Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pierre Hermé (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

He's finally here. The man behind the revival of the Ladurée empire has finally arrived. 

Pierre Hermé who is best known by the world as the "Picasso of pastry" has finally made his long anticipated debut in Hong Kong. But unlike Ladurée who has done their homework by picking the Harbour City Shopping Complex as the venue of their flagship store, the location of the first-ever Pierre Hermé boutique is somewhat of a peculiar one - the commercial oriented IFC Tower. 

The box itself was definitely a collector's item.  

There are about 15 different flavors to choose from. A box like this goes for about HK$330 these days.

The macaron base was slightly softer than what we were accustomed to but had more bite and depth to it. My personal favorites were the Image (Matcha green tea & black sesame crisp) and Creme Brulee (Vanilla & caramel bits).

Too bad they didn't have the XXL sizes available in Paris.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 1019C, IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2833-5700

View Larger Map

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fine Foods (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

In case you missed out on the green apple cheesecakes, there's a chance to re-deem yourself with Fine Foods' latest creation - yuzu cheesecake.

Like the green apple cheesecake, the outer shell of the yuzu cheesecake was made with a crispy layer of white chocolate. Underneath all that were yuzu flavored cream cheese,  yuzu bits and honey combs.

Perhaps it has too much resemblance to the green apple cheesecake. I was expecting more surprises.

Food Rating: 3/10
Price: $$$
Address: Lobby Level, The Royal Garden, 69 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui East
Tel: +852 2733-2045

Friday, May 3, 2013

Osteria Francescana (Modena, ITALY) ★★★★★

Ten cities and three countries in seven days. Finally we are down to our last day of this trip and separating us from a return ticket home is a stop at Modena, Italy with a highly anticipated lunch at the 3-star Michelin restaurant Osteria Francescana on tap.

Osteria Francescana is the fifth and final 3-star restaurant of our trip. Not only is it highly regarded in the Michelin guide, it's also a permanent fixture in the "Best 50 Restaurants in the World" for the past few years. In the 2013 edition of "The Best 50 Restaurants in the World", it ranked third best overall.

Meet our new friend, owner-chef Massimo Bottura!

Despite being tucked away on Via Stella, a quiet street in the heart of Modena, Osteria Francescana is not difficult to locate at all, especially with patron-chef Massimo Bottura trotting around in front of the restaurant!


The restaurant consists of 3-4 smaller dining rooms, each capable of accommodating 3-4 tables. The layout of each room is very simple yet elegant. 

Our meal started off with a bowl of frosty ice of almond served with coffee, capers and apricot. It felt a little like having an early dessert but no question it was the perfect palate cleanser for us.

Another nibble was a collection of macarons including one with oyster foam and seaweed and another with fresh tuna. A very unique set of macarons to say the least (7.5/10).

Our lunch officially began with a fish course - a codfish marinated with tomato, ginger and capers. The sauce was very intense giving the codfish a great deal of depth and flavors (7.5/10).

Sardines? Not exactly.

They were scampi wrapped with red mullet fillets and then dipped in a thick squid ink sauce reminiscing the appearance of sardines. This was a very impressive dish from design to execution (9/10).

The only dish I didn't mind not having was the risotto. Our server explained it as a rice made with fresh water and sea water and served with minced catfish, carp fish and vegetable in a wine and vinegar sauce. 

I found the texture a little too soft and mushy (3/10).

Continuing with the "sea" theme, here's our next course - a smoked eel served with an apple jelly. The sea eel was smoked to perfection and it melted just when we placed it into our mouth (8.5/10).

What looked like an oyster here was not really an oyster. This was lamb serving with an oyster and olive oil emulsion. Green "ice" of apple jelly provided the finishing touch and for a moment, it really felt like having a fresh oyster (8.5/10).

"Think green" was our vegetable dish of the day. A beautifully presented dish with seasonal vegetables including as asparagus, peas, broccoli, zucchini and mushroom while finished with radish, truffles and a little bit of goat cheese sauce (5/10).

The next course was described by our server as "snails cooked in a French way". Well, this was not exactly French, was it !?

Here we had snails cooked with aromatic vegetables, red wine, balsamic vinegar, black truffle and coffee. Yes coffee! And the result was a very complex. 

Now, I know why they named this dish "Under the grapevines" (5/10).

Time for some pasta, here we had a ravioli with foie gras, black truffles and leek topped with veal juice and Riesling wine. The rich flavors from the ravioli were nicely complemented by the strong taste of foie gras, truffles and Riesling resulting in a very flavorful ravioli (8.5/10). 

And a smiley face, how cute!

Our final dish before dessert was a meat course of pigeon breast with balsamic vinegar, chutney, truffles and horseradish snow. That was another excellent dish (7.5/10).


Onto our dessert section, first up was their signature pre-dessert - "Thousand Layers". 

Sugar coated leaves that were half-frozen were blended with wine, walnut, grapefruit juice, chocolate and truffles. That was very unique (9/10).

An exclamation point to this wonderful lunch came courtesy of the "broken lemon tart" with tomato, capers and ginger.

Chef Massimo Bottura came around to explain the concept behind this dessert. He explained that life is a full circle and it is demonstrated by this last dish using almost the exact ingredients (tomato, capers and ginger) as the first one (except the cod fish). 

Those were some really deep thoughts right there!

We have really enjoyed every moment of this culinary experience. Chef Massimo Bottura's cuisine has a perfect balance of tradition (risotto, ravioli...) and revolution (sardine/scampi, oyster/lamb...) that is exciting and unique. 

Chef Bottura is a real funny guy who takes cooking very seriously. And I bet he would make a great philosopher if he ever decided to give up cooking one day!

Food Rating: 9/10
Price: €€€€
Address: Via Stella, 22, 41121 Modena, Italy
Tel: +39 059 210118
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 3rd (2013)

View Larger Map

Thursday, May 2, 2013

L'Hôtel de Ville (Crissier, SWITZERLAND) ★★★★☆

An easy 40-minute drive was all it took for us to arrive at Crissier from Geneva and waiting on the wings was a much anticipated meal at the prestigious Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville in the Crissier town centre.

For almost three decades, Restaurant de l'Hôtel de Ville has been considered the best restaurant in all of Switzerland by food enthusiasts. Its fame all started from the days when legendary chef Frédy Girardet was at the helm. After Girardet passed the torch to his protégé Philippe Rochat in 1996, Rochat continued to cement the restaurant's reputation as a world-class dining destination by achieving 3-star rating from Michelin year after year. In 2012, current Head Chef Benoît Violier took over the kitchen from Rochat and despite having big shoes to fill, he was successful in maintaining the restaurant’s 3-star status. Adding to his already impressive start, Chef Violier was also named “Chef of the Year” by Gault Millau in 2013.

There were two 9-course tasting menus being served at CHF290 and CHF370 on the day. A more condensed 4-course menu was also available at CHF185 for anyone with a smaller appetite. That was the set we were after.
Amuse Bouche
Unfortunately, the amuse bouche did not provide the inspiring start we have hyped up for. We were expecting something far more interesting than a mini-burger with minced meat.
Foie gras terrine
The amuse bouche got us a little bit worried but our first starter quickly erased any doubts about this talented kitchen. This was a foie gras terrine atop with tomato puree made from tomatoes in the forest and crushed pine nuts. There was a thin layer of apricot jelly on each of the three slices of foie gras terrine to provide the perfect balance with the rich and creamy flavor of the foie gras.
This was a well executed dish that was both savory and enjoyable.

Steamed Luberon Asparagus tied with French Bigorre ham
It’s the harvest season for asparagus so we were seeing them regularly in the menus everywhere in France and Switzerland.
Luberon Asparagus is the cream of the crop when it comes to asparagus and the combination with French Bigorre ham certainly did not disappoint. Who could resist these perfectly juicy and sweet asparagus that was wonderfully complemented by the extremely flavorful Bigorre ham?
Blue lobster
Our first main course was a blue lobster poached and served with a lobster bisque-like sauce. This didn’t look like a particularly tough dish to make but to make it as flawless as they did, required top notch culinary techniques and of course, quality ingredients.

Noble cut of local mountain veal
We were down to our last main course here. While we had trouble believing that they could top the quality of the previous three dishes, the kitchen once again came through with a pleasant surprise.
This last dish featured a local mountain veal pan fried and was served on a pool of savory herbs, green peas and morel mushrooms. The key of this dish was really the thin slice of pancetta ham that was wrapped around the veal cut. It provided a nice contrasting texture and flavor making this one of the best veal I have tasted in recent memory.

Mixed berry sorbet
All good things must come to an end at some point. And it did. After four impressive dishes, here came an underwhelming dessert of mixed berry sorbet with light goat cheese cream.
Super sour. That was the only thing I could remember.
The petite four was again excellent. My personal favorites were the peanut butter tart (second on the left) and the crispy pistachio cream (on the right).
Apart from the amuse bouche and dessert, I thought the kitchen did more than enough to convince us that they are for real. However, the quality of service slightly ruined our overall experience.
While the staff was very friendly and courteous throughout the meal, there were glaring mistakes of not topping up water on a consistent basis. As a matter of fact, between our first starter and second main course, we had absolutely no water in our glass and that came totally undetected by the staff here. Another thing we didn’t like was their consistent effort to consolidate the leftovers from different tables into one or two plates before carrying back to the kitchen. That was totally unnecessary and should have never be done in the middle of the dining room of a 3-star Michelin restaurant.
Food Rating: 10/10
Price: $$$$$
Address: Rue d'Yverdon 1, 1023 Crissier, Switzerland
Tel: +41 21 634-0505
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 88th (2013)

View Larger Map

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

L'Ancienne Auberge Vonnas (Vonnas, FRANCE) ★★★☆☆

I have never been this happy seeing a chicken sign on the highway but this one was special. Pure joy.

As we slowly drove through the Bourg-en-Bresse province towards the gastronomic village of Georges Blanc in Vonnas, our mission was crystal clear - we wanted to taste some local Bresse free-range chickens !

Not to be mistaken with the 3-star Michelin restaurant by chef Georges Blanc across the street.....

Our destination was L'Ancienne Auberge, a bistrot also owned by Georges Blanc, serving a wide range of authentic family dishes and regional cuisines.

The former lemonade factory was renovated as a bistro to re-produce a brasserie identical to the one run by the Blanc family at the beginning of the century. The design philosophy could very well be summed by one word - tradition. The Bressan style woodwork, wooden floors, framed black-and-white family pictures, checkered tablecloth and beamed ceiling all contributed to this wonderfully warm and authentic atmosphere.

Bresse chickens are prized for their gamey depth of flavour with ultra fine and tender texture. That would be the focal point of our lunch here.

We started things off with the signature Bresse chicken in "Mother Blanc" creamy sauce. A small bowl of Basmati rice was served on the side. The sauce was absolutely perfect, thanks to the recipe from grandmother Blanc. The chicken was flavorsome but we felt that the texture was a little on the hard side. Perhaps not as fine or tender as advertised. 

Upon further investigation, we noticed that the color of the meat was slightly darker than usual so we suspected that it could be a black or grey feather variety Bresse chicken here. 

The other main course, Bresse chicken (leg) roasted with candied pineapple gave us a slightly different result. This time, the sauce was nothing special but the meat matched our high expectation. Tender, juicy and flavorful.

From the color of the meat, this should be a white Bresse.

If you ever drive near the Vonnas region and start craving for some Bresse chicken, this is the place to be.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: €€€
Address: Place Du Marche BP 11, 01540 Vonnas, France
Tel: +33 (0)4 7450-9050

View Larger Map