Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ORTO (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

In recent years, Stanley 11 has slowly emerged as a lifestyle hotspot in the heart of the Central district. Apart from the beauty salons, fashion stores, yoga studios etc., the building is also full of great dining options. And starting in early 2013, you can add ORTO to the list of enticing dining options at this vibrant lifestyle and entertainment complex.  

ORTO did not appear on my radar screen until most recently when I read an article by Mr. Stephen Ip, the former Secretary for Economic Development and Labour of Hong Kong. Mr. Ip, who is a politician turned restaurant critic, has always had the knack for finding great food wherever he goes and ORTO is just the latest hidden gem revealed in his personal blog.

It was my day-off today and I had the pleasure of meeting my buddy from Los Angeles to do some catching up. ORTO immediately came to mind.

We got a bit of a late start on our lunch (almost 2:30pm when we arrived!) but luckily our server wasted no time in bringing us our small nibbles.

My buddy had the vegetable soup with meatballs as his starter and he thought it was decent but unexciting (4/10).

Not that my rocket salad was any more exciting than his soup (4/10).

We both agreed that they could have impressed us more with the starters but let's hope for better results from our main courses.  

Pasta is rumored to be one of the strong suit at this authentic Italian restaurant and my friend's spaghetti with mussels in white wine sauce and lemon zest ($158) definitely stole the spotlight. I thought it looked really good (6.5/10).

I had the Veal Saltimbocca served with mashed potatoes ($168), a dish quite popular in the Southern Switzerland and Italy.

Despite its rather unappealing presentation, it turned out to be quite a nice surprise. The contrasting textures of parma ham and sage wrapping around a thin slice of veal chop was surprisingly tantalizing (6/10).  

Tiramisu was very disappointing. I thought the texture was fine but the taste was lacklustering (2/10).


Finally, tea was included in the lunch set.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 3/F Stanley 11, 11 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2327-4884

Website: www.orto.com.hk 

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Yardbird (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

It's safe to say that Matt Abergel, the owner-chef of Yardbird, knows something about Japanese cooking. After all, here's a guy who has worked at the 3-star Michelin Japanese restaurant Masa in New York for an extensive period of time and was later the head chef of Zuma Hong Kong.

But Chef Abergel's latest project, Yardbird, was a little different this time. Instead of sushi and oden, this place primarily serves Japanese style skewers covering every part of a chicken from neck and liver to knee and tail.

Yardbird was launched back in 2011 and was an instant hit becoming the hardest table to get in Soho. Not only has it created a buzz in the culinary scene of Hong Kong, it has also garnered serious attention from around the world. That was reflected in the inaugural edition of the Asia's 50 Most Restaurants in 2013 in which they beat out some stiff competitions in becoming 46th best in Asia.

There is a no reservation policy at Yardbird so a long lineup was expected on any given night. But much to our pleasant surprise, we were seated only 5 minutes after passing through that door.

Yardbird Caesar, 5/10
The proper way to order for a party of two, according to our server, was to first grab one starter to share, then about four to five skewers per person and finally finish with one main course and then one rice.

And so we followed his instructions carefully by starting with the Yardbird Caesar salad. Shredded lettuce and cucumber topped with seaweed, crispy anchovy and miso sauce. Not your typical Caesar salad but it was nevertheless very refreshing and enjoyable to our taste buds.

Breast, wasabi, soy sauce, 3.5/10
Skewers were next. We were told by the restaurant manager that the chicken "oyster" is the best part of the chicken but what a shame they were all sold out by 8pm already.

Instead, we settled for their chicken breast that was served with wasabi and soy sauce. Disappointingly, the chicken breast was more on the hard side and the seasoning was a little flat even with the addition of wasabi and soy sauce.

Fillet, yuzu, miso, 4/10
Honestly we couldn't tell a chicken fillet from a chicken breast. The only differentiation was the sauce itself. This one was a lot more flavorful with yuzu and miso but still the culprit was the "roughness" of the fillet.

Wings, sea salt, shichimi, 6.5/10
We were just glad to have seen the last of chicken breast / fillet. Chicken wings were next and this was very good. Each of the wings was roasted with sea salt and shichimi. That was a yakitori classic! 

Rib, tare, sansho, 5.5/10
The chicken ribs marinated with their special homemade tare, soft, tender and flavorful.

Meatball, tare, egg yolk, 8/10
The "meatballs" were rumoured to be a must-try here and they were absolutely superb. Minced chicken meat was mixed with a little bit of soft bones and then roasted to perfection. A special homemade sauce (tare) and egg yolk combined to provide the perfect finishing touch.

Razor clam, shichimi, 8/10
We tried two non-chicken dishes here and the razor clam was easily the better one out of the two. First and foremost, the portion was quite generous and what a surprise to have razor clams baked with shichimi.

Absolutely delightful!

Pork Belly, Ponzu, 7/10
Pork belly was our other non-chicken dish. The texture was a little chewy but I liked the finishing with spring onion and a thin Ponzu sauce.

By the time we finished our skewers, we were already too full to take on another main course and rice. So a small sake before settling the bill.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: 33 Bridges Street, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Website: www.yardbirdrestaurant.com
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 46th (2013)

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Esca Bimbadgen Restaurant (Hunter Valley, AUSTRALIA) ★★★☆☆

A relatively relaxed 2.5-hour drive from Sydney brought us to Hunter Valley, the region famous for its winery.

Our first stop at Hunter Valley was the Bimbadgen Estate, a local winery, vineyard and cellar door. Like many local vineyards, Bimbadgen Estate has its own restaurant and they have a fairly good one in Esca Bimbadgen Restaurant that serves a brand of international cuisine with an Australian twist. As expected, there is an optional wine pairing for every course available.

The major selling point here, apart from the food and wine, is its view. This is the only restaurant in Hunter Valley located up high on a hill offering a magnificent view of the nearby vineyards. The view itself is second to none and is especially awesome on a sunny day.

I felt like I was at a French vineyard when I first saw a fountain and small garden at the entrance of Bimbadgen Estate. The main building of the estate includes a factory, the cellar door (tasting room) and the restaurant. The restaurant is situated at the entrance level where it's hard to miss.

Walking into the restaurant, we found the place to be divided into two sections, the indoor seating area which was totally empty and a patio that was fully occupied.

The patio was where we were heading since we have made a special request during our advance booking. On a sunny day like this, a seat overlooking the vineyards and township of Pokolbin is very much appreciated.

Lunch sets range from A$65 to A$150 with an a-la-carte menu available anytime throughout the day. A special ‘Christmas in July’ menu was also available at the time we visited. It should be noted that a minimum of one main course is required by each guest.

The wine list is very extensive and it was easy to find something we like. At this point in time, we started realizing that the restaurant was badly under-staffed resulting in the very slow service. So we kept ourselves entertained by taking pictures of the views and exploring the garden downstairs, while we waited for our server to take our order.

Freshly made bread was followed by the amuse bouche. The presentation of the amuse bouche was unimpressive but we did enjoy the molecular inspiration behind the olive caviar.

Smoked salmon with olive caviar, 1/10 (Oops!)



Seared line caught blue-eye cod, celeriac, braised fennel, cauliflower pangritata, 2/10

Bimbadgen Shiraz braised beef bourguignon, mushrooms, baby carrot, 5/10

Smoked duck breast, duck croquette, parsnip puree, bimbadgen garden Kumquats, duck jus, 5/10

Pork shoulder, roasted walnuts, apple segments, cannellini and tomato ragout, 7/10

Emerald Valley sirloin, beef ravioli, oregano and rosemary mash, hunter sauce, 7/10

Food rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 790 McDonalds Road, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, Australia
Website: www.bimbadgen.com.au/esca

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Monday, July 1, 2013

FINDS (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

When the elevator door slipped open, executive chef Jaakko Sorsa was waiting to greet me with open arms. I didn't expect that. Well, it turned out that he was just walking past the elevator but he did offer me a wonderful smile.

FINDS (Finland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark & Sweden in case you are wondering) has always been my favorite Nordic restaurant in the city. Okay, it's the only one here but it's very good. I like the great vibe and the cuisine always offers good value for money. But the old nemesis remains its service - cold like the Scandinavian weather in the winter.

Today is the July-1st holiday and I find myself wandering on the streets without a plan. But once we saw The Luxe Manor hotel in the horizon, I knew where I would be heading for lunch.

A refreshing start from my appetizer was exactly what I was looking for. That came in the form of a black truffle-camembert cheese mousse served with avocado and tomato salsa, rocket, balsamico in a pistachio dressing. If you like your salad with a little extra flavor, this would certainly fit your bills.

This was the first time I tried Chef Jaakko's roasted pork belly and it was a pleasant suprise for me. It was melt-in-your-mouth good. Add red cabbage puree, apple chutney, pickled fennel, baby spinach and tarragon sauce, and I got myself a really enjoyable dish.

This looks a little French, doesn't it? Pear poached in white wine and that's exactly what I was having for dessert. Hazelnut and espresso mousse, almond crumble and some meringues rounded this out. I thought this was the weakest link of this meal.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: The Luxe Manor 1/F, 39 Kimberley Road
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2522-9318
Website: www.finds.com.hk