Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ishiya Patisserie (Sapporo, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

The Ishiya White Lovers chocolate (also named Shiroi Koibito chocolate cookies) is argueably one of the most famous souvenirs from Hokkaido. This flagship product by Ishiya Confectionery consisted of a layer of silky smooth chocolate that was sandwiched by two thin slices of butter cookies.

During our recent trip to Sapporo, not only did we manage to grab half a dozen of these White Lovers chocolates for our friends, we also managed to visit the Shiroi Koibito Park, a theme park by Ishiya Confectionery along with its chocolate factory.

There are quite a number of facilities inside this theme park including a small cookie production line, gramophone gallery, cookiecraft studio etc.




Other attractions includes the "Candy Labo" on the ground floor with live demonstrations on how their candies are freshly made.



Unfortunately their cafe (4/F) was already closed when we arrived so we had to settle for their cake shop Shop Piccadilly instead.

Not a whole lot to choose from.


Ishiya Patisserie is famous for their chocolate. Of course, that would be our choice - a chocolate mousse cake. 


We also grabbed a can of chocolate drink from the fridge. That was quite refreshing.


Note: While the Shiroi Koibito Park operates from 9:00 to 18:00 everyday (shops till 19:00), entry to most of the facilities stopped at 17:00. 


Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: Miyanosawa 2-jo 2-chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo
Closest Metro Station: Miyanosawa
Website: www.shiroikoibitopark.jp/english/


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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Node 43° Bakery & Pastry (Sapporo, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, are known to have some of the most fascinating desserts in all of Asia. You are almost guaranteed to find a pâtisserie or bakery store on every street corner courtesy of a promising local pâtissier or a world famous pastry chef.

But unlike those cities, Sapporo does not possess the same number of high-end pâtisseries. You will still find your fair share of pastry shops on the streets but definitely not from the same big-name players or household names in the market.

Although our online research came up empty, we decided to take matters into our own hands and find out more about the pâtisseries in Sapporo.

The first patisserie we found noteworthy was a small bakery shop located inside the famed Sapporo Grand Hotel, called Node 43° Bakery and Pastry.

On the ground floor of the Sapporo Grand Hotel, we would find a bistro style cafe Node 43° Brasserie. According to various sources, this cafe serves a dessert buffet during the afternoon and was quite popular among the locals.



Directly across from the Node 43° Brasserie, right next to a Starbucks, there it was - the little pastry store - Node 43° Bakery & Pastry.



There was not a great deal of variety here. Most of the cakes on display were predominantly cream cakes.



At the end of the day, we all fell for appearance. In this case, it was their "Tomato Fromage" that stole my heart.



Based on what our server has told us, it was a "re-make" of an award-winning cake called Tomato Fromage, that captured the grand prize in the 2012 Sapporo Sweets Grand Prix

Grand Prix for pastries you asked? Yes. Turned out this was an annual event (started back in 2006) where the city's best pâtissiers gathered to compete against each other based on originality, creativity and of course taste.

While the 2012 award-winning version of Tomato Fromage (Link) was a cheesecake made in the shape of a tomato, this latest version seen at Node 43° was slightly different. It was a custard cream tart base with light cheese cream and tomato compote.



Too bad apart from the Tomato Fromage, there wasn't much to get excited about.


Food Rating: 5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: Sapporo Grand Hotel G/F, Nishi 4-chome 1-jo Kita Chuo-ku Sapporo, Hokkaido
Closest Metro Station: Odori



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Molière (Sapporo, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

When Hiroshi Nakamichi first went to Lyon with a copy of Michelin Guide in his hand some 30 years ago, he probably had no clue that one day he would become the owner-chef of a coveted 3-star restaurant in Sapporo.

Over the last decade, this owner-chef of Molière has established himself as one of the leading French cuisine chefs in Hokkaido and is best known for his great respect for tradition.

Like many of the 3-star Michelin restaurants in Japan, chef Hiroshi Nakamichi's Molière is tucked away in a quiet residential district across the street from the Maruyama Park. The interior is decorated in a modern European style which we found extremely homey and comfortable.



There were a total of 3 different lunch sets being served with price tags ranging from ¥2,400 to ¥6,400. After carefully weighing our options, we decided on the most expensive Menu Molière thinking that we could sample a few more of Chef Hiroshi Nakamichi's signature dishes.

Bread, 8/10
Lunch started off brightly with a nice piece of homemade bread.

By the time it arrived on my plate, it was still smoking as if it has just come straight out of the oven. Warm, spongy and crunchy on the outside. That's the way I liked it!



Burdock soup, 6/10
For anyone who's tired of pastry or fish as amuse bouche, this one's for you!

This tiny cup of burdock soup had a strong flavor and excellent depth. It tasted as if it's been blended with some sort of beans. Very "beany".



Herring salad, 4/10
Next up, we had a beautifully presented salad with assorted vegetables and herring. The key of this dish was really the three kinds of purée dressing served on the side.

I tried to mix the purée well with the salad and the result was just average. The olive purée (brown) was flavorful while citrus purée (yellow) was refreshing. Both, I found quite enjoyable to go with the leaves. But the berry purée (red) disappointingly did not carry much flavor.  



Foie gras, 6/10
The first real test came from our second starter - a sautéed foie gras from Landes. The thick slab of foie gras was perfectly sautéed to golden colored and then served on a big slice of artichoke with a port wine sauce providing the finishing touch.

The texture of the foie gras was brilliant but there was a bit too much black pepper on top.



Ray fish, 4/10
For the second dish in a roll, we were served with something sautéed - this time a sautéed ray fish fillet served with cabbage.

There was some citrus in the sauce that made it slightly too sour for my liking.  



Also there was way too much grease. My family doctor probably won't recommend this dish.



Pear and tea, 3/10
Time for a change of pace as our server brought us a little sorbet as our palate cleansers before the meat course arrived. This was a pear and tea flavored sorbet with brandy. Not enough flavor from the tea unfortunately and the liquor seemed a little too overpowering.



Duck, 7/10
Our meat course of the day was a duck breast with caramelized radish, liver paste and potato gratin.

The duck breast was served somewhere in between medium and medium rare allowing the meat to stay tender and juicy. The sauce with spring onion was a little bit of a weird choice in French dining (perhaps too Asian influenced) but nevertheless, this was an excellent dish coming from a talented kitchen. 



Vacherin, 6.5/10
Finally we saw some creativity and innovation in one of our dishes - our dessert Vacherin. Presented like a potted plant, this was a bowl of coconut meringue sitting on a bed of vanilla ice cream and pineapple slices. 

Not exactly super creative but at least it's not boring.



Sweets, 5/10
From a kitchen known for its traditional French cuisine, I was fully prepared for some macarons at this point but instead they threw me a 'curveball'. How about a slice of preserved grapefruit on top of a kiwi jelly cube for a change? 

The grapefruit I thought tasted fairly good and not to be outdone was the orange liquor flavored marshmallow on the side.


The passion was certainly there but I thought it would be hard pressed to justify the 3-star status.


Food Rating: 5/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: 1/F Lafayette Miyagaoka, 1-1 Miyagaoka 2chome Chuou-ku, Sapporo
Closest Metro Station: Maruyama-koen
Tel: +81 011-631-3155
Website: www.sapporo-moliere.com



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Friday, March 29, 2013

Le Baerenthal (Sapporo, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

It was a snowy night in Sapporo. After taking the metro to the Maruyama-koen Station, we emerged from the underground only to find that it was snowing heavier and heavier. Fortunately for us, the restaurant was just 300 metres away.

Le Baerenthal is housed under a structure modeled after a vintage French style timber house. The restaurant is currently run by Chef Daisuke Minami who is famous for his creative French cooking techniques using local ingredients and seasonal produces. 



When I first saw the wording on the fence that said "Le Baerenthal", colorful pictures from the past started floating across my mind. Then I realized it was a flashback from an enjoyable lunch at L'Arnsbourg more than 6 months ago. For anyone not familiar with L'Arnsbourg, it's a 3-star restaurant in a small French town called Baerenthal from the Alsace region (see previous review on L'Arnsbourg here - Link).

There were all together four separate set menus on the night, two falling under the degustation variety (¥ 15,000+). But we have just got off the plane and were not particularly excited about having an extensive 8-course tasting menu so we went for the lighter 3-course set (¥ 6,300) instead.



The first welcoming dish from the chef was a pear sorbet with white wine. The strong flavor from the liquor and the acidity from the pear puree combined to serve as the perfect cleanser for our palates.


Some light refreshment for us while we waited for our server to bring us the menu - some freshly roasted pistachio.



After we placed our orders, our amuse bouche almost instantly arrived and it was a tiny platter comprising of a shrimp mousse topped with a miniature shrimp, corn mousse showered with grain dust and a small piece of slow cooked chicken breast (from left to right).

The presentation was up to standard but unfortunately the taste was not (3/10).



Following a disappointing amuse bouche, we were a bit skeptic on what lay ahead for us. Those questions were quickly put to rest when our first starter arrived. At least initially.....

The first of our two starters was a spinach ravioli stuffed with minced shrimp and simmered in a cauliflower foam and pumpkin velouté. That was not a bad start at all (5/10).



Less successful was the next starter, a vegetable salad with foie gras mousse and egg yolk. Despite the fine presentation, I had to honestly say that foie gras mousse and vegetables just weren't a match made in heaven.

Believe me, I have tried to make it work. I stirred the foie gras and poached vegetables together until they were well mixed but somehow they just never seemed to get on the same page  (2/10).




After a rather average showing from the starters, the team here finally redeemed themselves with our main course - a crispy quail stuffed with foie gras.



The quail meat was roasted to absolute perfection and it was served on a bed of tasty mushroom, together with a cauliflower and beetroot puree. This was by far the best dish of the night by a country mile (8/10).



For dessert, we had a mille feuille with custard cream and fresh strawberry. Simply yet delicate (6/10). 



Before we prepared ourselves for the bill, of course the petite four. I have always liked a traditional petite four with macarons, mini cup cakes and meringue. That's perfect!



By the time we left the restaurant, the snow was really pouring hard. We didn't expect such heavy snowfall in late March so did not have an umbrella with us. Luckily, the restaurant staff was kind enough to lend us one (otherwise, we probably won't make it to the metro station!). 



Food Rating: 4/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: 3-1, S1 W28 Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Maruyama-koen
Website: www.hiramatsu.co.jp/eng/restaurants/baerenthal/index.html



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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Angelini (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Angelini, the Italian restaurant at Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel this week welcomes world renowned chef Valentino Marcattilii from Ristorante San Domenico, Imola Italy as guest chef.

Chef Valentino, co-owner and executive chef of the Michelin two-star Ristorante San Domenico, is known for a more simplistic and conservative approach on the interpretation of traditional Italian dishes. He has great respect for tradition, simplicity and fresh ingredients which turned out to be his prelude to success. His apprenticeship at some of the best Michelin-starred restaurants in France including Auberge de l'ιll and Troisgros early in his career, also left a long lasting impression in his cooking.

We arrived right on time at 7pm. Situated on the mezzanine floor of the hotel, Angelini has a decent but unspectacular view of the Victoria Harbour and the Hong Kong Island skyline. The dining room was predominantly beige and red in color tones, providing a warm and modern atmosphere. It reminded me a bit of the Steakhouse from the Intercontinental Hotel.




This marked just our second visit to the restaurant, the first since we had a quick bite here back in 2005 when the restaurant made its debut. That dining experience as I recalled was a disappointing one with very average food and inept service particularly for a hotel restaurant. We were definitely hoping for a much better experience this time around.

We started off with a very simple amuse bouche of seared tuna with onion and beans. There was a white bean puree on the side.

This was an amuse bouche that was indicative of Chef Valentino's style - simple preparation of food. I personally like simple but the taste of the tuna slice could have been much much better (3/10).



Not the start we were looking for from a 2-star chef. Perhaps the starters would turn things around.

I had the ginger marinated red shrimps with citrus flavoured extra virgin olive oil which was fairly good. The ginger flavor was minimal and that allowed the rich flavor of the red shrimps to be the dominant force here (5/10).



Another starter was a poached lobster tail with green pea foam and caramelised treviso chicory.

I believe it was the lightest-flavored lobster dish I have had for a long long time. The lobster tail had the perfect texture but it desperately needed some sort of seasoning to elevate its sweetness. And unfortunately the green pea foam failed to deliver (4/10).  



The seared goose liver escalope with crispy leek and white celery fondue was easily the best starter so far. The goose liver was seared to a perfect golden brown color and it was crispy outside and moist inside. Although seasoning was again minimal, the goose liver probably didn't need that extra push (6.5/10). 



For my pasta dish, I took the toasted onion risotto and gravy caramelised with Marsala Wine and sugar cane. The risotto was very rich and honestly a bit heavy but nevertheless delicately delicious (6/10). 



But the star of the night was Chef Valentino's signative dish - ravioli filled with Egg in “San Domenico” Style with sweetened Parmigiano truffle and nut butter.

The taste of the ravioli was a little complex after having egg yolk, white truffles, mozzarella cheese, spinach and mushroom all stuffed under a single piece of ravioli. It was a little heavy but it was way too good for us not to finish it all (7/10).



Main course was a tough choice between fish and beef. First up was my dover sole fillet with artichoke in mint flavoured white wine sauce. In all honesty, I have never liked dover sole fish to begin with so it would really take a lot here to impress me.

The dover sole fillet was curled during the preparation and it resulted in an extra strong and spongy texture. But other than the texture, there's nothing special to write home about (5/10).



Moving forward to our last main course - veal medallion with black pepper sauce, raisin and asparagus. We really had high expectation for this dish but were left stunned.

I personally blamed it on the veal itself. It simply didn't have the delicate and flavorful taste that it was known to possess. The sauce also failed miserably to make up for the lack of flavors (2/10).  



We didn't order any dessert after a rather heavy four-course dinner. So after a petite four, we called it the night.



With Chef Valentino's credentials, we set the bars fairly high but came up a bit empty. It did not meet our lofty expectations at all. I thought the staff provided by Angelini and not trained by Chef Valentino's crew, could also use a little more training to brush up their skills.


Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 64 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui East
Tel: +852 2733-8750
Website: www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/kowloonshangrila/dining/restaurants/angelini/

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yu Lei (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

Last year, we regretfully missed out on the Restaurant Week promotions due to our slow reaction to their campaign. Learning from our mistakes, we decided to act much faster this year. And we did. Immediately following their email notification (via AMEX), we logged onto their website but only to find that our first-choice restaurant, BCN was already all sold out. So instead we had to settle for our second choice, Yu Lei.

Yu Lei, along with Messina and Kazuo Okada, occupied the fifth floor of the Harbourfront Landmark in Whampoa. Although getting there could be frustrating at times, it does offer a very good harbour view.




The hostress led us through a long corridor that was dominantly red. I briefly called this "The Red Sea" having seen these red framed mirror, red cabinets, red carpets and red-colored wallpaper. And at the other end of this corridor was an elegantly designed dining area (picture above).



This is a restaurant that specializes in Shanghaiese cuisine with a Japanese twist but the first few dishes failed to show any Japanese influence at all.

After a small "amuse bouche" of bean curd and pickled radish, here comes our first dish - chef's signature combination appetizer plate consisting of a bean curd roll and shredded chicken in a peanut butter and sesame sauce.

These were two highly popular traditional Shanghainese appetizers that I thought were nicely presented but I didn't find them to be much different than the ones we had at a typical Shanghaiese restaurant (4/10).



Next up was "Two kinds of signature dim sum" which on this date were a pork dumpling with crab roe and a steamed vegetable dumpling. Both dumplings were fine but once again I didn't find them particularly tasty (4/10).



The wok fried wagyu beef fillet with black bean sauce was a fine dish. The wagyu beef was very tender but looking at the amount of oil there....super oily (4/10)!



The steamed cabbage and dried shrimp soup was average at best with the dried shrimp providing most of the flavor (3/10).



Finally a dish with a little bit of Japanese influence! It came from a bowl of fried rice with Japanese sardines and garlic. 

I really liked the wonderful bite of the fried rice. It used Japanese rice which was most famous for its short grain and the somewhat sticky texture. The intense flavor of the small dried sardines also provided extra seasoning effects (7/10).



Our dessert was an almond tofu pudding that we found quite refreshing (5/10).



The presentation was definitely 1-star material but unfortunately the food and service were not. To me, this is really a work in progress.


Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: 5/F Harbourfront Landmark, 11 Wan Hoi Street, Hunghom, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: None
Website: www.KOdining.com