Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Pawn (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Housed in an exquisite heritage building that used to be a pawn shop back in the 1880's, The Pawn first opened door to its customers in 2008 as a bar, dining room and rooftop garden all over one roof.

One level up from the buzzy bar was a spacious dining room, quiet and full of colonial flavors.

The weather was a little stuffy tonight so we decided to take matters outside. Luckily there was this table still available at the terrace overlooking Johnson Road. 

I couldn't believe this was actually my first time having dinner at the Pawn. I have been here so many times.

It was a nice gathering with my buddy from LA and we both got things rolling with this seared Hokkaido scallops, saffron, cauliflower puree, walnuts and apple chips (7/10).

But things quickly went downhill from here. My baked salmon in parchment with asparagus, tomatoes, tomatoes, potatoes and pesto sauce was badly overcooked. Actually to be exact, it was overcooked on one side and undercooked on the other (3/10).

Looking over to my buddy's wild cod fillet with black garlic gnocchi and lemon cream, it didn't seem to fair much better. 

Inconsistency, that has always been the old nemesis of The Pawn since day one but there are rumblings about British celebrity chef Tom Aikens taking control of the Pawn's kitchen in the third quarter of 2014. Stay tuned on the development of that story.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 2/F, 62 Johnston Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 2866-3444

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

COCO (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

We are so blessed to be living in Hong Kong where good French pâtisserie is never in short supply.

After meeting a friend from Canada for an early-bird brunch, I found myself wandering around the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui where I suddenly spotted the Mira Hotel. Like any typical pastry lover, the artisan confections of COCO immediately came across my mind.

Following a large-scale makeover in 2012, The Mira Hotel has looked as good as ever. The makeover has also rejuvenated COCO turning this lobby lounge into a stylish café-patisserie. 

These days, the café-patisserie continues to offer upscale designer cakes, coffee and artisan pastries in a trendy ambience.

My pick of the day was their Aux Marrons, a chestnut mousse cake with layered pistachio sponge, dried fruits compote and walnut dacquoise. 

I thought the texture was excellent but the taste was a tad too sweet for my liking. I'd also like to see them do a little better job with the pistachio sponge such that it works better with the chestnut mousse.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: G/F, The Mira Hong Kong, 118 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2315-5566

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Le Port Parfumé (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Les Amis's expansion from Singapore to Hong Kong has largely been a successful one with the immensely popular Piccolo Pizza and Bistro du Vin and they have just recently added Le Port Parfumé to sharpen their arsenal.

Located at Kau U Fong near Soho, Le Port Parfumé (French for the Fragrant Harbour) is billed as a modern Parisien bistro serving hearty French bistro classics such as escargots, beef tartare etc. Even the restaurant settings have French bistro written all over it.

My friend Agent-i and I decided to start dinner with the crispy crab cake served with a lemon mayo. What a superb start to this Parisien dinner (6.5/10).

I am a huge fan of prawns and this Prawns a la plancha was simply amazing (6.5/10).

The green asparagus and escargot in herb butter sauce gave us a real pleasant surprise. The escargots were big and juicy while the green asparagus was perfectly sweet and crunchy (7/10).

Salt baked fish of the day happened to be a salt baked red snapper. It was very tasty especially with that house special cream sauce. And that said a lot considering that it came from someone who absolutely hated fish (7/10)!

Dessert for me was a lovely goat cheese ice-cream that was surprisingly light (7/10).

Agent-i had a banana tartin with lemongrass and ginger ice-cream and I thought it was a little heavy comparing to my goat cheese ice-cream (6/10).

Wonderful bistro food in a beautiful Parisien setting at an affordable price, how can we resist that?

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop C, 6-10 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2824-3018

Friday, March 14, 2014

MamaSan (Bali, INDONESIA) ★★★★☆

Mama-San is the hottest restaurant in Bali. Just ask any famous food blogger or hotel buggy driver and they will tell you the same answer.

Opened in 2010, Mama-San is the brainchild of well-traveled celebrity chef Will Meyrick who is also behind Sarong. At Mama-San, expect a pan-Asian menu served in an old Shanghai style dining room with great vibe and friendly service. You won't go away disappointed.

On the day of our visit, the dining room was absolutely packed with tourists from Australia, United States and different parts of Asia. Luckily, we did our due diligence by making an online reservation!

And of course, the iconic painting of an Asian lady in a traditional Chinese dress hand-painted in the middle of the dining room immediately caught our attention.

Finally after our photo-taking session, it's time to focus on the menus once again.

Both the lunch and a la carte menu here comprise of traditional and contemporary interpretations of pan-Asian dishes. Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese are all well presented.

Braised pork belly steamed buns have slowly become the talk of the town in Hong Kong in recent months. Here pork belly buns were nowhere to be found but they do have BBQ duck steamed buns with hoisin, Asian celery and homemade chili sauce.

But too bad they were not as tasty as we expected (4/10).

A little more successful was the next dish - salt and pepper soft shell crab with red nahm jim (5/10).

I am a huge fan of "Kway Teow" and they have gotten a good one here - "Kway Teow" of beef with shitake mushroom, egg, beansprouts, gailan and sweet soy. You will definitely enjoy it if you like spicy (6.5/10).

For dessert, try the mung bean cake with coconut ice-cream.

Or if you are feeling less adventurous like us, deep fried ice cream with nuttella would be a safe bet (4.5/10).

Personally I found their chai tea caramel custard with cashew nut ice-cream even more attractive (6/10).

Mama-San is one of the top-tier restaurants in Bali. Its airy ambiance, superb service and extensive menu are their hallmark of success making it one of the most popular hotspot in the city. I am really looking forward to its first overseas branch which is slated to open at Wyndham Street in Hong Kong sometime next month.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Jalan Raya Kerobokan, Badung, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 730436


Mozaic (Bali, INDONESIA) ★★★☆☆

A bit of bad news before our arrival in Bali for this long awaited dinner at Mozaic. Long-time chef-owner Chris Salans has decided to step down from his role as executive chef of Mozaic Restaurant Gastronomique which is widely considered the best fine dining restaurant in Bali and perhaps Indonesia. Taking over the reigns is New Zealand born chef Blake Thornley who's been working in the kitchen at Ubud for a few years now and has been Mozaic's cooking class head teacher. Chef Thornley will now have the daunting task of replacing Chef Salans, arguably the most successful chef Indonesia has ever seen.

Back to Mozaic Ubud, well what can I say, this is Bali's temple of haute cuisine. The restaurant offers a few prix-fixe menu options including an ultimate surprise menu. 


We arrived slightly earlier than expected and the hostess showed us the way into a waiting room where we were shown the menu. A small welcoming dish soon followed - cheese puff with liquid truffle (5/10).

After a 15-minute wait, it looked like the dining room was ready. The staff escorted different groups into the forest-like passage one by one, before finally reaching a quiet dining area surrounded by lush trees.

The dining area is modernly designed with red and wood. There's nice separation between each table to ensure that enough privacy is provided.

And if you want to enjoy your dinner even more, trying bringing your own mosquito repellent. You would be thankful that you did!

After weighing our options, we decided that the Surprise Menu was the right one for us. What we like about this surprise menu is that no one will have the same dish on the same table. Now that's what I call surprise! 

Our dinner was off to a decent start with an amuse bouche of small foie gras mousse with green apple and lemongrass foam.

A further amuse bouche of tuna cone with parmesan cheese, black and white sesame was next (4.5/10).

We couldn't wait to start things rolling with all their surprises. First up was a baby lobster served with different textures of tangerines. Each piece of lobster had a bit of caviar on top and was sprinkled all over with crushed nuts.

Putting lobster with tangerine was an interesting idea and that South East Asian twist worked quite well for this dish (6.5/10).

Carpaccio of mother of pearl was presented with carrots, peanuts, spring onion and caviar. The taste of the carpaccio was actually alright but it could certainly use a facelift (4/10).

Keeping up with the sea theme, here's a poached Boston lobster with charcoal grilled watermelon, radish and black truffle. The lobster was deliberately poached to just half- cooked with watermelon cubes and puree providing the finishing touches.

But that fresh taste of Boston lobster seemed to be missing (4/10).

One last dish before we finished with our seafood dishes and it was a pan-seared seabass with hazelnut puree, hazelnuts and Spanish Iberico ham. That was nicely complemented by a light parmesan emulsion (5.5/10).

The foie gras trio was probably the most confident dish of this kitchen as we have seen it in almost all of their prix-fixe menus. We were served with two slightly different versions here.

The first interpretation consisted of a foie gras terrine with strawberry sorbet, a charcoal grilled foie gras with raspberry puree and finally a pan seared foie gras with beetroot and hazelnut (4.5/10).

But I liked the second interpretation a little better. This one had a foie gras terrine with tangerine puree and jelly, a charcoal grilled foie gras with orange juice and sun dried orange and then a pan seared foie gras with arugula and hazelnut (5/10).

Up to this point, we have been less than impressed with most of these dishes. Are we being too harsh on the most celebrated restaurant in all of Indonesia? Let's see if things will turn around for us with our meat courses.

Our first meat course was a roasted Iberico pork with cherry puree and cocoa beans (4/10).

Slightly better was the vension fillet served with artichoke, barley, mushroom and truffle sauce (4.5/10).

A long 3-hour dinner was finally drawing to a close. Having our driver waited for more than an hour, we just wanted to wrap things up as quickly as possible. 

So let's head to our dessert section, shall we!?

Mango sorbet with chocolate crumble and nuts showed up as the first dessert of the night (3.5/10).

And the dessert parade continued with a freshly baked brioche with cheese, truffle and Iberico ham. Yes, brioche and cheese for dessert you got that right (4.5/10) !

A less-than-stellar chocolate fondant with basil ice-cream, beetroot juice and olive powder failed to make the highlight for us. Looked like the chocolate fondant was slightly overcooked. Not much chocolate lava oozing out (3.5/10).

We were slightly happier with the other dessert, a ginger flower sorbet with guava chocolate roll (5/10).

A very quick petite fours before we woke our driver up in his car.

We were not sure if the departure of Chef Chris Salans has anything to do with this but it was an overall sub-par effort.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Jl. Raya Sanggingan, Ubud, Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 975768
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 50th (2013)

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Merah Putih (Bali, INDONESIA) ★★★☆☆

Merah Putih is one of the newest additions to Bali's dining scene. If you are staying at the W Hotel Retreat and Spa, this might just be the place for you. Located just a stone's throw from the hotel's main gate, Merah Putih represents a new wave of trendy restaurants that serve traditional Indonesian cuisine with a slightly modern twist. 

The menu has been divided into two sections, "traditional" and "modern" where you would find both traditional Indonesian recipes as well as Indonesian food with a modern interpretation.

Our first impression of Merah Putih was a very good one - an oasis within the heart of Seminyak.

The restaurant offers a very extensive wine list but the selection of cocktails and mocktails was even more enticing. 

What a great way to start our dinner off with this cocktail called "lychee and grapes".

A little amuse bouche before dinner starts - chicken soup with herbs.

Bebek Bengil (Dirty duck) has always been my favorite Indonesian dish so this pick was really a no-brainer for me - Bebek Garo Rica which had a nice mix of Manadonese duck leg and roasted duck breast served with tomato, leek and kemangi.

It was however a little disappointing. They could have used a bit more spices (4/10).

After a traditional dish, here's something more contemporary - grilled Papuan slipper lobster (baby lobster) prepared with garlic, cassava butter and tumeric potatoes (5/10).

Not bad.

We decided to get some veggies to "neutralize" all these spicy food and this Gado Gado with green beans, quail eggs, cucumber, tempe and cashews was exactly what the doctor ordered (5/10).

If there's one dish that managed to surprise us, it was the Nasi Kuning - a steamed rice with cocunut, pardan, lemongrass and tumeric wrapped around with a bamboo leaf (7/10). 

We couldn't pass up dessert for the world. Out of the six bite-size desserts, we had the following two.

Es Puter, 4/10
Mangosteen sorbet, watermelon, young coconut and basil - perfect palate cleanser but nothing more.

Kelapa tart, 6.5/10
young coconut panna cotta, mango and palm sugar crumble - I like this one. Refreshing and super creamy.

While the ambience and service were superb, the price tag was slightly off the chart for the kind of food that was offered. Nevertheless not a bad choice especially for group dining.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Jalan Petitenget No.100x, Kerobokan, Denpasar, Bali 80361, Indonesia
Tel: +62 361 8465950