Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Belon (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

2016 has not been a banner year for restaurant openings so far but things are about to heat up with a number of new French restaurants in town led by Belon, a Parisian bistro brought to us by the Black Sheep Restaurants Group who are also behind culinary gems Burger Circus and Carbone.

Belon is not just another any neo-Parisian bistro. Their kitchen is helmed by Chef James Henry, who's one of the hottest names in Paris with his previous work at Bones drawing raving reviews in the City of Light.

I managed to recruit my usual partner in crime, Agent-I who's in town for meeting this week. Since she's been real fed up with Singaporean food these days, the timing just couldn't get any better for the both of us.

I like a restaurant with a simple menu and that they have at Belon. The food menu generally features about 5 to 6 small bites, appetizers, main dishes and desserts and it changes on a weekly basis. Like most modern French bistros, most dishes are meant to be shared.

Our dinner started off with one of the house specialties - sea urchin and sweet potato waffle with smoked bacon cream ($78 per piece). I saw pictures of these on the social network last week and it really got me drooling for a week since I'm a huge sea urchin fan. However, I must admit I was slightly disappointed with the results.

I thought they had something going with the sea urchin and sweet potato waffle combination but right off the bat, I could tell it wasn't going to work for me. The waffle was way too soft and not nearly crispy enough for my liking. The sea urchin was alright but clearly not of the top notch quality I was expecting.

Pain perdu with smoked eel and black radish ($58 per piece) was next. The pain perdu of course refers to the toasted bread on the bottom and that was nicely marinated with a roasted chicken sauce before they added toppings like smoked eel, black radish, pickled beetroot and granny smith.

This was better than the previous sea urchin and sweet potato waffle although the toasted bread was slightly too flavorful, which was a little too overpowering for the little piece of smoked eel.

It's asparagus season so we were not all that surprised to see them featured in the current menu. As our server explained, they have these fresh asparagus shipped in from Pertuis, a small commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region in southeastern France where they are supposed to be famous for their asparagus.

So after hearing all the background information, Agent-I and I agreed to get for it. Personally, I love asparagus and I always believe its marriage with hollandaise sauce is a match made in heaven but smoked bonito

Well, I actually thought the asparagus and smoked bonito meshed fairly well together (though Agent-I disagreed and thought it was weird.). My only complaint was perhaps they could be a little more generous there. For the price they're charging ($218 by the way), there's gotta be more than just the one piece of asparagus.

Hokkaido scallop was baked on the shelf with seaweed butter ($138), lots of it. 

Obviously this was very buttery. The spiced turnip on top was drawing mixed reviews from the two of us. While I thought it was a pretty innovative move, Agent-I believed it was a tad too spicy and she even went on to tell our server about it.

One thing we did agree on was the best dish of the evening and that honor belonged to the beetroot salad ($128). This particular dish featured beetroots baked in salt and served with crushed walnuts and tête de Moine. I really enjoyed the salt baked beetroot slices and tête de Moine tremendously. Those two worked so well together. Very nice.

We had a lot of food already so instead of having our own main dish, we decided to just share one together. We took a flyer on the market fish of the day which was baked flounder from Japan ($508).

While the mild-flavored flounder was sourced from Japan, the rest of the dishes was all local ingredients including garlic, chives, mint, green peas and watercress. Agent-I thought there was miso in there but I wasn't so sure. All I care was that it tasted good and I like the sauce which was very "Asian".

For the second week in a roll, I am having miso ice-cream ($108) for dessert. This time around, they elected to serve it with lemon meringue, lemon foam and lavender and whey granita. This has a very interesting mix of complicated flavors and textures; and without a question, very entertaining for our palates.

While I enjoyed Chef Henry's modern take on French cooking, some of the dishes tonight were hit-and-miss for the both of us. And the fact that the bill came to around $900 per head, came as a bit of surprise considering what had been ordered (No premium ingredients!). Some of those dishes looked really undersized and of course, that single-asparagus dish immediately came to mind.

Anyways, now that I've got Belon out of the way, I'm setting my sight on my next destination, which will be another new opening, Mercato by Jean Georges which is slated to open some time in May. If anyone has information on how to get a table, I am all ears.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 41 Elgin Street, Soho, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2152-2872
Website: www.belonsoho.com

Monday, March 28, 2016

Otto Restaurant & Bar (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Italian cuisine is very popular all over the world and hearty dishes like a simple carbonara have long captured the heart of food lovers from different corners of the globe. In Hong Kong, we are blessed with so many good Italian restaurants around the city and today, I decided to check one off my list - Otto Restaurant & Bar, a casual Italian place that has recently been getting some pretty positive reviews from my friends.

I was eating with mom this afternoon so as always, it would be a very early start. 

Located on the 16th and 17th floor of L'hart building in Causeway Bay, Otto is just a stone's throw from the Causeway Bay MTR station. Though not as glamorous as other Italian eateries on the Island side, it has all the makings of a hearty Italian restaurant.

We started things off with a pair of croissants first. That was surprisingly good. 

Both of us went with their creamy sweet corn soup as starter. The soup was indeed very sweet though not quite as creamy as advertised.

Our main dishes both turned out to be pleasant surprises for us. My pan fried pork fillet Braciola style ($118) was really nice with the pork fillet being one of tenderest I had in recent memory.

I thought better was mom's risotto with prawn and scallops ($128). The addition of black truffle was a very nice touch to the creamy risotto.

For dessert, both of us had the classic creme brulee finished with a sugar glaze.

Nothing fancy or pretentious, just a hearty meal full of gourmet Italian dishes. Needless to say we'll be back very soon.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$
Address: 16-17/F, L'hart, 487-489 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2893-8617

Sunday, March 27, 2016

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

Of course, we won't be leaving Kowloon City without dropping by my favorite pastry shop, Thomas Trillion. 

Vanilla banana ($60) - After trying out two new items at Patisserie Tony Wong just an hour ago, we were ready to take on something new here as well. The Vanilla banana cake is one of their newest items and honestly, I couldn't tell whether they were trying to shape it like a pumpkin or xiao long bao. 

This is really really nice. I mean super nice! The vanilla chocolate mousse, caramelized banana and raspberry mousse and rich dark chocolate base combined for one of the most perfectly textured cake I've had all year. Yes, it's one of the most expensive piece of cakes in Hong Kong but it's definitely well worth the heavy price tag!

Passion fruit orange ($60) - I'm having this for the second time though this was a revised version.

I thought the light chocolate mousse was again silky smooth and the streusel base was nutty enough for my liking. But slightly disappointing was the fact that it didn't have the same lava effect from the passion fruit and orange flavored coulis like it did last time (Actually the coulis seemed to be missing). Instead there's just a piece of caramelized orange compote in the middle.

We had another satisfying time visiting Thomas Trillion this afternoon. The new vanilla banana cake was something special and it had my palate totally blown away.

Food Rating: 7.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop No.3, G/F Man Kay Mansion, Nga Tsin Wai Road, Kowloon City, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: N/A
Tel: +852 2806-0332

Website: www.thomastrillion.com

Pâtisserie Tony Wong (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

It's been a while since I last took a long stroll through the old streets of Kowloon City so I wasn't surprised to see all these changes in the area. Take Patisserie Tony Wong for example. I still vaguely remember it being across the street from where they are currently now and I had no idea they were on the move.

I still remember that tiny little shop they had before. It couldn't even fit 4-5 people inside at the same time. So this new place is just a breath of fresh air with a small salon in front of the cake counter. How nice is that!?

For the last couple of years, I've been visiting Tony Wong's other branches more often. Their Shatin one particularly interested us due to its prime location but my impression hasn't always been great coz somehow, it felt like they didn't possess the same quality as their Causeway Bay or Kowloon City branch (which shouldn't be the case at all coz the cakes should be centrally made somewhere in a factory-like environment I suppose?). 

It's Easter holiday season so not surprisingly, they have this little chocolate bunny specially made for the occasion.

Lime Silver ($45) - This comprises a combination of strawberry jelly, lime mousse and pistachio sable. I've often tried to shy away from pastries with strong acidity and this one matches that description on paper (with strawberry and lime) but somehow it manages to impress me with the perfect balance of  sweetness and acidity. Very nice.

Hazelnut and toffee cake ($45) - I am always into nutty-toasty flavors so looks like this cake is right up my alley. The toffee and hazelnut mousse combines well with roasted hazelnut and hazelnut dacquoise giving us a very satisfying bite. 

Looks like both new items did enough to impress us in more ways than one. Needless to say, we will be back in the very near future.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: G/F, 65 Fok Lo Tsun Road, Kowloon City, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: N/A
Tel: +852 2382-6639
Website: www.patisserietonywong.com

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Passion by Gérard Dubois at Langham Place (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

The Passion by Gérard Dubois at Langham Place has recently replaced their Mody Road branch as our favorite dessert spot and we found ourselves back here again for a quick afternoon tea before heading home for dinner.

Obviously, this place has been a quick hit since its opening so finding ourselves a table felt like mission impossible but we eventually managed to find one. 

Pistachio latte - Interestingly, as a regular customer to Passion, this is my first time getting a sip of their latte. How strange is that!? This was very nice. Heart-warming with a super smooth texture. Just love the rich and aromatic pistachio flavors coming out of the latte. Won't mind having another one very soon. 

Vanilla and Lemon My second time having this baby and I thought it wasn't as good as the first time. Refreshing was still the game here but the acidity from the lemon could've been a tad stronger.

Dulcey and Banana -  Evidently this is a new item here and it's easily the better of the two.

It features a silky smooth dulcey banana and chocolate mousse with banana compote in the middle. Very light and creamy. Yum~

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 11, Level 4 Langham Place Shopping Mall, 8 Argyle Street, Mongkok, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Mongkok
Tel: +852 2967-8812
Website: www.passionbygd.com

Friday, March 25, 2016

Flint Grill and Bar (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I had the pleasure of being invited to Flint Grill & Bar's opening events when the steakhouse first opened for business back in 2013 and I have to say, I came away very impressed with the work Head Chef Sven Wunram has done for the place. 

It's been 3 years now and finally, I decided to come back for a second visit but words had Chef Sven Wunram off to Grand Cayman Islands (Ritz Carlton) early this year already. 

One of the things that has impressed me most about Flint Grill & Bar is its tranquil ambience; that is a little hard to find these days, especially for a steakhouse!

Caesar salad with baby gem lettuce, cured egg yolk, croutons, white anchovy ($140) - With a lot of meat and seafood ahead of us, starting things off with a salad sounded like a brilliant idea. The baby lettuce was crisp and fresh while the white anchovies and parmesan cheese chips provided a nice one-two punch to the flavors. 

Petuna ocean trout with finger lime, fresh seaweed ($190) - This is an interesting one. Two pieces of the ocean trout was lightly seared while a third one was almost entirely cooked. Odd isn't it?

I thought it tasted alright but a little more acidity would have done this dish a bit more justice.

Seared foie gras with veal shank, hazelnut, quince and parsnip ($190) - I haven't had seared foie gras for a while now so personally, I was really looking forward to this dish. As my partners in crime have never paid much attention to cholesterol, I let them have a larger portion while I took a smaller piece. Interesting to see veal shank in play here and surprisingly, that little experiment worked out well with the seared duck liver. Not bad.   

Grilled carabineros with shallot, red and green chilli and yuzu ($190) - Spanish red prawns were one of my favorite seafood and these were grilled to absolute perfection. Love the amount of prawn shrimp in there too. Delish!

Grilled Iberico pork chop with roasted pumpkin, red mustard, calvados and crackling ($300) - We decided we just wanted one main course to share and ended up choosing pork over beef for no particular reason. But this grilled Iberico pork chop had to be one of the more disappointing dish of the evening. 

The pork was definitely a little on the hard side and more importantly, the rich flavors we often found from Iberico pork were kind of missing from action.

There will be no dessert for us on this evening as the three of us had another engagement after the meal. So I guess we'll have to find another time to sample this dessert menu. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 5/F JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2810-8366
Website: Link

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Mingles (Seoul, SOUTH KOREA) ★★★★★

Surprises from the Asia's Best 50 Restaurants Award just keep coming every year. Just when everyone was fully expecting Jungsik to be crowned Korea's top restaurant for the third straight year, they completely shocked us with the selection of Mingles.

But for foodies who are familiar with Seoul, this should come with no surprise at all. Mingles has been one of the rising stars in Seoul's dining scene the last couple of years and is considered one of the most difficult table to get in the city. A bit of background information here first. Chef-owner Mingoo Kang honed his craft from working with Chef Martin Berasategui in Spain during the early stages of his career before moving to the United States where he worked his way from junior sous chef (NOBU Miami) to Executive chef de cuisine (NOBU ATLANTIS) in just 3 years.

Chef Kang moved back to Seoul to open Mingles in 2014. Since its opening, Mingles has been one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in town and today, it's leading a new wave of modern Korean restaurants that is rapidly changing the landscape of contemporary Korean cuisine with a strong focus on Korean ingredients. I am seriously counting on Chef Kang and his crew to pepper me with all kinds of wonderful dishes before I head back to Hong Kong this afternoon.

The 6-seater bar table is the perfect way to go for a solo diner.

But I love the dining room even more with the perfect amount of natural lights.

Look at these trophies, newly arrived from the "Asia Best 50 Restaurants" Award in Bangkok early this year.

The lunch menu features 2 set menus and a number of signature dishes such as seafood cappellini and foie gras torchon which can be ordered on the side (more on that later).

I've been very impressed with the way these high-end Korean fusion restaurants (Jungsik and Soigné to name a couple) dazzle me with their amuse bouche. Will Mingles deliver too?

Our first nibble was a halibut roll with apple straws in the middle. Looks like the piece of raw halibut has been marinated with a lemon dressing first before they added a bit of Korean fermented bean paste on top. Pretty clean and refreshing start.

That was accompanied by a seaweed cracker that was nicely decorated with toppings like salmon roes, tapioca, abalone sauce, mango and avocado purée. They finished things off by sprinkling white truffle powder atop. That was beautiful.

Next up, we have another beautifully presented nibble in the form of an egg nog with cauliflower cappuccino and Korean mushrooms.

Very nice.

Now that my taste buds have been warmed up a bit, it's time to take on our first starter. It was a refreshing dish of scallop salad with slices of scallops sitting neatly on a bed of spring vegetables and herbs. A little too much acidity if you ask me but the result was not bad.

The salad was curiously served with a pair of truffle chips.

At this point in time, we had a break from the set menu and cutting in between was one of the signature dishes we ordered from the a la carte menu - foie gras torchon with white kimchi and Korean plum wine.

They have a very interesting dish here with each foie gras torchon marinated in Korean plum wine and then tightly wrapped with a sheet of black vinegar infused kimchi. Also throw in a Korean plum wine pairing for good measures.

I thought the foie gras was silky smooth and had a nice depth of flavors but the plum wine didn't seem to be doing much at all, which was slightly surprising.

We temporarily switched back to the set menu and enjoyed a cod fish fillet served in a Korean spicy red pepper bisque sauce. I really like the Korean twist here with the Korean spicy squid, potato purée and white kimchi doing a lot of good work and providing the cod fish a lovely spicy kick.

We were again going back and forth between the set and a la carte menu and this time around, we were set to take on another house specialty - squid-ink capellini pasta, with squid-ink and seaweed jang sauce, fresh sea urchin and seasonal seafood.

That was the plan until we were told that the quality of sea urchin wasn't up to par this afternoon so just lobster and onion in this one. I was obviously devastated with the trade-off (lobster for sea urchin) but at the end, more than happy with the results. The capellini was done perfectly with flavors from the squid-ink and seaweed combining wonderfully well together. Lobster meat and cherry tomatoes provided the finishing touch on this one.

While I was still enjoying the aftertaste from my cappellini, my main dish was readily sitting on deck. I've been pretty fond of Korean duck during my recent trips to Seoul so this was a no-brainer for me here - seared duck breast, with sweet and sour sauce and "seasonal Jang-a-jji".

That was so tender and succulent. Just perfect.

We've had quite a few charred Korean beef tenderloin on this trip but the results have been largely mixed. This version from Mingles was slightly above average with the truffled Jang sauce and seasonal vegetables complementing the marbled beef nicely. But personally, I would rather have my Grade 1++ tenderloin from Two Plus.

I was trying to figure out if this was just a pre-dessert. If it is, then they have just scored a few extra points right there. There's a lot of ingredients including coconut anglaise, black vinegar infused pineapple and celery, raspberry sorbet, spring herb ice, cocoa chip and crumbs trapped in this small glass container. Oh and a "broken" chocolate cigar too. If refreshing our senses was the objective of the dish, then they've totally achieved their goal!

Finally we were down to our final dish of the afternoon, which also happened to be Mingles' signature dessert. I love the way they presented this in a traditional earthenware jar which was commonly used to make kimchi.

Here we have a "Doen-Jang" creme brulee, served with 3 types of Jang (or sauce) - soy bean, fermented soy milk and chili powder and the whole thing, along with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, was showered with "Gan-Jang" pecan, "Gochu-Jang" black rice and a whisky foam giving it all kinds of interesting textures and flavors. Very very nice.

Petite four was a tiny glutinous rice cake with red bean paste and a glass of lemongrass or jasmine infused juice.

Other than one or two dishes that failed to swing for the fences, I thought everything was clicking for me this afternoon. The amuse bouche, sea urchin cappellini (correction: lobster cappellini), seared duck breast; I could go on and on. It was just a fantastic dining experience. Of course, I had to scramble to catch my 3 o'clock flight afterwards but even if I miss my flight, at least I was running around with a happy stomach.

A huge monkey is off my back now that I've scratched Mingles off my list.

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: ₩₩₩₩
Address: 1/F, Nonhyun-dong 94-9, Gangnam-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Closest Metro Station: Apgujeong Rodeo / Gangnam-gu
Tel: +82 2-515-7306
Website: www.restaurant-mingles.com
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 15th (2016)