Monday, April 28, 2014

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

Today's lunch marked our second visit to CIAK In the Kitchen, the first since its opening week. Unlike our last visit when the restaurant was still in its soft opening phrase, it is now in full operation mode. At 1:30pm, there was not a single empty seat.

We decided to sit at the bar table this time around and observe the way they direct traffic here.

Homemade fettuccine is freshly made daily and shredded here right in front of us.

I wanted something light on this afternoon and there was no better choice than this porcini mushroom soup (5/10).

A little more successful was the other starter, an octopus and potato salad (6/10).

I liked our main courses a lot more than our starters. The homemade fettuccine with king prawns and zucchini provided the perfect start (7/10).

The pan fried salmon with french beans and mashed potatoes was another lovely dish. This was my second time tasting CIAK's mashed potatoes and it's a good one. Perhaps as good as Joël Robuchon's signature mashed (6/10).

Quality assurance is such an important part of any restaurant's success and look, the QA guy has just arrived!

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

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Sekai no Yamachan 世界の山ちゃん (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★☆☆☆☆

Finally they have made it to Hong Kong.

Among all the delicious dishes Nagoya has to offer, tebasaki is one of my personal favorite. These deep fried chicken wings glazed with a special sauce, who can resist them?

Out of the many restaurants we have tried in Nagoya, we thought Sekai no Yamachan (世界の山ちゃん) has one of the best tebasaki in the city. So now you understand why we were so thrilled to see that they have finally landed in Hong Kong in mid April.

The restaurant is located in the basement of a commercial building near the East Tsim Sha Tsui. Rumours indicated that the place is always packed after 6pm every day so expect a lineup if you arrive late.

A little game while we wait for our food.....

Instead of Japanese draft beer, we decided to have a little lychee soda before dinner.

Finally, the dish we have been all waiting for - signature phantom wings. These were almost as good as the ones we had in Nagoya.

But the fried rice was not (as good as the one served in Nagoya). This was cold and flavorless. I am sure this was not made to order.

Same for the kimchi fried rice. Lukewarm.

This was not something we have seen from Nagoya - deep fried burdock. Interesting taste.

The eel egg roll was another disappointing dish.

Does it worth the wait, you ask? I said no!

There's a pretty BIG gap between the food served here and what we had at Yamachan in Nagoya. Most dishes in Nagoya were made to order. Everything was hearty and most importantly, hot! 

In Nagoya, we sat at their bar table in front of the open kitchen and even chatted with the chef while they prepared our fried rice right before our eyes. That was such a warm feeling but here, like the service, things were cold.

Food Rating: 3/10
Price: $$
Address: Basement, Cameron Centre, 57-59 Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui East
Tel: +852 2568-8857

Friday, April 25, 2014

Check-In Taipei (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Another day and another new restaurant opened on Hollywood Road near the Mid-Levels escalators. Check-in Taipei officially checked in to the dining scene of Hong Kong last week offering a new breed of authentic Taiwanese cuisine with a contemporary twist.

After spending the last few weeks trying some of the newest French and European restaurants in the city, Taiwanese food certainly provides a good change of pace on paper.

The menu at Check-in Taipei is a hybrid of traditional recipes with fusion twists. Ingredients are sourced locally and dishes are freshly made in house to preserve
 the authentic experience. 

At the helm is executive chef Leung Nga Fung who has previously worked for L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Amber. He has put together an innovative collection of dishes including chicken and waffles (inspired by salty crispy chicken 鹽酥雞), oyster duet (inspired by oyster omelette 蚵仔煎) and C.I.T. noodles. (Inspired by 台式滷肉) that promises to be mind-boggling and exciting.

With the restaurant still in its soft opening phrase, alchololic drinks are currently unavailable but you will find a small selection of Taiwanese inspired tea drinks, designed by award winning drinks specialist Shin Chiu.

From the moment we stepped into this the restaurant, it felt a lot like a Spanish tapas restaurant.

The complimentary drink was not a sangria though. It's a special green jasmine tea that tasted a bit like beer with my first sip.

All the dishes on the menu came with a small "tapas-like" portion and the first to arrive was the oyster duet - a homemade oyster soup paired with oyster croquettes. That provided quite a promising start. 

The oyster soup which was served with a set of little tea pot and cups, was so creamy and delicate. The oyster croquette, like most croquettes, was its usual party-pleaser. Perfectly deep fried, crunchy and flavorful (7.5/10).

The oyster duet was followed by the chicken and waffles, a dish inspired by the famous Taiwanese street food salty crispy chicken. 

Full marks for the creativity but the salty crispy chicken never seemed to mesh well with the homemade waffle, pineapple chutney and balsamic maple syrup (2.5/10).

Next up was one of the signature dishes here - "Ping Pong". It's fun just looking at the beautiful presentation!

Each ping pong ball was made with purple yam on the outside and mochi and parmesan melt inside. It was then finished with sea salt flakes atop. 

I thought it tasted a little like having a croquette but less crispy. The mochi was the difference maker here giving it a very unique texture (7/10).

The C.I.T. noodles was the perfect dish for sharing. The combination of house braised meat sauce, rigatoni, crispy basil, 63 degree organic egg and parmesan was an interesting example of "West meet east" cooking and we thought it did alright (5/10).

This has to be one of the hottest dish in Hong Kong right now - Gua Bao. Everybody is doing it, from celebrity chef Harlan Goldstein to Ms. May Chow of Little Bao. 

Three different gua baos are served here including a vegetarian version with eggplant but at the end of the day, we decided to stick with originality - braised pork belly. 

I thought the steamed buns were fresh and spongy, the pork belly nicely braised and flavorful though the sweet bean sauce could be a little less spicy (5/10).

Wrapping up our dinner was two skewers of "Four Cup chicken". I know all about the famous "Three Cup Chicken" from the Taiwanese cuisine but where does the fourth cup come from? I was eager to find out...

Each skewer came with several pieces of chicken fillets marinated with the house-made three cups sauce and a quail egg and then caramelized leeks were sprinkled on top to provide the finishing touch. The "fourth cup" came courtesy of our server who sprayed the skewers with a special rose wine perfume. 

I thought they were too heavy handed with the seasonings here (4/10).

We did thoroughly enjoy the creativity put into each and every one of these dishes. As expected, some dishes (oyster duet, ping pong etc.) worked better than others (chicken and waffles) so there's still work to be done. But more improvement work is required on the service side as most servers were lacking the skills to make the dining experience worthwhile.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: G/F, 27 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2351-2622

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cocotte (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Another new casual French eatery hit the market two weeks ago in Central (Where else?). Located near the busy corner of Hollywood Road and Shin Hing Street, Cocotte draws inspiration from the Parisian brasseries and promises a true modern French fare in a chic setting.

The kitchen is helmed by Landmark Mandarin Hotel’s former Chef Patrick Dang and his current creations include gems like pan-fried Dover sole meunière, steak tartare and more.

After visiting the PMQ (former Police Married Quarter) across the street, we decided to drop by and check the place out.

The dining room is elegantly decorated with pattern wallpapers, green velvet sofas and black marble tables. The only blemish is perhaps space or the lack of it. I think it would be hard pressed to accommodate 20 diners here at the same time.

There is a small bar set deep in the heart of the dining area, with the bartenders eager to serve.

Two types of bread were served highlighted by this olive flavoured grain cracker.

There was no amuse bouche so we went straight to our starters firstly with the pan seared diver scallops ($198). This dish posed a sharp contrast in comparison to a similar dish we had at Bibo a few days ago.

We enjoyed how it presented contrasting flavors and textures from different ingredients including avocado purée, artichoke, morel mushrooms, peas and truffle dressing. That was a really excellent dish to start our night off (8/10). 

But things started to go downhill from here.

Our next course was the foie gras royale ($168). Despite its picturesque presentation, it didn't make much headway.

While I like the idea of serving the foie gras terrine with ham, crumbs, rhubarb and a raspberry sauce, this had to be one of the blandest and plainest foie gras I have ever had. There was no sign of any liver nor liquor flavor. What a disappointing dish it was (3/10).

Wagyu beef bavette steak ($348) was our first main course of the night. It felt a little odd that our server didn't ask how we wanted our steak done but luckily it came exactly the way we wanted it. They must be able to read our minds.

The wagyu steak was tender and flavorful. A potato tower, radish and beetroot provided a good supporting cast to the steak (6.5/10).

Finally we were down to our last dish - truffle spaghetti ($168). I thought they wanted to do a little too much with the truffle spaghetti by adding diced tomatoes and vegetables to the mix. They already got a winner here with the truffled spaghetti and the diced vegetables became a distraction more than anything (4/10).

Out of all the newcomers in Central, Restaurant NUR and Bibo are the two undisputed early winners. Cocotte still got a lot of catching up to do.

First and foremost, they have to do something with their super small tables. It can't even fit two dishes at the same time unless they shove the bread aside (to our neighboring table).

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 9 Shin Hing Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2568-8857

Friday, April 18, 2014

BLT Burger (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

With the Triple O Burger closing after the renovation of the Harbor City food court, the famous shopping mall is now down to just one burger joint - BLT Burger.

Don't get me wrong, I like celebrity chef Laurent Tourondel's BLT brand. After all, who can resist their tall-sized milkshakes!

It's around 4pm and we were still deciding between afternoon tea at Cova and burgers at BLT. Finally decision was made.

Following a 15 minute wait, we sat down and as always a thirst quenching Rocky Road to start things off at the packed BLT diner.

An appetizer of BBQ chicken wings with a super tangy BBQ sauce soon followed.

Our main course, BLT burger with waffle fries rounded out our afternoon tea. Grilled Canadian Angus Beef with double smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and a special BLT sauce - that was good (although I still like Triple O's mushroom burger a little more.).

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop OT301-301A, 3/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2730-2338

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bibo (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Hollywood Road, one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong is coming alive once again with some of the newest and hippest bars, cafés, restaurants and galleries in the city. The latest to join the party is Bibo who has just made its debut in early April.

We arrived at Bibo right on time but where's the big signage? After yelling "Open Sesame" without success, we started inspecting the door before finally locating a secret button to open the doorway to this culinary journey.

I thought we were done discovering the place but evidently not. There was this rustic staircase right behind the door that showed us the way to a secret world on the lower level of the building.

First up there's a small bar. Perfect for a pre-dinner drink while we wait for friends to show up.

And finally the dining area. This is a wonderful crossover of arts and French fine dining. I was told that the interior design is inspired by the bohemian 1930's and it features a lovely collection of artwork including wall paintings and vintage furniture.

Bibo's kitchen is led by executive chef Mutaro Balde who has previously worked for some of the finest French restaurants in the world including Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athenee Paris and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London. Chef Balde's menu not only includes some of the best fine dining favorites, there are also French bistro classics re-invented just for us.  

First of all, a little amuse bouche to kick things off in the form of a carrot purée with wasabi foam.

To start, I had Les Gou Jonettes ($170), a deep fried French lemon sole served with roasted bell pepper tartar sauce and sucrine lettuce. Our server, Justin, described as the French version of "Fish and Chips". This was seriously good (6/10). 

Le Carpaccio ($200) - a hamachi carpaccio with French aromatic herbs, lemon zest and espelette chilli was next. Love the hamachi with that gorgeous texture although a little too much herbs and chilli for my liking (5.5/10).

La Saint Jacques ($340) - I was longing for some scallops tonight and these pan seared Japanese scallops pretty much satisfied my crave for them. Really enjoy the corn done three ways (pureed, foamed and grilled) that worked well with the sweetness of the scallops. My only complaint (a small one) was with the size of the scallops. Don't think these were Hokkaido scallops (6/10).

Le Cochon ($380) - Last but not least, Japanese Sagabuta pork belly which has been cooked for 36 hours was my main course of the night. A simple garnish with grilled leeks and Jerusalem artichokes wrapped up this pretty enjoyable dinner (6/10). 

A very simple but delicious petite fours.

While I was expecting a true fine dining French restaurant, they threw me a curveball with their arts-meet-food casual fare. But all in all, not bad although I thought the price was slightly on the high side.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 163 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station/ Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2956-3188