Saturday, December 29, 2012

Laris (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

David Laris first burst onto Shanghai's dining scene by opening the highly acclaimed Laris at the prestigious Three At the Bund over a decade ago. Ever since then he has been an integral part of the rapidly evolving culinary culture in Shanghai. At the end of 2012, he is finally bringing his creativity to Hong Kong.

His latest venture, Laris Contemporary Dining, is his first restaurant in Hong Kong and it serves his trademark contemporary cuisine with an Australian touch.

The size of his first Hong Kong restaurant is by no means big. It can accommodate approximately only 30-40 guests but inspite of that, we really enjoyed the simple and contemporary decor. It matches the theme of contemporary dining perfectly.

We arrived at Laris fairly early for dinner and were still stuffed from a very late lunch. So instead of going for the usual one starter and main per person, we decided to order a trio of starters and then one main course to share.

Now, time to put on my tuxedo and wait for my food to arrive.

Seared scallops, green pea, mint & pancetta, 6/10
After a delightful baguette, we began our dinner with a nicely executed pan-seared scallops. The scallop, although golden on the outside was still half raw inside. Combining it with a green pea puree, a slice of crispy pancetta and a mint foam provided a sparkling contrast both in taste and texture.

Foie gras with hazelnut praline, muscat jelly and freshly baked brioche, 4/10
Next up was a foie gras terrine trapped inside a muscat jelly with toppings of hazelnut powder. The dish was served with two freshly baked brioche.

I really had high hopes for this dish but it turned out to be a rather subpar offering. The muscat jelly was disappointingly sour and way too overpowering. On the other hand, the hazelnut powder was too light to even make an impact on the overall taste of the dish.

Lobster blini, kombu poached lobster tail and sweet corn soup, 6/10
What a great way to wrap things up before our main course with a nice bowl of sweet corn soup.

It tasted silky smooth but yet light and fresh. The poached lobster tail and small piece of lobster cake helped to bring the soup to another level by adding a strong lobster essence.

Pigeon stuffed with foie gras, Japanese pumpkin, port braised prunes and apple, 6/10
Our lone main course of the night was pigeon stuffed with foie gras serving with Japanese pumpkin, apple and plums.

I liked the pigeon which was quite tender to go with the sourness of the sauce but the taste of foie gras seemed to be missing in action.

Lime curd meringue tart with passion fruit, 5/10
We were almost ready to ask for the bill but at the end, could not escape from the temptation from their many desserts. We decided to take on the lime curd meringue tart which we hoped would be a bit lighter (than a cheesecake at least). It was not bad at all although the passion fruit sauce could have been a bit sweeter.

The food, although not superb, was pretty good but what separated this dining experience with many others we had recently was the quality of service. From start to finish, we were thoroughly entertained by a dedicated team of staff. After being informed that we would be sharing three of our starters, the kitchen staff went the extra mile to split the portions for us (even for our soup). That was an excellent effort that was well received.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: 2/F, 77 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Spoon by Alain Ducasse (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Spoon by Alain Ducasse was once upon a time THE French restaurant in Hong Kong but they slipped down the pecking order with the emergence of Pierre, Caprice, Amber and Joel Robuchon in recent years. I have always liked Spoon for its consistency in providing solid traditional French cuisine but the lack of an innovative approach does raise a concern.

But then two things are almost guaranteed at Spoon - impeccible service and a wonderful Victoria Harbour view.

I have dined at Spoon on many occasions but on many nights, the quality of food failed to wow me in any way and I left wondering if there would ever be a next visit. But it's already been a few years since my last visit, so I would expect improvements especially with a new man at the helm.

The team kicked off our dinner with some fine nibbles. There were spinach puffs and then foie gras mousse. I have never turned my head away from any foie gras mousse but with this one I did. The spinach puff also failed to live up to expectation (3/10).

Deep fried frog's leg with ginger consommé, 7/10
Our amuse bouche of the night arrived in the form of a deep fried frog's leg dipped in a mayonnaise style sauce. The seasoning was minimal and the natural flavor of the frog's leg was quite attractive (or were we just too hungry, I couldn't tell ?).

Chestnut soup with crayfish, 6/10
Chestnut velouté has always been my favourite so this choice was really a no-brainer for me. The chestnut soup was almost as thick as a velouté. The addition of some fresh crayfish provided a nice seawater flavour to the soup.

Steamed duck foie gras from "Les Landes", 5/10
One of the restaurant's specialty, the steamed duck foie gras from Les Landes was however a bit below expectation. The texture of the foie gras was slightly on the hard side and the sweet and sour fig and grape puree was utterly dominant even for the foie gras.

Also they have to do something about the presentation of this dish. Ouch, it didn't look attractive at all.

Brittany lobster, pumpkin and country pork belly, 6/10
We were sold on the seemingly unusual combo of Brittany blue lobster and pork belly but was left startled to find that pork belly actually referred to the small bites of meat on top of the pumpkin slices.

No complaints about the lobster as it was almost perfect but we did not like the pumpkin and pork belly together.

All in all, putting lobster and pork belly together sounded like a promising idea but what a shame it did not work the way we hoped it would.

Venison fillet, seasonal fruits and vegetables, 7/10
I thought the best dish of the night belonged to the venison fillet. Serving at medium, it was simply cooked to absolute perfection. The dish was served with a sauce of its natural jus which was rich and skillful.

Our favorite cheesecake, citrus marmalade, 3/10
The wheels started to fall off here with the dessert. We actually spent quite some time to figure about what desserts we liked (because none of them really appealed to us in the first place.) and finally came up with these two.

The favorite cheesecake was not our typical New York style cheesecake. Instead it was a bar-shaped cheese stick marinated in a citrus marmalade. The first taste was really overwhelmingly sour and my friend decided to give up after taking a few wracks at it.

Hazelnut-chocolate, praline ice-cream, 4/10
My hazelnut chocolate tart looked a bit more interesting than the previous and it tasted a little better. Nevertheless, it was not something I would regret not having.

In my opinion, Spoon is a borderline 1-star restaurant at best. Two stars may have been a bit too generous.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Intercontinental Hotel HK, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: East Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2313-2256

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Elbon the Table (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

It wasn't too long ago that we tried very hard to avoid western food whenever we visited Seoul. Luckily the dining scene in Seoul has slowly evolved in recent years with the arrival of Pierre Gagnaire and the emergence of a few local rising stars.

One of the names to remember is Hyun Seok Choi who was nicknamed "Crazy chef". His restaurant, Elbon the Table, came highly recommended in various popular restaurant guides and even got the honorary mention in the 50 Best Restaurant in the World blogs. Could this be the revolution we were all hoping for?

Elbon the Table is situated at an unbeatable location on Garosu-gil in Sinsa-dong. As neighbours to some of the hippest cafes and boutiques in the city, the Elbon building also finds itself sporting a contemporary look.

The dining room is largely decorated in a sexy black tone. Near the entrance is a small bar table capable of hosting around 8 people. A more conventional dining area is available just deeper inside.

Grilled Foie Gras with orange chutney, Truffle Ice Cream, 7/10
Chef Hyun Seok Choi does not shy away from incorporating molecular gastronomy into his cooking and this is one of his molecular inspired starters - charcoal grilled foie gras with truffle ice-cream.

A crispy slice of chargrilled foie gras laying on two pieces of eggplant and topped with a slab of truffle ice-cream. The contrasting temperature and flavor induced a wonderful sensation much to the pleasure of our palates.

Grilled Lobster with Four Kinds of Textured Rose Sauce, 8/10
Another molecular inspired dish from the kitchen came in the form of a grilled lobster served with four textures of rose sauce on top.

The four textures included (from left to right) a collection of rose caviar made using the spherification technique, a rose-flavored foam, a rose cream and last but not least a rose jelly. Each of the textures combined with the lobster to provide us with a unique and everlasting fragrance of rose.

Spaghetti with bacon and Arrabbiata sauce, 6/10
I had a bit too much to eat in the past few weeks so instead of trying their chargrilled meat, I decided to order something lighter starting with spaghetti in an Arrabbiata sauce.

The spaghetti, I thought, was really al dente and full of flavor but the sauce had too much seasoning and was a bit over-spicy.

Linguine with shrimp in a spicy curry sauce, 5/10
This was not the first time I have experienced pasta in a refined curry sauce and I admitted they could be a match made in heaven.

But the execution was slightly off the mark. Again the linguine was not the culprit and it was the sauce that they could have done a little better job with. 

Cold Cappellini with shrimp and "Godeulppaegi" kimchi, 1/10
The wheels suddenly fell apart here with our last pasta - a cold cappellini with shrimp and "Godeulppaegi" kimchi (Korean lettuce kimchi). We were sold on the Italian (cappellini) and Korean (dry kimchi) connection but this marriage of cold capellini and dry kimchi was doomed to fail.

First and foremost, the cold cappellini felt too much like eating elastic strings. The absence of a sauce was also quite an enigma.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ₩₩₩₩
Address: 530-5 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Sinsa
Tel: +82 2-547-4100


Table 34 (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★☆☆☆

Table 34 was billed as a classic French restaurant with a modern twist. Situated at the Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas of the Gangnam district, it provides the perfect dining venue with an elegant interior design and skyscraping view. On paper, this is certainly one of the top French restaurants in Seoul, possibly right behind Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul. But we learned over the years not to trust our instincts.

The first thing that came to mind when we arrived at the hotel was the poor condition of the hotel's external walls. Looked like it's not doing well against all the wear-and-tear

We took the elevator up, walked past a bar area onto the dining room and were escorted to our table by the window. Disappointingly, there wasn't much of a view looking out the window, other than a few caterpillars in a nearby construction site. 

There were all together 3 lunch sets (A, B, C) available, all of which looked very similar with extremely minor difference (perhaps one or two more choices here and there).

Roasted big prawn, tomato concassé, bisque essence, semolina biscuit, 2/10
My starter was a roasted prawn with a clam affixed atop a piece of crispy pastry. Too bad it wasn't the big prawn promised in the menu (See photo - it's not much bigger than the small clam!) and there was no sign of any bisque essence

Escargots in Burgundy sauce, foie gras-garlic royal, herbs salad, 4/10
The other starter was a couple of escargots on egg pudding served with a small salad. The escargots marinated in burgundy sauce were decent but not spectacular.

Black truffle and vermicelli soup, 2/10
The soup was a bit watery and the taste of black truffle could have been stronger. 

Up to this point, one thing really stood out and it's not the delicacy of food but rather the attitude of indifference in service. Throughout the meal up to now, service was utterly lacking. For example, some servers elected to drop off our dishes without saying a word while others would murmur a few words, possibly the name of the dish and then rushed out of the scene. That was really frustrating considering that it came from a five-star hotel of this caliber.

"Meli-melo" of seafood: grouper, oysters and scallops, bourride sauce, 3/10
The oysters and scallops were very small. As a matter of fact, I actually did not remember having oysters at all (Can anyone find the oysters from the picture? If yes, please tell me where). If it's any consolation, the bourride foam was actually okay.

Grilled lamb rack, tian of Mediterranean vegetables, thyme sauce, 3/10
Not particularly good.

Raspberry crème brulée, infused anise ice cream, 4/10
I thought dessert was actually better, starting off with my raspberry-flavored crème brulée.

Poached pear "belle Helene", vanilla chantilly, hot chocolate sauce, nougat ice-cream, 6/10
The poached pear "belle Helene" managed to top my previous dessert. Our server slowly poured a hot chocolate lava onto the poached pear with thin chocolate coating. With the coating starting to melt, we began adding nougat ice-cream to the mix and it was indeed quite refreshing.    

This was an overall sub-standard experience. I am hoping for a slightly better fate tonight at Elbon The Table. Pray for us please.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ₩₩₩₩
Address: Grand Intercontinental Seoul Parnas, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Samseong
Tel: +82 2-559-7631

Monday, December 17, 2012

Park Hyatt Seoul (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA)

Our master plan was to spend our first few nights at Westin Chosun which was just a stone's throw from the Myeong-dong shopping streets before moving to Park Hyatt Gangnam close to the trendy Sinsadong. And it worked out perfectly!

After doing all our damage at Myeong-dong, we moved onto Park Hyatt midway through our trip (by taxi) and were immediately greeted by a team at the ground floor concierge counter with open arms. Check-in was quick and within a matter of minutes, we got our room keys and were very excited to check our rooms out.


The room was absolutely huge and the design was even better than advertised. They have got all the modern and contemporary designs one would hope in their dream house. The bathroom was another stunning piece of modern art. A big bath-tub in the shower area overlooking the city through a giant glass window. 

Good news for all you light sleepers out there. The sound proof was really working well. Despite the fact that our room was fairly close to the escalator, we couldn't hear a thing.

The location is also amazing. The "Samseong" Metro Station is just underneath us and the Hyundai Department, Intercontinental Grand Hotel, Coex Exhibition Hall etc. are all just across the street. Sinsadong is also just a few stations away.

Apart from breakfast not being included, everything exceeded expectation. We will definitely be back! 

Rating: ❤❤❤❤❤
Price: ₩₩₩₩
Address: 606 Teheran-ro, Gangnam-gu, Seoul 135-502, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Samseong
Tel: +82 2-2016-1234

Maman Gâteau (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

Seoul as a city is never short of good cafés, especially when you are around the Sinsa-dong area.

After walking in the freezing weather for nearly 3 straight hours, we decided it's about time to sit down and grab something warm to drink. Thankfully Maman Gâteau was there when we needed it.

Maman Gâteau is a baking Studio and dessert café two in one. The 1st floor café offers free seating so first we had to find ourselves 2 seats.

Next, we had to check out the menu at the counter and order (The menu is mainly in Korean with simple English translations).

I wasn't in need of caffeine and so decided to get myself a steamed milk with hazelnut.

The house specialty, caramel bingsu (shaved ice) with warm caramel sauce is supposed to be a must here. Very interesting to see once we poured the warm caramel onto the shaved ice, it started to melt creating different textures of ice within seconds.

There was only a small selection of cakes available. We had the pumpkin pie that was just so-so.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 812-8 Yeoksam-dong (31 Bongeunsa-ro 4-gil), Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Sinsa
Tel: +82 2-556-3937

Jungsik (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

Jungsik was labelled by some as the first Korean restaurant to incorporate molecular techniques into its dishes. Korean produces, French cooking and molecular gastronomy, those were already enough reasons for us to look forward to this lunch.

Booking a table at Jungsik was much easier than I originally thought. The reservation staff speaks fluent English and that was done over the phone in a matter of seconds. But finding the restaurant turned out to be the difficult part.

I am first to admit that finding a restaurant in Seoul is never easy even if you have the address holding firmly in your hand. Not unless it's located in a well established hotel.

Luckily we arrived by taxi and the GPS managed to lead us right to the restaurant which is located on the third floor of a commercial building near the Dosan Park in the trendy Sinsa-dong district.

The restaurant is a little 15-20 seater overlooking the Dosan Park. Behind a sliding door is a decent-sized private dining room.

Their 5-course lunch menu, called a "Design tasting menu" allows diners to mix and match their own lunch set based on five different categories (appetizer, rice/noodle, seafood, meat and dessert).

The amuse bouche was a disappointing start to the meal. A spoonful of Chicken soup jelly with pickle, chicken bits and radish was rather ordinary despite the molecular implication. The clams with pickles, kimchi, radish and onion was okay but uninspiring. No sign of the promised French-Korean connection there (3/10).

Things started to pick up as we started to see a bit more creativity in our starters. Small-sized oysters crusted with seaweed powder were fresh in taste. But the topping with a spicy mayonnaise sauce and pickled radish could have used more imagination (5/10). Perhaps something like a kimchi foam would have done the trick?

More successful was the poached egg, kimchi purée, parmesan cheese biscuit and porcini mushroom in a goat cheese foam (6/10).  This looked like a dish coming from a Michelin-starred Italian restaurant.

Next up were the noodles and they were inspirations from the famous Korean street food. The first to be tested was a re-invented version of the traditional Korean rice cake (or rice balls in this case). The dish was served with cheese, fried potato and green pepper sauce.

Our server said think of it as pasta. It was a bit spicy but it didn't feel like a pasta at all (4/10).

I had a noodle in a flavorful foie gras broth with lemon and zucchini zest, translucent noodle and roasted duck breast. I liked this one better than the rice balls (5/10).

After an uneventful session with noodles, we fast forwarded to the main courses starting with a crispy duck.

If I did not misunderstand from our server, the duck was fried and dried for four days. It was served with its natural jus, a Korean spicy bbq sauce, rice cake and assorted vegetables. This one was just average (3/10).

Equally average was the pork belly smoked and pan fried with sweet soy sauce, red onion and spring onion (4/10).

It turned out that the dessert saved the day for us. It was an excellent display of craftmanship on the part of the pastry chef in preparing the two desserts in style. 

I had the "flower pot" which was angelica root flavoured ice cream in a chocolate pot. The "soil" was chocolate powder mixed with corn flakes. That was an amazing dessert with fantasic look (8/10).

However, the "Jang Dok" proved to be even better. The Jivara latte mousse was made into the shape of a pair of kimchi containers. It was beautifully decorated with sugar straws and snowflakes sugar powder to make it more real.

The mousse tasted silky smooth and we had to really sit back to admire the artistic work (9/10).

Jungsik New York which was opened in 2011, recently earned its first Michelin star. From a culinary standpoint, I was not convinced that their sister store in Seoul was ready for one star (if Michelin guide decides to come to Seoul.) to be brutally honest but the service was definitely top-class. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 649-7 Sinsadong, Gangnamgu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Apgujeong
Tel: +82 2-517-4654

<Click here for a more recent review on Jungsik - Sept 2015>

<Click here for a more recent review on Jungsik - July 2016>