Saturday, May 31, 2014

Maple Tree House (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

Maple Tree House is one of the rising stars in Seoul when it comes to modern Korean barbecue houses. They have four locations with their Itaewon outpost (near Hamilton Hotel) considered one of the best in the business. But for the convenience of shopping, we opted for their Myeongdong branch.

The restaurant is located in the basement of a small building. Following the staircase down, we arrived at this modernly decorated barbecue house.

A pleasant surprise for us to find that most staff here speaks very good English. That's always a bonus.

As usual, we started with a few nibbles before our meat arrived.

The house specialty is their premium Hanwoo aged striploin. Hanwoo beef has often compared with Kobe beef in terms of wonderful texture and rich flavors. Personally, I still think Kobe beef is a lot better but that's just me.

They won't let you "ruin" this premium cut of Hanwoo beef so they would always cook it for you.

Meet the other must-try here - Jeju black pork belly. The texture again was very good but the proportion of fat was slightly high.

Lastly we ordered their bibimbap and it was wonderful to go with our beef and pork.

It was served with a spicy tofu soup.

Maple Tree House offers very good value for money although their portions are considered slightly smaller than average. But if you don't mind reaching a little deeper into your pocket, I think Hwaroyeon still wins with quality.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: ₩₩₩
Address: B1, 8-1 Myeong-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Myeongdong
Tel: +82 2711-9700

<More recent review>: 27/9/2015

Fauchon Paris (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★☆

Fauchon Paris is a French gourmet food company that specializes in a wide range of food products including delicatessen, cakes and pastry, breads and confectionery. Its rich history goes back to 1886 when its first shop opened in Paris. 

Unfortunately for those of us from Hong Kong, Fauchon is exclusively a macaron shop. I wish we have the same selection back in Hong Kong.


I love walking around the department store food halls in Japan and Korea. There are so much to see. Take Fauchon at the Lotte Department Store Seoul as an example, I could easily spend 10-15 minutes looking around their store.

As far as I know, La Bûche Megève was a special cake Fauchon prepared for the Christmas season. Crispy praline mousse, 70% dark chocolate, French vanilla meringue and Madagascar Bourbon were some of its key ingredients there and it was one of their top sellers.

Now they have a "white" version called La Bûche Caractic with biscuit Joconde vanilla, creamy caramel, whipped cream, white chocolate vanilla and vanilla frosting. You can order the whole cake for 42,000 or ₩9,000 per slice like I did.

If you are into the sweeter things in life, then this one is definitely for you!

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: ₩₩
Address: Lotte Department Store, 1, Sogong-Dong, Jung-Gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Euljiro / City Hall

Dunkin' Donuts (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★☆☆

When cronut mania hit Seoul last year, pictures of Seoulites lining up in front of Dunkin' Donuts can be seen everywhere on the internet. Based on appearance, Dunkin' Donuts' version, called the New York pie donuts, is arguably the best (closest to the original) we have seen in Asia.

They have different flavors here apart from their original New York pie donuts which sell for 2,000 each these days.

There's also a chocolate almond flavor. I liked this one better although both of them failed to deliver that fluffy texture I was expecting.

Dunkin’ Donuts’ New York pie donuts are currently sold at the Gangnam and Myeong-dong flagship stores as well as other selective stores only.

Food Rating: 4.5/10 
Price: ₩₩
Address: 52-1, Myeongdong 2-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station:
 Tel: +82 0 2778-6930

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JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ❤❤❤❤

I have walked past this site many many times when the hotel was still under construction and kind of wondered if it would ever be ready. It had to be at least 4-5 years since I first saw them digging up the ground. But it still looked very much like a construction site every time I came to visit Dongdaemun.

After not hearing about this new Marriott for a couple of years, I finally got confirmation from a friend that it has opened for business at last! Since I would be visiting Seoul this week, I figured I might as well come and check it out myself.

It was a nice feeling getting a sweet corporate deal from Marriott. We got ourselves a room in the executive floor directly facing Dongdaemun and they also threw in a complimentary afternoon tea free of charge. How nice was that?

We arrived via the airport shuttle and after a 10-minute walk from the nearest bus stop, we finally got to the hotel lobby. That had to be the longest 10 minute ever considering the hard work of dragging a large piece of luggage along and trying to avoid all the pedestrians (and there were a lot of them.) en route to Dongdaemun. 

Following a relatively easy check-in, we were finally given the keys and I just couldn't wait to check out the rooms. This is pretty decent sized with a nice touch of modern design. Not bad.

And that jaw dropping view of Dongdaemun from the window. Love it.

After a quick shower, I went upstairs to the executive lounge looking for my complimentary afternoon tea set. I was feeling like a VIP now.

While I waited for my tea to cool off a little, I stepped outside to the terrace for a breath of fresh air.

I have to say, we have spent four marvelous nights here. Breakfast, which was served at the executive lounge was seriously good (though not great).

Although they didn't offer a great deal of options with their breakfast buffet, I was impressed with the quality of the ingredients. The smoked salmon was a pretty good way to start my morning.

Of course, it also didn't hurt to have some "made to order" items, such as fried eggs with sausage and egg benedict on the menu.

JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul was everything we were looking for and more. Perhaps the only knock about it is its location (which was supposed to be its selling point). While I love the Dongdaemun area, it's just a little far going from the touristy places like Hongdae and Gangnam. This would be the perfect hotel for someone who likes to spend the vast majority of time shopping in the area, but for someone like me who loves to explore different parts of the city, long traveling time is a bit of a concern.

Price: ₩₩₩
Address: 279, Cheonggyecheon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Dongdaemun
Tel: +82 2-2276-3000

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sweet Social (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Sweet Social, the retail section of Aberdeen Street Social, has finally opened for business this week. This unique retail concept will focus on selling home-made pastries, bread and beverages for anyone interested in eating on the spot or take-away.

Behind Sweet Social is executive pastry chef Andres Lara, who made his marks in the culinary world from his days at El Bulli, Noma and most recently Pollen Singapore.

During the opening week, there weren't a lot to choose from. I had the Carmelita, a lovely pastry with green apple mousse, chamomile tea and hazelnut base. That was excellent.

Slightly less successful was the Sweet Social Cheesecake with fresh strawberry, cream cheese and lemon.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: PMQ, G/F, JPC, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2866-0300

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

It's been a busy month of April and May with all the new restaurant openings that all of a sudden, I found myself in unfamiliar territories - I haven't made my usual stops at some of my favorite restaurants in more than 2 months!

Upper Modern Bistro has always been one of my favorite hang-out places. But it's been a few months since my last visit now so this return visit is long overdue.


Despite coming here as often as I had, I was surprised that it's my very first lunch at Chef Phillipe Orrico's "playground".

Their bread has always been good. Or perhaps I was too hungry to tell the difference (it's almost 2:30pm. Luckily last order was 3pm)?

I had their dinner menu nearly memorized by now but when it came to their set lunch, I was just a newbie so it was comforting to have my server to take some quality time to explain things in details. 

Okay, I was supposed to pick any main course from the menu. I had an option to add another $40 for the soup of the day or a garden salad and then a dessert. What a great bargain!

I had enough veggies of late so soup of the day sounded just about right. And what a great decision that was! A silky smooth potato soup was poured into a bowl of egg white and potato cubes. The fragrance was so irresistible.


I took their saffron risotto with octopus and scallops to be my main course. The creamy texture and saffron flavor harmonized each other perfectly.

Even the dessert was no throw-in! A chestnut cake with chestnut ice-cream and passion fruit. What a sweet way to finish up this delightful lunch.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
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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Saturday, May 24, 2014

ÉPURE (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

The revolving doors on the food scene of Harbour City spin once again as the famous Tsim Sha Tsui shopping mall welcomes its latest addition Épure this week. Located inside its La Boutique Dalloyau, Épure is a classic French restaurant with a modern twist.

The kitchen of Épure is helmed by executive chef Nicolas Boutin who has held similar positions at five-star hotels in different parts of the world including Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora and Mandarin Oriental Boston.

When we stepped into Épure's dining room, we were slightly shocked with all the contrasting colors. The excessive use of gold didn't seem to mesh well with the forest wall murals and wooden ceiling and floor. But luckily the menu more than made up for it.

The first two nibbles provided quite a lovely start to this meal. First up was an olive muffin topped with candied tomato purée and that was followed up by a shrimp tart with cream, celery and mint. A pretty good mix of rich and refreshing flavors there.

Paled in comparison was the further amuse bouche, a minced salmon with crouton, green apple slice and apple purée (6/10).

We took a longer-than-expected wait while we enjoyed the bread here. But thankfully our starters arrived just in the nick of time and it was a beauty presentation-wise. 

Meet our sautéed snails with tomato confit, "pink Lautrec" garlic, cabbage and sorrel. They were using extra large snails from the Burgundy region and serving them in a beetroot red wine sauce.

This was a masterfully executed dish. The Burgundy snails which were naturally flavorful, were brilliantly matched with a very intense beetroot red wine sauce giving it great depths of flavors in the process (8/10).

Not to be outdone was the other starter, a playfully presented Maine lobster with poached rhubarb, fennel salad and basil purée. 

I liked the fact that they kept it simple by poaching the lobster with minimal seasoning. And I was even more pleasantly surprised how well the lobster worked with rhubarb, fennel and basil in their different contrasting textures. That was another superb dish (8/10).

We got a lot to look forward to in the main course section and they did not disappoint. 

Our first main course was a roasted spring lamb shoulder from France and it had a picture-perfect tender texture. A black olive purée, Espelette chili jelly and mint flavored pear helped to lift this dish to another level (7.5/10). 

Keeping the trend of minimal seasoning was the second main course - a seared line-caught Atlantic silver cod. The cod fillet was presented on a bed of chopped mushrooms and finished with a light tarbais bean foam (6.5/10).


Our expectation was set relatively high for dessert. And rightfully so considering that Épure came from strong confectionary roots. 

They came out strong right off the gate with our first dessert, Framboises.

Beneath the thin layer of light meringue were fresh raspberries and almond biscuit. What a refreshing way to start off our dessert (7.5/10)!


The l'ananas was not a bad idea too. Ultra thin carpaccio of pineapple was met with a scoop of fromage blanc sorbet giving us just enough to send our palates to a frenzy (7/10).

After dinner, a lovely earl grey tea to put an exclamation mark to this wonderful meal.

Petite fours of yuzu lemon tart and chocolate marshmallow were next. Hey, we just had a chocolate marshallow at Aberdeen Street Social the other night. Can we have a couple of Dalloyau macarons instead?

Chef Boutin's style is deceptively simple with few garnishes. Simple and unpretentious, that's the way I like it.

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 403, 4/F, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 3185-8338