Thursday, December 31, 2015

Amber (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

It's been an up and down year for me with a lot of stuff going on and because of that, I didn't get the chance to travel as much as I would like. With 2016 in the horizon, I certainly hope things will start to look up again. In trying to end 2015 on a high note, I decided to have a good meal on New Year's Eve and what better way to do so than Chef Richard Ekkebus's Amber which has been one of the toughest tables to book in recent years.

We all went for the sets and first up, some really nice nibbles to warm our palates up. It started with a deep fried mushroom ball infused with black currant and mustard seed and then a spiced pumpkin chip in the shape of a leaf.

That was followed by a porcini mushroom macaron with pumpkin filling in the middle wrapping up a very enjoyable set of amuse bouche for us.

We all had a little trouble picking out what we wanted for appetizer because there were so many good choices. Firstly, there's this "wild duck colvert" which looked like a pie with 
foie gras pate, duck meat, duck consommé jelly and Sicilian pistachio in the middle. It was served with some spiced mango chutney. What a marvelous dish that was with all the different flavors and textures harmonizing each other perfectly! 

I went with the house specialty, Hokkaido sea urchin dish. It was a no-brainer with me, especially after hearing whispers that it might be permanently removed from the menu at some point in 2016. Would be very sad if it does, since it's been an iconic dish here for nearly a decade and has quietly been symbolic with Amber since it's on almost every magazine or TV show whenever they talked about this coveted restaurant.

Fresh Hokkaido sea urchin, lobster jelly, cauliflower cream and caviar. Simply sit down, relax and enjoy the ride.

As per usual, it was nice to have it with the crispy seaweed waffle.

Main courses were a little more difficult to pick out coz I didn't like fishes. First up was the lamb ribs braised with pinot noir and served with savory boulangere potatoes with taggiasche olives, tomato confit and mizuna leaves. The lamb was really tender and nice although a little high on fat content. Nevertheless a solid dish without a question.

I had the French pigeon myself. The pigeon breast was pan roasted to perfection and served with the pigeon leg sandwiched inside layers of sesame and cereal. It was nicely complemented by poached beetroot, a beetroot purée which tasted like it's been smoked or spiced, Japanese radish and some pigeon jus was added for good measures. That was another brilliant dish from the talented kitchen. 

While we waited for our dessert, we were offered a little pre-dessert to freshen ourselves up.

If our appetizer and main course were any indication of how good dessert would be, then we were certainly in for a treat. Our first dessert was William pear which was poached in fragrant spiced shinaz red wine and then served with a black currant sorbet and extra virgin olive oil "pearls". That was very refreshing.

Equally sensational was the pineapple confit that was matched with grilled mille feuille, "grand cru" madagascar vanilla cream licorice, lime and yoghurt mousse and exotic fruit sorbet. A perfect pair of desserts ending this magnificent meal in style.

Amber has always been considered one of the best fine dining restaurants in Hong Kong, but to me, it's THE best. So, I am still thinking.....where's that third star? (In my opinion, the biggest snub in the Michelin guide.)

Food Rating: 9/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 7/F, The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, 15 Queen's Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2132-0066
S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants: 38th (2015)
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 6th (2015)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Kasa 家香 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I love all these new school cafés that are drawing inspirations from the old school cha chaan tengs (tea restaurants 茶餐廳). The latest to join the party is Kasa (家香), a new school modern café in Wanchai serving up some really innovative dishes with "old Hong Kong" in mind.

They've taken a lot of these traditional Chinese favorites and turn them into unorthodox and creative dishes. The baked duck stuffed with sea urchin with squid ink fried rice and arancini with claypot-style rice and lap cheung are just some of the many highlights from their exciting food menu.

Of course, I had to start things off with a cup of Hong Kong style milk tea. The tea was surprisingly not as strong as most "silk stocking" milk tea, which was just perfect for me as I am not into strong tea. But personally, I would love a little more milk in there.

Sunny-side-up egg, Japanese char siu with ginger mayonnaise on a pineapple bun (家香漢堡) ($38) - This was part of the tea set that also included the iced milk tea. A Chinese-style burger. Very interesting.

And it was surprisingly delicious. Never thought a pineapple bun could work so well with fried egg and char siu (BBQ pork). I thought the homemade ginger mayonnaise (紫薑醬汁) and pickled onion were the key in tying everything together so nicely. That was quite a fulfilling experience.

Kasa style molten duck yolk custard lava cake (奶皇流沙心太軟) ($28) - I was warned about this really naughty dessert before so I have especially saved room for it. This is a nice crossover between egg custard bun (流沙奶皇飽) and molten lava cake (心太軟). Another incredibly well-designed fusion dish that was fun and tasty.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride with this amazing East-meets-West fusion cuisine!

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$
Address: Shop 103, 1/F, Shui On Centre, 6-8 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 2659-9189

Best French Restaurants in Seoul (2015)

Seoul has really come a long way in becoming one of Asia's gourmet capitals in recent years.
What makes the city so attractive from a culinary perspective is its vibrant, relatively inexpensive, multi-cultural and ever-changing food scene that is consistently improving every day. There has never been as many fine dining restaurants in Seoul, especially upscale French eateries and here are the best of the best chosen carefully by someone with spoiled taste buds (Me).

(1) Pierre Gagnaire à Séoul
Pierre Gagnaire is the first world renowned chef from France to open here in Seoul and his fine dining restaurant at Lotte Hotel remains the staple for those who's looking for an exquisite dining experience featuring one of the world's most ground breaking cuisine.

Address: Lotte Hotel 35/F (New Wing), 1 Sogong-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82-2317-7181

(2) Jungsik
Touted as one of Seoul's hippest dining destinations, Jungsik prides itself as a modern Korean restaurant serving innovative Korean dishes prepared with European cooking techniques (mainly French). They've moved into this new premise late last year and continued to be recognized as the city's best restaurant in 2015 (at least according to Asia Best 50 Restaurants).

A recent review of my meal at Jungsik can be found here.

Address: 11 Seolleung-ro 158-gil, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2517-4654

(3) Soigné
Technically not a true French restaurant, Soigné checks in as a contemporary restaurant serving contemporary Korean cuisine with a French twist. Owner-chef Jun Lee's modern take on traditional North and South Korean dishes is as creative as it gets in Seoul and without question, Soigné is my favorite restaurant in Seoul this year.

A recent review of my meal at Soigné can be found here.

Address: 46 Banpo-daero 39-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2-3477-9386

(4) Zero Complex
Like Soigné, Zero Complex is also located in Seorae Village, Seoul's "Little France" district but what separates Zero Complex with the rest is its neo-bistro approach, which represents a new wave of French restaurants defined by its innovative cuisine, casual atmosphere and international influences.

Dishes at Zero Complex are not meant to be as sophisticated or glamorous as the ones offered at Jungsik or Soigne but they are every bit as good, if not better.

A recent review of my meal at Zero Complex can be found here.

Address: 1-138 Bangbaebon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2532-0876

(5) Bover Lounge
Myeongdong is an area best known for its shopping and less as a gourmet destination. Apart from its casual eateries (mostly Korean) and street food, it has very little to offer when it comes to upscale fine dining restaurants and gourmet bistros. But Bover Lounge changes all that.

Opened in 2014, Bover Lounge is a cozy French bistro on the ground floor of the State Tower Namsan. Their food menu includes signature dishes such as omelette soufflé and some of the most elegant chiffon cakes from Glamorous Penguins. It's the perfect place to take a break from a busy day's shopping in Myeongdong.

A recent review of my meal at Bover Lounge can be found here.

Address: G/F State Tower Namsan, 1-1 Hoehyeondong 2(i)-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2-6020-5755

(6) Maison de la Catégorie
La Catégorie Restaurant and its casual sister, Maison de la Catégorie, used to be housed under different roofs in the past but the owner had finally put them under the same roof last year. Maison de la Catégorie is more of a French brasserie offering some of the best French bistro food such as beef tartare, baked escargot and duck confit in the city.

Address: 85 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Tel: +82 2545-6640

(7) Louis Cinq
Situated in the heart of Apgujeong, Louis Cinq is easily the city's best gastropub. Owner-chef Lee You-suk and company brought the gastropub concept to Seoul back in 2010 following years of training in Europe and had it going in the right direction. What Louis Cinq does best are some of their French inspired dishes that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the city. The food menu promises a great deal of pleasant surprises and changes on a regular basis.

Address: 2/F, 657 Sinsa-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Korea
Tel: +82 2574-1259

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Myung Ga Korean Restaurant iSquare (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

There's no secret that Myung Ga Korean Restaurant is one of my favorite Korean restaurants in the city but because of all these new Korean places in town, I haven't had a chance to come back the last little while.

This iSquare location is a little less spacious than the Causeway Bay one but still very high on my list.

Because of this amazing view right here (Too bad it was a little too cloudy and I didn't have my camera with me!).

I am having my usual braised ribs with the Korean sweet soy sauce. Love the fact that they've added some chestnut, ginkgo and red dates in there to enrich the flavors.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 2702, 27/F, iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2369-1177

Saturday, December 26, 2015

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

It was a Christmas holiday filled with Chinese food. That was somewhat of an unfamiliar territory for me but most importantly, we had a great time sharing good food with our beloved family. That's all it matters. Fast forward to Boxing day, there's no way in the world that I will have Chinese food again, at least not in the next 24 hours.

I started the afternoon off having a little bit of French food at IVY and after doing some damage to my wallet in Causeway Bay, I decided to hover back to Admiralty for some modern British food at The Continental.

I know, I have heard this before. The service here is lousy and the menu isn't all that exciting. But come on, it's Christmas. Let's give it another chance. I arrived a little earlier than expected so I ended up enjoying a cocktail at the bar first.

I think no one would argue the fact that The Continental boasts one of the elegant most dining rooms in Hong Kong. Absolutely loves the relaxed ambiance.

A little Christmas lighting at each table!?

Griddled scallops with chestnut purée, shiso and lemon ($265) - I had trouble picking out an appetizer from the menu so I thought why not have two main courses instead? Starting things off with the griddled Hokkaido scallops was a brilliant idea. Love the combination of the scallops and chestnut purée working well together as a team. A bit of lemon juice and lemon zest provided just enough acidity for the dish. Not a bad start at all!

Roast goose leg, spiced red cabbage and apple sauce ($360) - When the goose leg arrived, fragrance from the perfectly roasted goose meat had me thinking that I was having dinner at Yung Kee!

I thought the meat was really nice. Tender and fairly juicy. The spiced red cabbage was perfect in neutralizing the richness of the goose meat. Another pretty enjoyable dish for me.

The restaurant (or more accurately, the kitchen) finally redeemed itself after a lackluster effort from my previous visit. There's no doubt in my mind about coming back some other time in the very near future. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Unit 406, L4, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2704-5211 

L'Eclair de Génie (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

This is already my fourth visit to L'Eclair de Génie's this month. How crazy is that!?

It was getting a little late so I was not surprised to find only these leftovers sticking around. 

(N°117) Chocolat Grand Cru - made with creamy 80% dark chocolate and chocolate glaze. I thought this was a little too one-dimensional. Would much prefer some acidity (or something other than chocolate) in there!

(N°136) Praline Chocolat Au Lait - Bahibe chocolate ganache, feuillete praline, a thin chocolate leaf and roasted hazelnuts. Out of all the flavors I managed to sample in the last few weeks, this had to be the best of the bunch. But personally, I still think Fauchon's Paris Brest eclair tasted better (but that's just me).

Time to close the books on L'Eclair de Génie.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 1/F, Prince's Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2554-7729