Saturday, September 28, 2013

Lab Made Ice Cream Parlour (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

Ice cream lovers fell in love with Lab Made Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream Laboratory when it first debuted at the residential district of Tai Hang last year. Fast forward to 2013, the owner of this famed ice cream parlour finally decided to make us Kowlooners happy by opening a new branch across the harbour at the Miramar Shopping Centre.

We had the pleasure of having a nice cup of ice cream here when the new branch opened a few months ago. We visited again today and found that with the mid autumn festival finally over, Lab Made also changed gear. Replacing the famous moon-cake flavored ice cream is a new flavor often found at the local cha chaan teng during afternoon tea - Hong Kong style crispy toast with condensed milk and peanut butter.

Unfortunately this wasn't as good as their moon-cake ice cream. In fact, it tasted a little bit like Haagen-Dazs's Caramel Biscuit and Cream but with chunks of toasts instead of biscuits. All in all, it didn't feel like having Hong Kong style crispy toast at all.

Food Rating: 3.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop G42, G/F, Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2670-0071
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui


View Larger Map

View 62 by Paco Roncero (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

After two rather disappointing lunches during the first week of its opening last March, we decided to give View 62 a little bit of time to re-group before we come back for another meal. After a year and a half, the timing seems right for another visit. 

It was one of those hazy afternoons in the dog days of summer.

There's no denying that the ambiance is what makes it all come together - the ever-rotating panoramic view of Hong Kong. This is certainly hard to beat.

Apart from the picture-perfect view, we were also looking forward to the creative nouvelle cuisine from Chef Paco Roncero's team.

Disappointingly, there was no amuse bouche being served so we jumped straight to our starters beginning with a sautéed shrimps with garlic, chili and potato (6/10).

Next came the second starter, a pan seared foie gras with apple and ginger sorbet. They did a fairly decent job on the foie gras but the portion could have been a little more generous (5/10).

Onto our main courses, I had the duck leg confit which was deboned and cooked with its natural jus and berries. The duck meat was relatively tender but could be a little more juicy (5/10).

And our second main course was hake with green beans sauce, anchovies and Iberico ham "air".

The hake was unfortunately a little on the hard side and even a near-perfect combination of contrasting flavors from the green beans sauce, anchovies and Iberico ham foam still failed to make up for it (4.5/10).

At this point, we have finally made a full rotation (approximately 110 minutes) and it's time for our dessert to shine. Mine was a panna cotta with raspberry.

Perhaps the pastry chef could read my mind - I never really liked the classic combination of panna cotta with mixed berries so they decided to use a thick raspberry foam instead. It worked beautifully (6.5/10)!

Service was slightly better than last time but it's still not overly impressive. The food also seemed to be better in the sense that they managed to find more consistency from start to finish. However, there's no particular dish that really stood out.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address:  62/F Hopewell Centre, 183 Queen's Road East, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 2574 6262

View Larger Map

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Serge et Le Phoque (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

During our last dinner here at Serge et Le Phoque in late August, I told Charles, my new friend from Paris and the restaurant's manager, that I'd come back for another visit when the restaurant officially opened for business in early September.

Finally I managed to keep that promise. 

Serge et Le Phoque is not a household name when it comes to French cuisine in Hong Kong. At least not yet. But it's slowly gaining momentum. Led by Frédéric Peneau, the former co-owner of Le Chateaubriand in Paris, a top 50 restaurant in the world, Serge et Le Phoque is quietly rounding into form.  

The kitchen is in the very capable hands of Christophe Pelé, the former owner-chef of La Bigarrade who is best known for creating an ever-changing menu with surprising combinations and beautiful presentations.

Lunch set starts at HK$220 a piece in case you are wondering.

beetroot, quail egg, anchovy, 5/10
Lunch started brightly with a lovely salad dish of beetroot and melon served with a quail egg and anchovy on the side.

This was a classic example of Chef Christophe Pelé's great presentation skills which have made him one of the best young chefs during his days at La Bigarrade. I won't say that it tasted overwhelmingly delicious but it certainly helped to set the tone for a refreshing start to this enjoyable lunch.

salmon, miso, trio, seaweed, 6/10
Our first main course was a salmon fillet that was marinated with miso before being pan seared to medium-well. The texture was very tender with the inside still slightly raw.

I thought the salmon fillet was nicely prepared and the Japanese connection with miso and seaweed was truly clever.

pork belly, garlic puree, cabbage, pepper, 5/10
Next up was a slow-cooked pork belly with garlic puree, cabbage and pepper. The presentation was less appealing than the first two dishes and so was the overall taste.

yuzu, mango curd, 7/10
We were glad to finally see some "proper" containers used for our desserts. It was a little weird seeing a Chinese tea cup with cucumber jelly last time!

Our dessert, a yuzu foam with vanilla flavored panna cotta and mango curd was one of the more successful dish from this lunch. The depth of flavors sent our taste buds on a sweet journey leaving us with an ever-lasting impression.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: B2, Tower 1 The Zenith, 3 Wanchai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 5465 2000 
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai

View Larger Map

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Maison Boulud (Beijing, CHINA) ★★★★★

If there's one thing that has always remained a constant in Beijing, it is its traffic jams. Most often than not, a short 10-minute drive here could easily be stretched into a long and boring 45-minute ride on any given day. Like this afternoon, a drive to Maison Boulud which often takes 10 minutes or so, ended up going more than 30 minutes.

But other than the traffic jams, the capital city of China is undergoing major changes. One change every foodie including myself is happy to see is the change to the culinary landscape of the city which has seen its share of evolution since the 2008 Olympics. And with the city's new wave of fine dining restaurants, Beijing is looking different by the minute.

Among those, Michelin chef Daniel Boulud and his Maison Boulud is right at the forefront of the wave.

Housed under the former American Embassy building in the legation quarter just south of the Forbidden city, Maison Boulud welcomes diners with its cutting-edge French cuisine in a unique Versailles mansion setting.

At Maison Boulud, Executive chef Brian Reimer brings along culinary experience from his extensive travels in North America and Europe highlighted by his three-year experience working alongside his mentor, Daniel Boulud at New York City's renowned Daniel. 

Things got rolling with a small welcoming dish of cheese puff.

The amuse bouche was an assortment of tiny yet fashionable nibbles highlighted by a fresh oyster with caviar (left). That was followed by a hamachi sashimi (middle) and madai fish tartare (right) with avocado and citrus purée (5/10).

However, the first real test came in the form of a curried cauliflower soup with gala apple and cream of coriander.

The soup base was silky smooth and extremely rich in texture with curry and coriander providing that extra flavor to put it over the top. I also liked the idea of having thin slices of apple in the soup which undoubtedly added a soothing sensation to my palates (7/10).

Soup was immediately followed by the pigeon ballotine, a lovely French dish of deboned pigeon and foie gras wrapped around by a thin layer of pastry.

The dish was beautifully presented with variations of plums including purée, jelly and juice and then finally completed with the addition of pistachio shave and mustard to the side. That was an excellent dish, vintage Daniel Boulud style (7.5/10).

Ditching the signature "DB Burger" was a difficult call to make but I was glad that I did.

For my main course, I ended up picking a spice grilled butterfish that was served on a bed of wild rice, fricassee of tender carrots, olive and capers. The buttery texture of the fish was perfectly complemented by a variety of flavorful ingredients and a rich Romesco sauce that did well to tie everything together (7.5/10).

Dessert was the weakest link on the day but it has come with very little surprise. With the very few good patissiers available locally, it will be hard pressed to find high-quality desserts anywhere other than 5-star hotels.

Meet my creme brûlée with assorted fruit (2/10).

Petite four was slightly disappointing.

Finally, a basket of madeleine cookies to wrap up a terrific lunch at Maison Boulud.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: ¥ ¥ ¥
Address: 23 Ch'ienmen Qian Men Dong da Jie, Beijing, 100006 China
Closest Metro Station: Qianmen
Tel: +86 (10) 6559-9200

View Larger Map

Monday, September 16, 2013

Brian McKenna@The Courtyard (Beijing, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Celebrated Irish chef Brian McKenna, former number one at Blu Lobster of Shangrila Beijing, is now the man behind the transformed The Courtyard. As a matter of fact, reading from the signs in front of the one-time Beijing's finest restaurant, we noticed the difference already - "Brian McKenna @ The Courtyard". The message loud and clear.

A devotee to molecular gastronomy, Brian McKenna has always got the flair for the drama. His fusion of Mediterranean and Asian cuisines is a reflection of his contemporary and innovative way of cooking acquired through his long and extensive culinary journey.

It's safe to say that the arrival of Brian McKenna has injected new life into The Courtyard. Even the main dining has taken a facelift to welcome their new head chef. 

And of course, the view to the forbidden city, one of the strong selling points here, is untouchable. Too bad that the East Gate was under scaffolding during the time of our visit.

The first-floor private dining room can host up to 12-15 people and has a much better view of the Forbidden City.

First thing first, we decided to have a little bit of alcohol to get our adrenaline going before our much anticipated dinner. Once again Brian McKenna showed off his Asian fusion in his very exclusive Zodiac cocktails. 

Each drink is named for each animal from the Chinese zodiac. I ordered a "Rat" which was a combination of vodka, yakult, lychee and rose syrup. It's not my zodiac but it's very thirst quenching.


To start things off, we were presented with two welcome dishes - fresh olives and crispy pig skins. We found the olives quite refreshing but the pig skins were a lot more spicy than we thought.

The amuse bouche was nothing less than brilliant. A trio of nibbles included a test tube of warm green pea soup, a rich foie gras mousse on a caramel rice biscuit topped with a coconut foam and last by not least, a mini oyster tucked inside a lime skin, topped with a lime-flavored frost (7.5/10).

After 20 minutes, our starters finally showed up and it was a beauty, which they called "Salad of American crab".

The crab meat was of very high quality and beautifully presented along with mackerel tartar, caviar, pickled cucumber, cucumber jelly, avocado pureé, corn juice and green apple. That was both adorable and savory (8.5/10).

My second starter, a sautéed king scallop with different cauliflower textures and flavors of Morocco was another remarkable masterpiece.

The king scallop was almost perfectly sautéed and the cauliflower gazpacho, tempura, pureé and cous cous combined to add contrasting textures to the mix. The only thing I didn't like about the dish was the dominance of the Morocco spices (7/10).

After a 20-minute wait, my poached salmon belly with grilled foie gras eventually arrived.

I was told the salmon belly had been slow-cooked for some 60 hours but apart from its super tender texture, it lacked any kind of flavor. The worst part of all was its presentation though. Look carefully and you realized that the salmon belly was broken into a few small pieces.

And I was not even going to question the odd marriage between salmon and foie gras here (3/10)

After a subpar fish course, it's time for our meat course called Beef and bone to shine. The Beef refers to this slow-cooked beef tenderloin that was poached to medium rare and served on a bed of mushrooms and onions.

More successful was the bone marrow tempura that was served on the side. Underneath the tempura was a wonderful layer of braised beef with red wine. It was much more flavorful than the beef tenderloin (5/10).

We were hoping that we could get a glimpse of Brian McKenna's signature dessert, Terracotta Warrior - a chocolate terracotta warrior kneeling on a pool of chocolate soil. Inside the chocolate terracotta warrior was supposed to be rich mandarin soup.

But instead we got the Taste of Tokyo which was more or less of the same concept. A chocolate sculpture of a Japanese girl with a coconut cream interior served with matcha tea mousse and yuzu sorbet (5/10).

The starters were wonderful displays of Brian McKenna's mind-blowing cooking techniques but things went downhill from there starting our main courses. Another disappointing effort came from the slow pacing which has put a dent into the overall dining experience.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥¥
Address: 95 Donghuamen Avenue (East Gate of the Forbidden City), Beijing, China
Closest Metro Station: Tiananmen East station
Tel: +86 (10) 6526-8883

View Larger Map

Temple (Beijing, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

Ever since its opening in December of 2011, Temple Restaurant Beijing (TRB) has quietly soared to the top of everybody's list. Reviews on CNN, WSJ, Timeout Beijing and Tripadvisor have all been raving about this place.

Like many other popular restaurants in Beijing, TRB's rise to fame has something to do with its unique demographic location. Situated in a century-old complex from the Ming dynasty in an ancient hutong neighbourhood in the heart of Beijing, TRB appeared to be in a league of its own.

Zhizhusi, the former "Temple of Wisdom" and one of very few 600-year-old Tibetan Buddhist temples that still existed in Beijing, helps to provide the perfect setting for a restaurant which was coincidentally named "Temple".

Similar to many hutong restaurants in Beijing, finding TRB was a bit of an adventure. Our taxi driver got us as far as the "Shatan Beijie" which was a little alley full of small grocery stores and noodle bars. It was an area that seemed like an unlikely destination for a fine dining restaurant. While our collective effort to locate the restaurant appeared to come up empty, we suddenly spotted a sign on the wall that said "Zhizhusi" in Chinese. Finally we could breathe a collective sigh of relief !

Chef-owner Ignace Lecleir certainly knows something about setting up a new restaurant with a historical setting in Beijing. After all, he's the man who helped to set up Maison Boulud at the former American embassy from scratch almost five years ago.

At Temple, he serves a continental fine-dining menu that is heavy in contemporary European flavors with a bit of French twist.


We couldn't wait to get things started and first up as always were some lovely nibbles courtesy of the chef.

There were four miniature pieces of mille feuille, two of beetroot and chili oil flavor and two others of smoked salmon and cream cheese flavor. The beetroot and chili oil one tasted a little weird but thankfully the smoked salmon and cream cheese one tasted just fine.

Then, we had some tiny cream puffs while we waited for our starters.

But as it turned out, there was more amuse bouche to come. This was a deep fried risotto served with a soft tomato purée on the bottom. No question it was the best of the three nibbles (6.5/10).

Before we could rest our stomach, our starters already appeared on deck. Our first starter was a chilled asparagus soup served with salmon tartar and sour cream that was quite smooth and delicate (6/10).

Less inspiring was our second starter, a Lyonnais style frisee salad with slow cooked egg, confit chicken legs and Marjoram dressing (4/10).

While we were still a little shocked with the lack of surprises with our first dishes, we finally found something to cheer about with our next dish, a simple fettuccine carbonara with bacon and cream.
I liked the fact that they used some local bacon instead of the usual Italian pancetta and that provided a nice twist to this Italian classic (7.5/10). 

Assorted seafood with bouillabaisse jus was our first main course and we paid an extra RMB30 for this dish. But for what?
The scallop was okay but the rest of the dish including a slice of salmon, codfish, prawn and squid was really nothing to write home about (4/10). 

The other main course, a pan fried sea bass with bacon crust fared slightly better. I liked the complements with spinach, potato, cucumber and a little bit of curry oil but those could hardly make up for the dry texture and bland taste of the sea bass (4.5/10).

Dessert added further disappointment to our lunch. While I liked the "airplane" décor on this dessert made with biscuit sacher and chocolate ganache mousse, the taste did not live up to expectation (3/10).

Just when we thought the ship won't sink any lower, it did with our last dessert - cake pistachio framboise served with framboise sorbet and pistachio cream. A lot of us could probably do better than that at home (1/10). 

Time for a little petite four. They were marshmallows and jelly candies.

Unfortunately, an insect has beaten us to our marshmallow.

After lunch, we had time to visit the former Tibetan Buddhist temple next to TRB. Today it is now part of the Temple Hotel.

That was an amazing architecture which held up well against time. 

Apart from an address with UNESCO credentials, we failed to find anything stellar about TRB during this visit. 

Food Rating: 4/10
¥ ¥ ¥

Address: 23 Shatan Beijie (off WuSi DaJie), Dongcheng District, Beijing, China
Closest Metro Station: None
+86 (10) 8400-2232

View Larger Map