Friday, October 31, 2014

Kaiseki Kadan 強羅花壇 (Hakone, JAPAN) ★★★★☆

Housed in a historic building which was once the summer residence of Prince Kan-in-no-miya, an inner member of the Japanese Imperial Family, Kaiseki Kadan first opened as a Japanese Kaiseki restaurant back in 1989. This charming restaurant, along with the famous boutique hotel Gora Kadan are among the most popular dining and lodging destinations in the region.

Stepping through this door felt like traveling back in time to some 100 years ago.

A portrait of Prince Kan-in-no-miya was hanging high on the wall in the dining room.

Five different dinner sets are available from 5:30pm to 9pm daily. There are only minor differences in these five sets, mainly with the main course (fish or beef) and the price ranges from around ¥5,500 to ¥11,000.

We decided to order one fish (Yuri set@¥5,500) and one beef (Fuji set@¥6,600) just to check out the difference.

First, a quick toast for health and happiness, as they always do to start a traditional Kaiseki dinner, this time we did so with plum wine.

Immediately following our toast, we were offered a small welcome dish of Japanese beans, spinach and potato.

Dinner officially started with an adorable appetizer platter that both looked good and tasted good. Let me try to count all the items here - a duck meat confit, crackers, some ginkgos, a poached shrimp, egg pudding, some walnuts, caramelized chestnut.....

There's more...inside the beautiful porcelain container was some crab meat marinated with vinegar.

And last but not least, a mini-salmon sushi wrapped around an autumn leaf. All and all, it was a very impressive array of nibbles representing different flavors and textures (7/10).

The meal continued with a white miso soup with pumpkin. There was a strong lemon fragrance coming out of the soup that was both savory and tantalizing (9.5/10).

Another beautifully presented dish was the sashimi platter that included 3 slices of amberjack, tuna and flounder each. Unfortunately, this was a utterly disappointing dish as only the amberjack has relatively fresh taste with good texture (3.5/10).

A small bowl of taro, braised pork, mushroom and spinach was next. This was a good change of pace to get us ready for our main courses (5/10).

Now it's time for our main course to shine starting with my grilled Japanese mackerel. It was neatly decorated with a sushi-like turnip and ginger at the corner of the plate. 

The taste of the mackerel was very rich while the seasoning was adequate (5/10).

Slightly better was our other main course, grilled Japanese beef with house special sauce (5.5/10).

We were down to our last dish before dessert and as it's often the case in a Kaiseki dinner, it's a bowl of plain rice with pickled vegetables and dark miso soup as the final savory dish (5/10).  

Dessert was a pear pudding with slices of fresh pears on top. A rather refreshing end to our enjoyable Kaiseki dinner (6.5/10).

There's a passage near the reception that led us to the onsen and private villas. Of course, we were not allowed to access these areas since we were not hotel guests here.

Apart from the inviting ambiance and delightful Kaiseki cuisine, Kaiseki Kadan also did wonders with their pacing. Every time we started craving for more food, the next dish seemed to be there just in the nick of time. That was outstanding timing by our server and the kitchen staff.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ¥¥¥
Address: 1300 Gora Kadan, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0408, Japan

Closest Metro Station: Chokokunomori
Tel: +81 0460-82-3333


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Butchers Club Burger (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

As a casual fan of burgers, I think I have pretty much reached my monthly quota of 2 burgers in October. My first one at Beef & Liberty was nothing to write home about so I was really hoping that this second one will be something special and it was.

I was particularly looking forward to this burger experience for 2 very different reasons. 

Reason#1: It's at the Butchers Club Burger. For those of you who work at Wanchai, you should have noticed that long lineup at Landale Street every day at around noon. Yes, this is THE hottest burger joint in the city. 

Reason#2: Pastry chef and blogger Gregoire Michaud was in the house for a guest appearance and he has brought along with him his special recipe for a delicious Spanish-style burger.

This feels a lot like a standing sushi bar in Tokyo. Some of the diners were literally standing in the back alley while enjoying their tasty burgers and fries. How strange was that!?

The signature burger here will set you back for $100 but you know you're getting some really quality dry aged beef in return.

I decided to go for Chef Gregoire Michaud's special Spanish-style ‘Hamburguesa’ ($180) which was made with an Iberico pork, chorizo and smoked bacon patty and topped with Manchego cheese, quince paste, slow-roasted tomato tapenade and baby spinach. 

The buns were of very good quality. That spongy texture is always a sign for a good burger. On top of that, I have also enjoyed the spicy and flavorful taste immensely.

Chef Gregoire Michaud will be back again on November 10. Check him out if you're interested in a unique burger experience!

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$$
Address: G/F, Rialto Building, 2 Landale Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai

Tel: +852 2552-8281


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Parfaite Patisserie (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

Hong Kong is a sweet heaven for dessert lovers as there's never shortage of good home grown patisseries. This week, a relatively new patisserie called Parfaite Patisserie found its way to my radar screen and I decided to pay them a visit in Mongkok.

Located on Yim Po Fong Street across the street from the railway, Parfaite is within a neighborhood that brought back a lot of childhood memories for me. I still vaguely remembered an arcade game centre located just a few shops away which I used to visit all the time as a kid. Those were the good times but something of the past now as these places no longer existed.

Since I know this area all too well, it didn't really take long for me to locate Parfaite Patisserie although they made it difficult for me with the heavy scaffolding.

This is a very diminutive cake shop they had here but I was very impressed with how they manage to fit everything all under one roof. There's a small kitchen, two fridges and a couple of shelves displaying different types of cookies in very limited space.

At $42 a piece, the prices of these pastries are certainly in-line with some of the best hotel cake shops. Let's find out how the quality matches up against the competition.  

Chocolate mousse with banana purée, 3.5/10
No rocket science here, just a simple chocolate mousse cake infused with banana purée in the middle. I thought the chocolate mousse could be a little richer and smoother.

Mango mousse lava cake, 4/10
Mango mousse paired with mango lava. This tasted a little like a frozen moon cake.

Like the previous chocolate mousse cake, this mango mousse wasn't as silky smooth as we liked.

Earl grey crème brûlée, 5/10
I am a fan of earl grey tea so I had very little trouble picking this one.

There's a layer of crème brûlée infused inside the earl grey tea mousse.

For the amount they're charging for these pastries, they got work to do to improve both the presentation as well as taste.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: 17A Yim Po Fong Street, Mong Kok, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Mong Kok
Tel: +852 2295-4338
Website: Link

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Principal (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I have written many many times about The Principal and have never shied away from expressing my admiration for Chef Jonay Armas's contemporary Spanish cuisine. It's classic yet very modern. How can I resist?

I am still trying to get a feel for the restaurant's fan base. I've seen this place really packed with customers on many occasions but also many times I have seen it less than 20% full like today.


Two lovely nibbles were served prior to the start of my meal. First it was a melon sangria served on ice from their signature flower pot. That was quite a refreshing start.

Then a further nibble of parmesan cheese roll with basil came next. This wasn't the best set of amuse bouche I have had in my life but it was much better than what we had for amuse bouche at Caprice last Saturday (6.5/10)! 

Following amuse bouche was a bag of bread including a multi-grain one and a French baguette.  

As soon as bread arrived, scallop carpaccio also made its way to the table. I love the simple yet artisanal presentation. The garnish of turnip, pearl onions and wasabi ice-cream was quite adorable.

I thought the taste was excellent. If not for their glaring mistake of leaving large patches of sea salt at different parts of the carpaccio, it would have been perfect (6.5/10).

Pigeon with bomba rice and ceps was a surprising Chinese-inspired dish from a Spanish restaurant. It's almost like (Chinese style) home-cooking but in a good way. Pigeon was done two-ways here with the pigeon breast roasted and the leg braised.

Personally, I like the roasted part better (6/10).

Dessert was The Principal's signature PB&J combining peanut butter mousse and pain perdu with a black currant sorbet. It came in a small package but obviously size didn't matter at all. This little dessert comprised of a variety of contrasting flavors and textures which was quite an interesting experience to my taste buds (6.5/10).

Congratulations to Chef Jonay Armas and his team for capturing their second star for the first time this year! A well-deserved second star for sure.....

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 9 Star Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty

Tel: +852 2563-3444

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Thomas Trillion (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

After a rare meeting at Fortress Hill, I wasted no time to hop over to one of my favorite pâtisseries. Looking through the glass window into the kitchen, chef Thomas Lui seemed to be long gone by now.

Thomas Trillion has long been considered one of the best local pâtisseries in the business and definitely one of the most expensive one too.

I was shocked to find that there are still great selections available this late.

Akina ($60) - Matcha tea biscuit base with mango compote and matcha tea mousse. 

It was super smooth and silky. The mango compote provided a nice contrast in flavors to the matcha tea (7/10). 

Rosy Rosa ($60) - Chocolate breton biscuit layers with griotte compote, earl grey tea and dark chocolate mousse. 

The base was a little nutty and that went well with the griotte compote and chocolate mousse. The addition of earl grey tea was a very nice pleasant surprise (6.5/10).

Still the most reliable local pâtisserie in town hands down. Treat yourself to something sweet and delicate here when you happen to be visiting Tin Hau.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 17 Wing Hing Street, Tin Hau, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Fortress Hill / Tin Hau
Tel: +852 2806-0332

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Gochiso (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Gochiso is a new Japanese Mediterranean fusion restaurant I accidentally discovered when I was trotting around Tsim Sha Tsui last week. Located on the second floor of the K11 Art Mall, the restaurant comes from a Tokyo concept that has more than 10 branches spread around Tokyo including Shinjuku, Roppongi and Ueno and they are making their first appearance here in Hong Kong.

I was a little hyped up after reading the slogan outside the restaurant that said "Mediterranean dining Tokyo style" but honestly didn't know what to expect.

Our first impression was a pretty good one. The dining area was bright and airy with adequate spacing between tables.

I have always liked a menu with a lot of colorful pictures in it and this one definitely falls under that category.

Caesar salad with Herbed grilled chicken ($73), 5.5/10
We started dinner off on a healthy note with a Caesar salad. The lettuce was crisp and the grilled chicken had a real nice smokey flavor.

Homemade marinated salmon and avocado carpaccio ($48), 4/10
Homemade marinated salmon carpaccio with avocado was slightly off the mark. While I liked the addition of lemon zest and dill, the fruit sauce and basil were both not good matches with the salmon. 

Squid ink spaghettini ($88), 6.5/10
The squid ink spaghettini was flavorful and it worked admirably well with the cherry tomatoes, cheese powder and arugula. This was way better than Jamie's squid-ink spaghetti!

Oh, and the portion was so generous that it could easily serve up to 3-4 people. 

Spanish seafood paella (9" pot) ($88), 5/10
There were 2 types of Spanish paella being served here - one with seafood and one with sausage and chicken. We had the seafood one in a 9" pot and it was fairly good (although the portion was a little small even for one person).

Grilled lamb rack with vegetables ($128), 7/10

Grilled lamb rack with vegetables was the highlight of the night and that said a lot coming from someone who doesn't like lamb to begin with!

The lamb rack was grilled to absolute perfection giving it a very tender and juicy texture. I liked the very light seasoning with rosemary that was subtle and not too overpowering. And at $128, it's such a bargain!

Quattro formggi pizza (with honey) ($63), 7/10 
Quattro formggi pizza was another must-try here. A combination of gorgonzola cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and cream cheese was used as the toppings of this delicious pizza. Be sure to pour some honey on top before you start munching away.

Whether you like cheese or not, you won't be disappointed! (it's not cheesy at all).


Chocolate tiramisu ($58), 6/10
If you like soft-textured tiramisu, then you will definitely fall in love with this one. It tasted almost identical to my favorite ones at Amaroni's Little Italy. Only if they can add a little more liquor, it would be perfect.

The total damage for four people came down to about $570. That's considered a huge bargain these days especially given the level of food quality and service.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$
Address: Shop 219-220, 2/F, K11 Art Mall, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui / Tsim Sha Tsui East
Tel: +852 2366-6701