complete refurb, and before it closed, we were treated to a "greatest hits" menu with one dish from each year of Amber's existence. I can't say I'm a regular at Amber, but I've been my fair share of times throughout the years, and yet I can't believe I'd never come across this dish from 2011. I can't stand the word unctuous, but that's what this was. Can't wait to visit the new Amber (plus the new bar and Japanese restaurant) in a few months. Just for fun, here's a really old blog post from my second visit to Amber (I don't think I blogged the first) in which I call Richard "Dick" hahaha...


Foie gras terrine, homemade bread, chocolate tart "Bernard Pacaud"
Belon back in 2017 was like Amber circa 2007 - people complained about the price, the style, and questioned a relatively young chef who was unknown to locals. But like Amber, Belon is the kind of restaurant that puts Hong Kong on the map internationally - it competes on a global level, with the best in Paris, Melbourne, or New York, and it has finally been recognised by the likes of the Michelin Guide and Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. The radically minimalist plating is the polar opposite of the dots of sauce and tweezered blooms of many of its peers in the industry - there's something really honest about it. When the idea of honesty is used to describe food, people think of rusticity, but Belon, while not a formal restaurant, is fine dining in the most laborious sense - the time and work that goes into that precision-cut slice of terrine, that sourdough bread (eat them together, make sure you get a bit of crust - even if you're not religious you'll believe in heaven for 0.05 seconds), that thin-but-not-too-thin tart base that breaks in the most gratifying way under your fork and once again on your tongue. I could go on, but what's the point - just go eat there and see for yourself. I'm grateful for people like Daniel Calvert and his team for making Hong Kong their home.

Amadai with crispy scales and that #umamibomb sauce with kombu, miso and sundried tomatoes
Kombu, homemade miso, sundried tomatoes - Haku proves in this one dish that you can never have too much umami. Also, thanks to them I was also introduced to Kaviari caviar - I never knew why people loved the stuff so much until I'd had this brand, so (no) thanks for this very expensive new habit guys 😝

Pizza by Franco Pepe
This pizza isn't on the menu at Kytaly, but it should be. I've been meaning to go back since this visit (when Franco Pepe was here) but haven't made it back. I'm a little worried to be honest because the photos I've seen since haven't looked like the glorious things I had that day. Anyway, a place to visit again in 2019.

Roast goose and char siu at Sun Kwai Heung
Chai Wan's Sun Kwai Heung is no secret among siu laap lovers, but this year was the first time I'd actually sat down and ate there - I didn't know they served rice and soup too! There's only one table, so I guess you could call this the most exclusive "restaurant" in town, haha...

Egg tart at Bakehouse
The flaky sourdough tart base is everything. It's kind of half-way between a Hong Kong-style egg tart and a pasteis de nata, with an incredibly rich eggy custard in the middle. To me, Bakehouse is one of the best and most important openings of 2018. Everything they offer is amazing, but this egg tart just shakes the genre to its core and makes you reassess what an egg tart is, it's that good.


Best things I ate on my travels in 2018
(in no particular order) and as I'm running out of steam, not every item will come with a photo!


The not-really Otak at The Naked Finn, Singapore


Gin and tonic with pickled caper flower buds at Capofaro, Salina (Aeolian Islands), Italy


Spaghetti pomodoro at Capofaro, Salina (Aeolian Islands), Italy.
The spaghetti is made from grains grown on a sister property, and brought to a pasta maker to process, but fantastic provenance aside, it has an amazing texture. Each strand was springy yet firm, tender yet strong. They would have been just as satisfying if you ate it one noodle at a time. It's like I didn't understand what true al dente was until I'd had this.


Kueh Kosui at The Coconut Club, Singapore.
The most awesome, melting texture to encase one of the best ingredients on Earth - gula melaka.

Bottarga in general Sardinia, Italy

Bra sausage at Osteria di Boccodivino, Bra, Italy.
A raw meat sausage that is spiced and seasoned - it tastes nothing like a tartare.

La Gioconda, a special anniversary edition of pannettone from Da Vittorio, Bergamo, Italy (sadly the rest of the meal was rather ho-hum). I'm super glad I got to eat it again at their guest chef event at The Tasting Room in Macau!


Truffle pasta at Konoba Vrh, Vrh, Croatia

Harissa at Maydan, Washington D.C., USA

Chicken congee at Circa 1912, Singapore


Brioche and granita at Da Alfredo, Salina (Aeolian Islands), Italy.
It reminded me of the shoo-fly buns at Babka in Melbourne, which incorporate an entire orange in the dough - I have a feeling there's some orange going on in there too.

Fried green beans at aperitivo at Tenuta Regaleali, Sicily, Italy


Crab, uni and ikura in summer at Sankaku Market, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan.
You cannot get fresher than this. Nothing I had in Hong Kong, flown in to the fanciest places or whatever, could compare.


Stuffed lychee in summer, and stir fried glutinous rice in winter at 102 House, Foshan, Guangdong, China

Crudo at Embla, Melbourne, Australia

Hangi at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, my first ever hangi experience. They dug a hole ont he grounds of the Melbourne museum!

Apple Pie at Gramercy Tavern, New York, USA

Oxtail stew at Albert's Jamaican, Toronto, Canada

Parmigiana at Parco Statella, Etna, Sicily, Italy.
As I say in this post, all subsequent parmigianas will be compared against this one.

Beetroot caviar sandwich at Piazza Duomo, Alba, Italy


Black pork curry at The Gallery Cafe, Colombo, Sri Lanka


Brinjal moju by Jeewa's and Kuma's Natural Foods at The Good Market, Colombo, Sri Lanka


Lobster roll at Little Neck, Brooklyn, New York, USA


Seeni sambol at Taru Villas Bentota, Sri Lanka.
Seeni sambol is the confit onion at the top. All its natural sugars have been coaxed out, and it's balanced with a little tamarind juice and heightened with just spices like chilli, cloves and cinnamon. This sambol is everywhere in SL but this is the absolute best version I've had, and I wish I could bottle it up and bring it home.

Garlic chilli butter at Ministry of Crab, Colombo, Sri Lanka (it came with the shrimp, but the shrimp itself was much less interesting)


Worst Food Memories of 2018
in no particular order

HeyTea milk foam - industrial flavours in the most horrific way.

Char siu at Dynasty - for a place that used to be famous for their char siu, this was a huge disappointment.
Most of the meal at Le Calandre, Padua, Italy - cold deep-fried food? No thanks.
Service at HEXA - unbelievably bad. Read more here. I wanted to like it so much (the food's pretty good).


5 Best Char Sius I've eaten in Hong Kong in 2018
To finish off on a sweeter note. In no particular order

The Refinery
Sun Kwai Heung
Yat Lok
China Tang
Kin's Kitchen 

Thank you to everyone who fed me, and led me to amazing places for food this year, and thank you to everyone who cooks, grows and serves food. May you have a spectacular year ahead.

Okay that's enough blogging for the year. See you on Instagram 😝

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