Saturday, November 30, 2013

CIAK In the Kitchen (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Umberto Bombana, chef patron of 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo BOMBANA must be racking up his mileage points rather quickly in 2013. After opening his first restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing early this year, the 3 Michelin star chef has been busy with the opening of another new restaurant in Hong Kong - CIAK In the Kitchen, where he serves as their culinary advisor.

CIAK In the Kitchen is a dining concept based on the traditional Italian grocery store where customers can come in and enjoy high-quality food at the shop or take it to go. They also took it a step further by combining the grocery store with a trendy trattoria.

The crossover of Italian grocery store and trattoria is by no means something new in Hong Kong. In recent years, Assaggio, Divino Patio Ristorante and Bar and Giando have all adopted a similar format and it's getting more and more popular.

Located near the entrance of the restaurant are counters serving gelato, drinks and pastries. 
As usual, the pastry counter was my focal point and I was particularly intrigued by these "bombolones", or round shaped Italian doughnuts that looked really tasty!

At the middle of the restaurant is an open kitchen that serves freshly made bread, pizzas and comfort food. A free-seating area with approximately 20 seats is available for anyone interested in a quick bite. 

Further inside is a trattoria also decorated like a grocery store. 

We decided to pick a quiet corner behind the wooden shelves to enjoy a little more privacy.

The 2-course set lunch here provides the best value for money. You get to pick a starter and a main course from a short list for $238.

For starter, we had the beef tongue which was beautifully complemented by a lovely tuna sauce. That was one of the better beef tongue I have had in recent times.

Pan fried black cod fish, although arrived relatively late, was also nicely prepared. The chives, citrus dressing and mashed potatoes combined to provide contrasting flavors to the cod fish

My only complaint was perhaps the portion could have been a little bit more generous.

Of course, we had to sample one of their pastas from the a la carte menu. We ended up with this penne with Arrabiata sauce which was only average at best. 

We were expecting a better effort from a kitchen under Chef Bombana's guidance but that was no comparison with some of my favorite pasta from Posto Pubblico or Linguini Fini.

We took the optional dessert for $60 as part of the lunch set and it was one of the house specialty - CIAK tiramisu (regular price was $88 I think). 

Expect a little bit of deconstructive twist here!

There are a lot of posters and paintings on the wall, but none more appealing than this portrait with Chef Bombana holding a plate of truffle in his hand!

We have enough up-scale restaurants in Central already so CIAK In the Kitchen really provides a nice change of pace.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 327-333, 3/F, Landmark Atrium, 15 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2522-8869

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fish and Meat (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

From the same team who brought us Blue Butcher and Brickhouse in the past, they recently strike again with a new concept restaurant called Fish and Meat which officially opened its door in Central in mid November. The restaurant is almost impossible to miss. Just walk up hill from Glenealy Street and you should see a BIG fish sign on the right pointing you to the entrance.

At the helm is Chef Russell Doctrove, formerly of Amber and St. Betty. Before moving to Hong Kong, Chef Doctrove has worked in some of the top kitchens around the UK including the Michelin starred Gordon Ramsay in London and the Waterside Inn in Bray.

Despite having a head chef with great experience cooking in some of UK's best fine dining restaurants, Fish and Meat decides to take a more casual dining approach. 

The menu is short and simple highlighted by Mediterranean and Sicilian style dishes such as pan fried baby octopus and sea bream served with cherry tomatoes, squid and black olives atop. The restaurant prides itself as a farm to table eatery that puts a great deal of focus on the sourcing of the best ingredients around the world; for instance, monkfish, turbot and free-range chicken are directly sourced from France and the langoustines came from New Zealand. 

There are two private dining rooms in this 3,500 square-foot space. Each one can accommodate up to 8-10 diners.

Bread is freshly made and served with a homemade pesto butter.

After a nice loaf of bread, our three starters slowly showed up one after another. First up was the O'Connor farm grass-fed beef carpaccio with pickled jalapeño, duck yolk and parmesan cheese.

I thought the beef carpaccio has decent depth but the touch of jalapeño spice was a little too strong for my liking (3.5/10).

For dinner at a restaurant that specializes in seafood, seafood should be our focal point but we ended up not ordering any fish at all!

This was as close as we got - a homemade cannelloni with minced Maine lobster, spot prawns and salmon (3/10).

Out of the three starters, I liked their tagliatelle the most. Freshly made daily, the tagliatelle tasted a lot like a kind of Chinese thick noodle I used to have when I was young. The chicken and truffle emulsion was surprisingly light yet flavorful (6.5/10).

My main course was a veal chop cooked in "Milanese" style. 

The thin slice of veal from the Netherlands, breaded in parsley panko and breadcrumbs, was fried to golden brown color and served with the usual chopped tomatoes and arugula. I also liked the addition of pine nuts and shredded Iberico ham which provided great texture to the mix.

The only blemish here was the veal itself. Although it's very tender, the natural veal flavor seemed to be missing and it ended up tasting more like a fried pork chop (4/10).

We ordered the grilled asparagus to share on the side and they were nicely matched with a white bean puree and pistachio pesto. But when we looked a little closer, only the top three pieces were asparagus while those sitting at the bottom were all long green beans! Tricky!

What happened there...ran out of asparagus at the grill?

Although we were partially at fault for not ordering any fish at a restaurant named for its fish courses (and meat, which we did try), the dishes that we did try failed to impress us. But on the bright side, the staff is very upbeat and quite attentive so it should make a fairly decent choice for group dining.

But if you are looking for a romantic dinner, you may want to look elsewhere.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: 1/F & 2/F, 32 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2565-6788

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Pâtisserie Tony Wong at Causeway Bay (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Happy friday! It's been a tough week at work so I decided to go grab a little treat for myself after work.

I haven't been to my favorite patisserie for a while now so a lot of these pastries looked new to me. The most eye-catching of all was this Ruby Diamond, which I was certain that many ladies would be dying to get their hands on (if it's real diamond).

The crust was made with almond sugar and caramelized hazelnut while inside the Ruby Diamond were fillings of milk chocolate and hazelnut cream. 

This looked really amazing but the taste paled in comparison to its remarkable presentation.

More successful was this pistachio cream dome. Perfect layering textures and flavors.


Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: 399 Lockhart Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Restaurant Akrame (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

In recent years, Ship Street has quietly surpassed Star Street as Wanchai's leading culinary hotspot following the success of Bo Innovation, Madame Sixty Ate and 22 Ships. Its position could be further cemented this week with the addition of restaurant Akrame, a new concept headed by El Bulli and Pierre Gagnaire alum Akrame Benallal.

Chef Akrame Benallal made a name for himself by opening restaurant Akrame in the 16th arrondisement of Paris in 2011. A year later, he was already awarded with his first Michelin star making him one of the most promising young chefs in the country.

At his first venture in Hong Kong, expect seafood to be the focus in the "no-choice" menu that promises to change every fortnight.

Akrame offers three choices at lunch, a three-course, four-course and six-course surprise menu. There's no a la carte menu offered at this point.

The 30-seater was full on this day and our man, Chef Akrame Benallal could be seen working just outside the open kitchen!

First of all, a little advice before you head over to Akrame. Wash your hands carefully coz you will be using them a lot.

Lunch started with some interesting nibbles. First up was a plate of three nibbles including a radish "sandwich" with a piece of fish that looked like a herring on top, a slice of smoked eel on a squid ink chip and lastly, salmon roes on a cheese puff.

And if those couldn't get your appetite going, try the next nibble - a small chip of dried black olive with yoghurt. The olive flavor was very compelling (6/10).

While we were still cleaning up our fingers, our first course arrived and it was a cauliflower soup with bitter jelly. The combination of cauliflower and bitter jelly was quite an interesting experience (5/10).

Under this parsley foam was a few layers of fresh clams along with a strong passion fruit emulsion and some passion fruit kernels. The balance between the parsley and clams was good but the passion fruit was a little too overpowering at times (6/10).

A nice fillet of red snapper was our fish course today. The red snapper with a crust of rice cracker was served on a pool of purple glutinous rice. That was a rather unusual marriage of contrasting flavors characteristic of Chef Benallal's cooking (4/10).

Our meat course was a veal with three different textures of onions. The onion flavors were really enjoyable but I found the veal a little too chewy (4/10).

Had to use our hands again, this time for the palate cleanser - a margarita ice!

We had trouble identifying which one was the pre-dessert and which one was the real deal because both the dark chocolate mousse and the charcoal grilled pineapple arrived virtually at the same time. 

Personally, I found the chargrilled pineapple with crumbs and "charcoal" ice-cream slightly more intriguing.

Time for our petite four - a dark chocolate bar with flakes of sea salt that we could either eat here or bring home as a souvenir.

I had mixed feelings about this lunch at Akrame. While the creative flare was quite apparent in the interpretation of some of these dishes, none of the dishes really stood out.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 9 Ship Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 2528-5068

Thursday, November 14, 2013

School Food (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

School Food has been the talk of the town ever since the trendy Korean chain landed in Hong Kong this September. Situated on the 13th floor of the iconic Times Square, School Food prides itself as a fusion restaurant serving Korean cuisine with a modern take.

There's a "no reservation" policy here at School Food so expect waiting time to reach 20-30 minutes during the peak hours. Fortunately, it was almost 3pm when we got here so we were able to get in without much of a wait.

True to its "Made to Order" philosophy, dishes are freshly made allowing diners to experience the natural flavors of the meal at its peak.

One of the most popular dishes on the menu is the mari, or Korean-style sushi.

I particularly liked their Squid Ink Mari which contains chopped squid wrapped with thin slices of seaweed and rice that’s been dyed with black ink. Very sweet and a little chewy. 

I have been searching for the perfect kimchi fried rice in Hong Kong and finally found it here at School Food. The pan-grilled Kimchi Bokkeumbap (or kimchi fried rice) was everything we was hoping for and more. 

Another house specialty is their Korean rice cakes which are also known as topokki.

My personal favorite is the fusion dish – Carbonara Topokki, which is Korean rice cakes served with carbonara sauce. Very creamy and silky smooth texture.

Korean cuisine could be very delicious even without barbecue meat and haemul pajeon.  

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$
Address: Shop 1302, 13/F, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2480-3666

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Upper Modern Bistro (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

As a fan of Chef Philippe Orrico, we were disappointed to see him leave St. George but were very excited to hear that he has finally realized his dream to open his first restaurant. His first solo venture, Upper Modern Bistro, recently opened its door in the up-and-coming district of Sheung Wan

Since arriving in Hong Kong more than seven years ago, Chef Orrico has been a big part of the city's fine dining scene having worked at Pierre of Mandarin Oriental Hotel and St. George of the Hullet House, so this is definitely a change of pace for him.

At Upper Modern Bistro, the setting is modern chic and the menu is largely contemporary bistro-style with an Asian twist. This poses a sharp contrast to what we used to see from Chef Orrico which was far more formal and up-tight.

There are 2 different menus being served at the restaurant at the moment. The first was a short menu comprising of small tapas-like dishes such as mini-veal burger, quail eggs buns and salmon toast. Then there is a more comprehensive dinner menu serving regular-portion  starters, main courses and desserts. 

And from the open kitchen, we could see Chef Orrico working hard behind the scene.

Mini veal burger, mushroom garnish, 7.5/10
We had a perfect start with their mini veal burger which came highly recommended in various online sources. The veal was very juicy and a secret cheese sauce helped to tie everything together nicely by adding a creamy texture and rich flavor to the mix.

Served on the side was a porcini mushroom purée which brought the taste of the burger to another dimension.

Pig's trotter and oyster toast, green salad, 8/10
We were glad to see Chef Orrico bring his signature dish here.

The pig's trotter, braised to perfection, was placed on a crispy slice of toast topped with a  freshly shucked Gillardeau oyster and parmesan cheese flakes. That was irresistible.

I also loved the small garden green mixed with a little bit of Iberico ham. That worked  wonderfully well to balance the richness of the pig's trotter and oyster.

Mushroom tagliatelle, poached egg, bellota and parmesan, 7.5/10
Onto our main courses we go, here's a homemade tagliatelle with assorted mushrooms, poached egg, bellota ham and parmesan cheese. I thought the tagliatelle had wonderful texture and the perfect bite. That was another enjoyable dish.

Braised beef cheek, mash potato and confit apple, 7.5/10
The moment I cut through this braised beef cheek, I knew it was good! 

The slow-braised beef cheek was very tender and it almost seemed to melt right in my mouth. The sauce was quite intense and it was a near-perfect match for the beef cheek. 

Lemon panna cotta, 7/10
Our starters and main courses were so close to perfection. That was somewhat expected from this talented kitchen but we just couldn't imagine that their desserts could be equally impressive.

Look at this beautifully presented lemon panna cotta that was nicely complemented by
yuzu parfait, lemon zest and a spicy citrus sorbet. It reminded me of another delicate dessert we had at 22 Ships a while ago. Very refreshing and all the different flavors seemed to harmonize with each other.

Upper chocolate, 6/10
Finally a little bit of chocolate before we called it the night. A bowl of ganache with chocolate cubes, orange zest and nuts with a scoop of calisson ice cream on top.

I definitely liked the lemon panna cotta more.

This 50-seater is currently run by a restaurant manager, 2 waiting staff and a hostess so expect a few glitches here and there (such as not topping water) but the food is so good that I am sure we can work around those issues.

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$
Address:  6-14 Elegance Court, G/F Upper Station Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2517-0977

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