Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Yee Tung Heen (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I was invited as a group of 40 bloggers to attend a Chinese New Year celebration dinner sponsored by The Excelsior Hong Kong. The venue was set at Yee Tung Heen, a Cantonese cuisine restaurant located on the second floor of the hotel.

Following a complete renovation and overhaul in late 2011, Yee Tung Heen now combines their traditional decoration with a modern twist. This "modernization" movement also extends to their new menu as the catering team has added a modern flair to their authentic Cantonese cuisine.

On this special occasion, the team here has tailormade a degustation menu especially for us. And the best part of all, they have also provided us with all the wine pairing behind the sponsorship of Marks & Spencer. That was simply outstanding! 

All 40 of us started mingling with each other and exchanging new year greetings right from the get-go. Then dinner officially began following a brief introduction from the hotel's Director of Food and Beverages.

Our first appetizer of the night was a pair of braised live abalone. Each abalone was sliced into small pieces so we really didn't need to make sure of our fork and knife. 

The light-colored one was braised with wine and Japanese soya sauce. The texture was excellent but the seasoning was a bit light. The one in brownish color was braised with oyster sauce. I liked this one a little better although neither one really impressed me a great deal (4/10).

Next up was a double boiled soup with tea tree mushrooms, dried scallops, sea whelk and caterpillar fungus. It was served with a small clay pot which was often used to serve tea.

Apart from the possible medical benefits such as boosting stamina, lung capacity and kidney functions, the caterpillar fungus also provided this clear broth with great depth (7.5/10).

More seafood came in the form of a crab claw steamed with egg white and Chinese rice wine. That was again an excellent dish. Instead of the usual hua diao wine, the chef elected to use chinese rice wine to steam the crab claw and they worked brillantly together.

The only blemish was perhaps the excessive amount of ginger paste which was too dominant for both the steamed egg and the crab meat (7/10).

The seafood theme continued with a sautéed king prawn in supreme soya sauce. Not only was the "supreme" soya sauce not overpowering, but it has also helped to elevate the sweetness of the king prawn tremendously (7.5/10).

Finally a little bit of meat was served up in the next dish - a mini squash pot with Australian wagyu beef and vegetables. While I sat back to enjoy the craftmanship of the "pot" made with a small organic pumpkin, I could not help to notice the wonderful aroma coming out of the pot.

I tried to put about two spoonfuls of this diced beef and vegetables into a lettuce wrap and it was heaven (7/10).

Talked about a simple dish. You can't get any simpler than this - sautéed kale with ginger and garlic. I have always enjoy the sturdy and crunchy texture of kale (6/10).

Fried rice with assorted seafood was our last dish before we headed into the dessert part of our meal. While the fried rice did not disappoint with all the quality ingredients (fish, shrimps, vegetable, carrots etc), the seasoning (more like the lack of it) unfortunately provided the let-down (3/10).

The dessert platter comprised of a trio of sinfully enticing desserts. While the chilled sago cream with fresh mango and pomelo (middle) and strawberry mochi (right) were good, the winner belonged to the crispy red bean pastry (left) (5/10).

Last but not least, a banana-flavored macaron with chocolate cream.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$$
Address: The Excelsior Hotel, 281 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Website: www.mandarinoriental.com/excelsior/fine-dining/yee-tung-heen/

Saturday, February 9, 2013

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

This was our second visit to the 3-starred 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana. The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was the fact that the staff looked much younger and less experienced than before. Perhaps the expansion to Shanghai has taken a chunk of experience away from the core here.

Lunch was the usual 2-course or 3-course selection unless we want to go splurge with the a la carte menu. That had stayed pretty much the same since its debut.

After a basket of bread, here came our appetizers first with a confit of "Taiyouren" organic egg. The onsen egg was met with a nice roman cauliflower emulsion and roasted herb bread to form a surprisingly rich combination of flavors (5/10).

Another starter was a dish of sautéed octopus and lobster. It had a bit of Mediterranean twist to it after the addition of an acquerello rice salad (which tasted very much like cous cous).

I thought this was an average dish. The previous organic egg starter fared slightly better (4/10). 

After finishing up our appetizers, we sat back to relax while waiting for our main courses to arrive. But that seemed to be taking forever.

More than half an hour has passed us by and we began to lose a bit of our patience. But we wanted to be polite so instead of calling our server over, we started playing around with our smartphones trying to get the waiting staff's attention. That did not work at all so eventually we called someone over.

Finally our main courses did arrive. The lamb medallion served on braised salsify with mushroom and natural jus was tender enough but the combination with the sauce and sidedish did not make much headway (5/10).

Going back to the service for a moment, this was the worst pacing I have ever seen from any 3-star Michelin restaurant. And that was puzzling considering that we only had a 2-course lunch set, not a complicated 12-course degustation menu.

At the first glance, I thought I was going to have fried egg white as my main course. However, when I looked a bit closer, it was actually a thin slice of snapper fish sitting on a bed of baby spinach and served with an orange, oregano and extra virgin olive oil dressing.

Yes I remembered now - I did order snapper. In all honesty, I was a bit shocked with how thin they made the snapper and the taste just wasn't particularly attractive (3/10).

After our main courses, we decided that we were not going to wait another 30 minutes for our dessert so we went for the bill instead.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 202, Landmark Alexandra, 18 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2537-8859
Website: www.ottoemezzobombana.com
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 39th (2013)
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 6th (2013)

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Blue Butcher (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

This visit to Blue Butcher has been long overdue. For whatever reason, I didn't seem to get motivated to give it a try. Perhaps my lack of passion for steaks played a part in this.

But finally we made the decision to dine here this past weekend and we were glad we did.
The restaurant was fairly easy to find. It's right in between The Press Room and Classified. They have a bar on the ground floor that stretches out a bit onto the street. It was one of the quietest bars I have seen but nevertheless a good place to hang around while they get our dinner table ready. 

Up the rusty stairs we went and it was a totally different story. Dark, bustling and lively were just a few adjectives I could think of to describe the dining area on the first floor. This looked like a perfect place for group gathering.

The menu wasn't as sophisticated as we would like but there were still some nice selections out there apart from beef. The Norwegian salmon tartare, line-caught sea bass etc. would have been good choices for anyone who is not particularly into steaks.

Quail, smoked grapes, 7/10
We started dinner off with their chargrilled quail. Never imagined quail could work so well with grapes. I especially enjoyed the taste and temperature of these grapes which have been slightly smoked and probably sat in the frigate for a while. It posed a sharp contrasting flavor in comparison to the warm quail.  

Prime US Tenderloin, smoked mushroom ravioli, 6.5/10
Next up for us was our main course, prime US tenderloin topped with a smoked mushroom ravioli. The tenderloin was nicely complemented by a garlic puree and
Béarnaise sauce.

I was quite pleased with this dish. The tenderloin tasted as if it's been slow-cooked for at least 48 hours as the meat was super tender and soft. I could feel that tenderness even from cutting through the meat. The only complaint I had was the lack of a natural heavy flavor one would find from a steak like a Wagyu beef.

The Béarnaise sauce was also a great choice to go with the tenderloin. It had that super cheesy texture from the butter, egg yolk and a little bit of white wine but yet not too overpowering.

Rare breed US Kurobuta pig belly and cheek, 6/10
Our final course, the US Kurobuta pig belly, looked a little bit like the braised pork belly (Dong Po Rou) from the Chinese cuisine. The seasoning was very light to allow the natural flavors to stand. It was served with a bed of lentils and some granny smith apple slaws atop.

It was again a lovely dish although I'd prefer a little bit more fat on that belly.

We were pleasantly surprised with the overall dining experience especially the atmosphere and quality of food. The service although friendly was however a bit too mechanical. 

Yes, we were very pleased to MEAT you too.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 108 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station