Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vasco (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

After a relatively quiet June, things are starting to heat up again with the much anticipated opening of Jamie Oliver's first restaurant in Hong Kong - Jamie's Italian. Also raring to go are Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen and Italian restaurant Carbone from New York but the real McCoy that I have been keeping my eyes on was in fact Vasco. 

This week, the highly anticipated Vasco opens on the top floor of PMQ, the newest culinary hub of Central. Working behind the scene at Vasco include Tony Cheng who is the brain behind AMMO, The Drawing Room and Hainan Shaoye along with two-star Michelin chef Paolo Casagrande from Restaurant Lasarte in Barcelona.

At Vasco, executive chef Paolo Casagrande, mentor Martin Berasategui and their team combine to create a world-class basque fine dining experience to diners that is second to none. 

But the first thing we noticed when we walked into the main dining room is the interior design. Unsurprisingly the space was designed by Joyce Wang, one of the hottest designers in the business who's also behind the recent award-winning projects such as AMMO, Hay Market and Mott 32. 

There are three private dining rooms located at the three corners of the restaurant, each with a unique theme.

Also available is a small terrace area in case one wants to enjoy a drink or two before dinner.

A 5-course ($880) and 8-course ($1180) tasting menus are available upon full table participation. In order to sample all of Chef Paolo Casagrande's signature dishes, we decided to go for the 8-course menu.

Amuse bouche started brillantly with a platter of Iberico ham grissini, foie gras sandwich, curried pistachio and olive with stuffed pear and olive oil caviar.

And if the first amuse bouche didn't get our palates jumping in joy, the second one had - a super refreshing peach gazpacho with bloody clams.

One last nibble before the arrival of our starters was a fish Kokotxa with an olive oil emulsion. A very enjoyable array of nibbles with the exception of the bacalao there (7.5/10).

We still haven't tried our bread yet and this was a real nice loaf of bread. Warm, soft and perfectly complemented with 5 types of butter - beetroot, spinach, tomato, mushroom and French salted (8/10).

More bread arrived and this time it was a house-special brioche with pancetta ham. It was again very richly flavored and soft like a cup cake.

We were already half full by now and haven't even tasted with our first starter (8/10)!

Expectation was riding high on with the rest of the dishes now. We kicked things off with a nicely executed trout tartare with orange, cucumber jelly and trout caviar. 

I expected a little bit more out of the cucumber jelly. Thought it would really mesh well with the tartare (6.5/10).

Roasted foie gras, nori and duck consommé was next. The duck consommé was subtle and I liked the idea of infusing it with citronelle, horseradish, lemongrass and hazelnut salt to enrich the flavors (6/10).

The best dish of the night belonged to the Red Palamos prawns on a seabed and sea urchin with crustacean mayonnaise. Perfect basque presentation and perfect in almost every way. 

The flavorful sea urchin complemented the Red Palamos prawns beautifully yet without overpowering it (9/10).

While we were still dreaming in the culinary wonderland, the following 2 dishes finally helped to send us back to reality. 

The farmhouse egg yolk with potato and mozzarella foam, mushrooms, basil and piment d'Espelette was flat and one-dimensional. Easily the weakest link of the night (5/10).

The low-temperature cooked turbot on onion and paprika marmalade, with braised endives, clams and octopus was almost equally uninspiring. Well, uninspiring might sound a little harsh. Let's just say a little dull (5.5/10).

Dinner ended on a high note with this roasted pigeon served with pork and tomato stew, apple cream and liver toast. It might not be as good as what l'altro could offer but still very good (7/10).

Desserts also came in style. The Arbequina olive oil sponge was excellent and its partnership with the rice and cardamom essence soup and frozen cream was so clever (7/10).

I was less impressed with the "Chocolate leaf" with apricot jelly and frozen coffee (5/10).

The servers told us they sent a shipload of these lovely containers from Spain to make it all look good. Love that authentic basque experience. 

Here's our petit fours - hazelnut chocolate pralines, mandarin macarons, black currant jelly and raspberry financier just to name a few (6/10).

I must admit I was slightly disappointed tonight. While I liked its creative fare, it failed to top the recent performance by fellow newbies NUR and Épure.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 7/F, Block B, Police Married Quarters, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station / Central
Tel: +852 2156-0888

Friday, July 25, 2014

Pierre Hermé (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Pierre Hermé has unveiled some amazing flavors for the summer in his latest summer collection. As usual, there will be some exciting flavors coming out each month, which always keeps us fans on our heels. This year, they will be releasing a total of 8 new flavors uniquely representing different seasons each month (started in March already).

The White Truffle & hazelnut
(upper right corner) and salted-butter caramel (lower right corner) are always nice. It's also great to see the Creme Brulee flavor back.

As for the new flavors, the Jardin Mystérieux (black and pink) was quite an enticing addition. At first, I thought it was foie gras but turns out this mystery macaron flavor was beet root and licorice ! 

The Milk Chocolate & Passionfruit (yellow one on the left) was probably the only one I didn't like.

Pierre Hermé has always been my personal favorite when it comes to maracons. Will definitely keep a close eye on the upcoming new flavors including the Jardin sur la Baie d’Ha with coconut, ginger, lime and fresh coriander, which will be available in July/August.

Food Rating: 7.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 2410, Level 2, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2155-3866

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Australia Dairy Company (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Australia Dairy Company is a household name in Hong Kong when it comes to cha chaan teng (traditional cafes). It's extremely popular among the locals. 

I used to be a huge fan too but have not been here for a number of years now. On this night, I was again in the neighborhood and all of a sudden, started craving for something sweet.

One of the house specialties is their Chinese-style scrambled eggs which is famous for its buttery and creamy texture. But my personal favorites have always been their steamed egg pudding (yellow) and steamed egg white puddings with milk (White).

If you only have room for one, go for the yellow one (HK$26)!

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$
Address: G/F, 47-49 Parkes Street, Jordan, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Jordan
Tel: +852 2730-1356

Friday, July 18, 2014

Paul Lafayet (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I have always enjoyed Paul Lafayet's delicate pastries but this was my first time trying out their macarons. Let's see how they fare against some of the bigger names in the business.

For pastries, I got a little bored with their Bailey dome and mango pistachio dome already so it's time to try something different.

I decided to give the newly launched lychee strawsberry cake a go. A lovely summer creation combining a delicate lychee mousse with strawberry confit and dacquoise. 

Very nice except slightly too sweet (even for me!). 

I thought the maracons are quite good too. The shells are more crunchy comparing to those from Laduree and Pierre Hermé but it's still remarkably delicious.

Out of the five flavors I tried, here's my ranking.

Very Good:  pistachio, oolong
Good:  lychee 
Average:  genmaicha, banana balsamic

Paul Lafayet is slowly gaining a reputation as one of Hong Kong's best confectioners. They have already revealed their plans to expand to Shanghai and Beijing. Stay tuned for more news in the second half of this year.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: G23, G/F,18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui/ Tsim Sha Tsui East
Tel: +852 3586-9621

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

OVO Café (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

If you are looking for an oasis in the concrete forest of Wanchai, look no further than the newest cafe in the district at the former Wanchai market - OVO café.

OVO Café is a little cafe located in the middle of OVO Garden, a high-end lifestyle and home product store at the restored "Old Wanchai Market" that embraces the breath of nature. And looking at the lush gardens here, they have done exactly that.

After a short meeting in the neighborhood, I decided to reward myself with something sweet. Perhaps in the form of a yuzu cheesecake.

Food Rating: 3.5/10
Price: $$
Address: G/F, 1 Wanchai Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 2527-6011

Glasshouse (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

A few months ago, Glasshouse took over the space vacated by the closure of H One on the terrace of Podium level 4 at the IFC. I didn't really pay much attention to this new opening until most recently when a friend told me that Glasshouse was the latest venture by the Gaia Group.

In the past, the Gaia Group has always been focused solely on Italian cuisine. Isola, Va Bene, Joia etc. are just a few of the many Italian restaurants under the management of this group. But recently they have shifted their attention to Asian cuisine with Greyhound café and now Glasshouse leading the charge.

Glasshouse seems to be a very fitting name for this restaurant. It's literally a glasshouse situated on the roof of the IFC Shopping mall.

I had a long walk from the MTR station and was already soaking wet when I arrived at the restaurant. Time to grab a thirst quenching banana smoothie ($58) before we start ordering food.

When I first saw the menu, I thought I was dreaming. Everything here is so reasonably priced with most starters set under $100 and most main courses under $200. Is there a place that offers better value for money in IFC, I am not sure.

Spicy sambal chicken wings ($68), 5/10
I am a chicken wing freak and this is my third day in a roll having wings. A special sambal sauce put a spicy twist to these wonderfully roasted wings. 

Crab cakes with edamame beans and organic corn with yuzu mayo ($98), 5/10
Sometimes I am a little scared to order crab cakes because I have had a few of them with more potatoes than crab meat in it.

But I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of crab meat here. The yuzu mayo could have been a lot better though.

My "Pad Thai" with black ink noodles with barbeque pork, tofu, free range hen egg and soy bean sprouts ($128), 3/10

I had pretty high expectation for this dish due to the fact that it's marked as a signature dish. Our server told us to mix the soft boiled egg well with the noodles before we started eating them.

Despite all the flavorful ingredients, I thought it was a little bland. Even the black ink noodles were lacking squid ink flavor. 

Singapore style noodles with red lobster, Serrano ham, goose liver and homemade curry ($178), 6/10

But they did redeem themselves with the next dish - stir-fried Singaporean style noodles with red lobster meat, Serrano ham, goose liver and homemade curry. If you're into spicy food, then you have to try this one for sure.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$
Address: Shop 4009, Level 4, IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2383-4008

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Seasons by Olivier Elzer (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

For the past two years, two of Hong Kong's best French fine dining restaurants have seen its fair share of key personnel changes. Late last year, it was Vincent Thierry leaving Caprice leaving a void in a kitchen that used to be one of the best in the city. That utimately resulted in Caprice losing its third star for the first time since the Michelin guide arrived in Hong Kong. Now in the middle of 2014, another French heavyweight L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon lost its commander, Olivier Elzer who has been their executive chef since 2011.

Whether this would have impacts on the daily operation of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is still unknown. But one thing is certain - Chef Olivier Elzer is about to dazzle our palates with his newest project at Lee Garden - Seasons by Olivier Elzer.

Like L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, the entrance of Seasons by Olivier Elzer is highlighted by a series of bar seatings circling around an open kitchen.

Right next to the bar area is an extremely warm and elegant main dining room.

Deeper into the dining area is a semi-private dining room with glass ceiling which the staff mentioned would be used as a tea salon and private party.

At lunch, the restaurant offers an a la carte menu with prices ranging from $150 to $500. Some dishes are available as a starter as well as main course. There's also a 3-course set lunch menu for $288, a 4-course set for $368 and a 5-course set for $448.

Lunch started perfectly with a basket of warm bread highlighted by a couple of sour dough bread.

Our first starter was a escargot fricasse served with a flavorful pastis sauce. The sauce was intense and it worked wonderfully well with the tomato, mushroom and arugula. My only complaint was the fact that the escargots were a little bland (5/10).

Next up was a chilled tomato soup with basil ice-cream. I fell in love with the contrasting flavor and temperature between the gazpacho and basil ice-cream. 

That was a lovely dish, perhaps the best of the afternoon (7/10).

I am getting more and more into vegetarian dishes these days and this bowl of acini risotto with vegetable provided a healthy mix to the meal. There were 3 layers in this dish. 

Underneath the tarragon emulsion was a layer of broccoli, cauliflower, corn and carrot sitting on top of some cous cous-like pasta and a silky smooth parmesan sauce (5/10).

Our main course started with an Asian inspired obsiblue prawn with venere rice. The prawns were pan seared with Asian herbs before being served on a bed of black whole-grain rice (5/10).

Our final dish looked all too familiar. A grilled pork loin on a delicious mash, haven't we seen that a lot from L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon? 

I liked this slightly better than the prawns (5.5/10).

The theme of four seasons is not only reflected in the menu alone but can also be seen in the way the restaurant is being organized. I love the great ambiance here but the menu still needs a bit of work.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 308, Phase 2, Lee Garden, 2-38 Yun Ping Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2505-6228