Wednesday, December 31, 2014

20 Best Dishes of 2014

After an entire week of feasting and partying, we decided to lay low on New Year's Eve and enjoy a little bit of quietness. Sitting comfortably on my sofa, I started thinking about our gastronomic adventures in 2014 and what a great year it was. 

With images of wonderful dishes flooding into my head, I finally decided to do my own top 20 list for 2014 just to recap some of my favorite dishes on the year. Here it is, my top 20 dishes of 2014:

(1) L'Osier, Tokyo - Scampi with passion fruit and mango reduction

L'Osier, a stalwart in Tokyo's fine dining scene since 1973, re-opened in 2014 and although former executive chef Bruno Menard did not make his long anticipated return, new executive chef and Pierre Gagnaire alumni Olivier Chaignon did more than enough to warrant its 2-star status.

Meet our perfectly cooked scampi with passion fruit and mango reduction that was served with an eggplant, vegetable jelly and zucchini tower. This was not only a great dish; it was a stunning piece of art.

(2) L'Astrance, Paris -
millefeuille of foie gras, green apple and mushrooms
Chef-owner Pascal Barbot is a perfectionist who wants to get every single dish right. This is precisely why he's only taking 100 diners every week to make sure that the quality meets his exceptionally high standard.

We were lucky enough to be two of those diners in early October to experience his signature dish, millefeuille of foie gras, green apple and mushrooms and much more. That is the place to be for a great culinary pilgrimage in Paris.

(3) Toshi Yoroizuka Dessert Bar, Tokyo - Mont Blanc
Tucked away at a quiet corner in Tokyo Midtown, Toshi Yoroizuka's Dessert bar was supposed to be a place for us to kill an hour of our spare time before our teppanyaki dinner but it turned out to be so much more. 

At the 12-seat counter, we got the front row seats to a live performance where our pastry chef put together this mont blanc for us layer after layer. It was a stunning display of skill and a wonderful treat to my sweet tooth.

(4) Quest by Que, Hong Kong - Hamachi sashimi with cherry tomato jelly, sea grapes, salmon roes, basil seeds
Chef Que makes his return to Hong Kong with a bang with his Vietnamese inspired menu that features this hamachi sashimi; perfectly complemented with a ultra tangy cherry tomato jelly, some sea grapes, salmon roes, basil seeds and finished with a yuzukosho sauce.

(5) Vasco, Hong Kong - Red Palamos prawns on a seabed and sea urchin with crustacean mayonnaise
There has been no shortage of new Spanish restaurants in Hong Kong this year but Vasco stood out as the best of the bunch. Behind Chef Paolo Casagrande and his avant-garde cuisine, Vasco became an instant hit at the restored PMQ and this red Palamos prawn was just one of the many highlights in their surprise menu.

(6) Ristorante Reale, Castel di Sangro - Half-cooked scampi with spinach and almond cream
Think of this as a sushi (Certainly looks like one at first glance), then the scampi would be your sashimi, the spinach would be your rice and the almond cream would be your wasabi. Buckle up, sit back and enjoy the ride.  

(7) Quintessence, Tokyo - Roasted Japanese Pork with burdock sauce
Chef Shuzo Kishida's talent was on full display with this slow roasted Japanese pork in a special burdock sauce. The pork belly was roasted, cooled, roasted again, cooled and the sequence was repeated some 20-30 times. The result was a super tender, moist, flavorful and seductive piece of roasted pork that simply blew us away.

(8) Il Pagliaccio, Rome - Crab meat with salsify ice-cream, apple and mint

Crab, salsify, ice-cream, apple and mint are never meant to be together but in Chef Anthony Genovese's cuisine, anything is possible. Like most of Chef Genovese's offerings, this dish has a tantalizing mix of interesting textures and flavors that proves to be exciting and unforgettable.  

(9) Restaurant NUR, Hong Kong - Smoked wagyu cheek with black garlic and kai-lan
Chef Nurdin Topham's "nourishing cuisine" took the city by storm in 2014. Although not as beautifully plated as some of his other dishes, NUR's smoked wagyu cheek is as perfect as it gets after being slow-cooked for 48 hours.

Tender, juicy and absolutely mouthwatering.

(10) L'Astrance, Paris - Jasmine-infused eggnog
Another one of Chef Pascal Barbot's ingenious creations. Jasmine-infused eggnog was served in egg shells providing a lovely floral fragrance. A perfect ending to a perfectly prepared dinner.

(11) Jaan, Singapore - 55’ Rosemary smoked organic egg
Chef Julien Royer's rise to Singapore's culinary elite was no surprise to anyone familiar with his cutting-edge artisanal cuisine. There are quite a number of interesting items in the chef's seasonal menu but none more exquisite than his signature 55' rosemary smoked organic egg. The smoky flavors and smooth texture on top of the visually stunning effects makes this dish a must-try at Jaan.

(12) Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, Hong Kong - Slow roasted Dingley Dell pork belly served with spiced apple puree and apple relish
I was at Bread Street Kitchen & Bar for two straight nights during its soft opening week to sample some of the foul-mouthed chef's lovely dishes and this slow roasted Dingley Dell pork belly really stood out as the best dish on both nights.

(13) Mott 32, Hong Kong - Kurobuta pork dumplings (siu mai) with soft quail egg and black truffle
Mott 32 took away a bunch of awards in 2014 with its interior design but it was some of their dim sums that were winning our heart. If you have no concerns over your cholesterol level, check out their Kurobuta pork dumplings (siu mai) with soft quail egg and black truffle. The best siu mai you'll ever have in Hong Kong.

(14) Tsui Hang Village - Crispy minced carp cakes and deep fried bread topped with milk custard
While everyone is obsessed with Tsui Hang Village's signature honey glazed barbeque pork, I have something totally different in mind - their crispy minced carp cakes and crispy bread topped with milk custard.

Crispy on the outside, moist and flavorful on the inside. That was always a treat.

(15) Épure, Hong Kong - Maine lobster with poached rhubarb, fennel salad and basil purée
2014 has been a great year for new restaurants in Hong Kong and Épure ranks right up there as one of my favorites. I still remember this poached Maine lobster with rhubarb, fennel salad and basil purée from Chef Nicolas Boutin. Simple and unpretentious!

(16) Angelina, Hong Kong - Hot Chocolate
2014 would be remembered as the year when Angelina finally landed in Hong Kong. While their food menu is still a work in progress, their hot chocolate is second to none.

(17) Le Meurice, Paris - Steamed vegetable pot 
A Chinese hotpot at a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Paris? Not so fast. Meet our steamed vegetable pot brought to us by Chef Christophe Saintagne using the freshest local vegetables and some of the most precious sea salts in the world.

(18) Ristorante Alla Rampa, Rome - "Lift me up"
Ristorante Alla Rampa's signature "Lift me up" has dazzled us when we first laid eyes on them in 2007. It was great to get re-acquainted with it on our January trip to Italy. Still one of the best dessert we ever had.

(19) Jumbo Seafood Gallery, Singapore - Chili Crab
Some said a trip to Singapore is not complete without trying Jumbo Seafood Gallery's chili crab. The chilli sauce was the key - thick, spicy and a little sweet.

(20) Pastéis de Belém, Lisbon - Pastel de nata
Touted as the best egg tart in Lisbon, Pastéis de Belém's pastel de nata certainly did not disappoint. This was the first time I tried putting cinnamon powder on my egg tarts and the result was simply divine.

Where to find them?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Putien 莆田 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

This week, we had the chance to try a modern Fujian style "nourishing" cuisine at Putien. Putien, a Singapore-based chain, made its first foray into Hong Kong in July and has already got plans to expand further into different parts of Asia.

Their first branch in Hong Kong is conveniently located in the Lee Theatre Plaza in the heart of Causeway Bay. At least two more branches are already in the works in Diamond Hill and Tsuen Wan.

A little complimentary snack helped to set the tone.

I won't say vegetarian is my favorite cuisine but it's always good to have a meatless meal every now and then. This stir-fried kailan with bean curd skin was a great vegetarian dish that goes so well with rice (6/10).

Okay, so much for my promise of a meatless meal. How could we resist this deep fried duck with yam. It was deep fried to perfection but the layer of yam was a little thicker than expected (5/10).

Next up was Putien sweet and sour pork with lychee. The pork meat was deep fried to a lovely golden brown outside but tender and moist inside. Perfect balance of sweetness and sourness, not bad (6/10).

But the best dish of the night belongs to this Putien cabbage rice. I particularly liked the fact that they have added some oysters into the mix (6.5/10).

Putien rice cake was our lone dessert of the night and probably a dish we could all do without. A classic Putianese snack made with glutinous rice, milled rice powder and fillings of crushed peanuts and soy flour.

Too bad it doesn't have the agreed spongy texture (4/10).

A special round of applause for those responsible for this colorful and informative food menu. Very good job!

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop A, 7/F Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2111-8080

Bistronomique (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

It's a great feeling to finally see the West Island line in operation mode before the start of 2015. Although only two out of the three new stations (HKU and Kennedy Town) opened on 28th December, we're still in a bit of celebratory mood this week.

In order to witness this moment in history, I decided to take a ride on this extension to Sai Wan on its second day of operation.

Of course, a trip to Kennedy Town is never complete without visiting either Bistronomique or Bistro Du Vin.

We picked Bistronomique over its arch-rival (Bistro Du Vin) today for no particular reason.

Well, maybe it's the view on the mezzanine floor that helped us make our choice.

Pumpkin velouté was beautifully velvety.

Even more impressive was the salmon gravlax with a small garden green.

For main course, I had the wild mushroom risotto with a little parmesan cheese shaving. Another superb offering. I am starting to fall in love with this place.

Last but not least, a lovely grilled pork chop to wrap up this wonderful lunch.

Great bistro food by the sea in the heart of the Kennedy Town area. These days, it's no longer a hidden gem with the West Island line in full swing.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop B, G/F, 1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kennedy Town
Tel: +852 2818-8266

Saturday, December 27, 2014

HeSheEat Café (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Didn't expect we'll be back to HeSheEat Café so soon.....this time, we are bringing our parents too!

I am picking the chocolate banana milkshake over my favorite Oreo shake this time around. Not as heavy as I once feared. Not bad.

It supposed to have added a dash of caramel but there's no sign of it at all. A bit weird there.

The oatmeal yoghurt shake was another fan's favorite here.

Finally I got to lay my hands on this cheesecake foam served with a cheesecake. Remember to focus on the foam because after all, it's the focal point of this dessert.

The matcha fondant cake, a must-do every time we came here.

For whatever reason, I didn't find the food here to be at the same level as those of the Mongkok flagship. Is it just my imagination or the brutal truth?

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 201, 2/F Causeway Bay Place, 2-10 Great George Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2868-2277

Crostini Bakery (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Up-and-coming bakery and pastry shop Crostini is growing at an exponential rate faster than we can imagine. Ever since we last reported about their opening at the Kowloon Commerce Centre last month, they have already more than doubled their number of outlets in about a month. Now they even have a branch on the island side too!

This new branch is located in the super busy Hong Kong Station.

They have been very good with their mousse cakes offering more than 10 flavors to choose from. We tried their mango mousse cake with pistachio for the first time and it was silky smooth.

The chocolate Mousse cake with banana purée was also a fairly decent choice.

It has a light and airy texture. 

The cakes at Crostini are largely mousse based and that reminds me of Tokyo's mousse cake master Hidemi Sugino. Of course, they are not there yet but just one day they may!

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 21B, Hong Kong Station, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2530-0081

Pierre Hermé (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Anyone who has read this blog knows I am a huge fan of Pierre Hermé. It's been a while since I last heard from the picasso of pastry now so I decided to pay his boutique a visit after lunch at Duddell's.

Sadly, there wasn't much I haven't tried here. I was hoping that they would start carrying some of PH's signature pastries such as the Tarte Infiniment Vanille but I guess that's just wishful thinking at this point in time.

But of course I won't be going away empty handed.

There's only one flavor I haven't tried from this box - Macaron Eglantine, Figue & Foie Gras which is Wild rose hip and fig cream with foie gras in a nutshell.

I am sorry, Mr. Picasso. Didn't like this one. I thought the fig cream was simply too overpowering.

The white truffle with Piedmont hazelnut, still one of the best in Pierre Hermé's all-time collection and one of the best in the business.

I had this olive and vanilla flavor when I was in Paris 3 months ago. It was a beauty (probably as good as the salted caramel and pistachio, if not better.).

Mr. Picasso, so when are we getting your pastries in Hong Kong? Let's set a timetable, shall we?

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 1019C, IFC Mall, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2833-5700