Saturday, April 30, 2016

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

It's been a long time since I last indulged myself in one of those themed afternoon teas in Hong Kong. The last one I had the pleasure of having was Pierre Hermé's Infiniment Citron Afternoon Tea at Ritz Carlton and that didn't turn out very well so I have been much more selective these days.

Three weeks ago, I started hearing about Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s special collaboration with Vienna’s famous Café Central and Julius Meinl coffee. Won't that be something. I have always been a huge fan of the vibrant European café scene and this is one of the oldest institution in Austria. I am sure mom would be interested too.

During this collaboration or cross-over, both Clipper Lounge and Café Causette will be serving a selection of Café Central's traditional homemade pastries accompanied by Julius Mienl coffee. A special afternoon tea set featuring the café's signature pastries is also available during the afternoon hours.

While everyone is dying to get a taste of the Viennese coffeehouse culture, I decided to just get a cup of hot chocolate instead. Not bad.

Mom was excited to see the three-layered afternoon tea set ($498 for two people) but I was too busy taking pictures left and right.

They've got a pretty good scone. That's a start.

Out of all the savory items, I love this salami sandwich with egg omelette the most.

Mini Schnitzel burger. Hm....just OK.

Time to get our hands dirty on the sweet stuff now. What we have here are bite-sized versions of the famous Viennese sweet treats including from left to right, Esterházy cake, a sponge cake with delicious butter cream; their signature Sachertorte, a traditional chocolate cake with apricot jam; Marmorgugelhupf, a marble bundt cake that is tender and buttery and last but not least, Café Central Gâteau, a layered chocolate cake with marzipan, orange and exotic spices.

The Café Central Gâteau was definitely the best of the bunch.

With guest pâtissier Johannes Warmuth in the house, I thought we owe it to ourselves to try at least one of Café Central's famed pastries (no, not the bite-sized versions). We ended up getting this Zwetschgen-Mohn, a type of Austrian poppy plum short cake. The plum flavors were really nice and strong with what I thought was a bit of wine backing it up. Very good.

The Café Central collaboration will be around until the end of June so stop by Clipper Lounge, Café Causette or The Mandarin Cake shop for your Viennese treats soon.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: M/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central / Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2825-4005

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lady M IFC (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

After trying all those fancy mille crêpes flavors in Lady M Seoul last month (which included tiramisu, marron, cookie and cream), one thing is certain - there's no flavor that tastes better than the earl grey, which can be found right here in Hong Kong!

This is still the best of the bunch, the Earl Grey flavored mille crêpes. Very soft and creamy with very rich earl grey flavor coming from every layer.

They have just introduced their mimosa cake this month. Not many cake shops in Hong Kong carry mimosa cake, a layered sponge cake with custard cream and sponge cubes on top. I had this a while ago when I was visiting Antico Caffè Greco in Rome. Of course, the key of the whole thing is the custard cream, which holds everything together nice and tight. Not bad but I still like my earl grey mille crêpes a bit more.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 2096A, 2/F, IFC, 1 Harbour View Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2865-1099

Lei Garden IFC (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Lei Garden at IFC used to be the place I threw all my welcome lunch parties for visiting colleagues from overseas but that was a while ago when I was still working in the area. Things have changed a lot between now and then. I am no longer working in the same field and man, the Michelin god has really been smiling on Lei Garden (Did they ever!?) in the past few years. In fact, almost every one of their locations (I mean almost) has garnered a star solidifying their status as one of the top Chinese restaurants in the city.

This is the same old dining room since Day One. Nothing has changed.

Fragrant rice with minced conpoy wrapped in lotus leaf (飄香荷葉飯) ($158) - The last item we ordered turns out to be the first to arrive.

This is full of flavors as usual. I wish there were more meat or mushrooms in there on top of the dried scallops but it's still reasonably good stuff.

Cantonese style layered sponge cake (馬拉千層糕) ($38) - This is very spongy and pretty airy. I was expecting slightly bigger portion though.

Deep fried mashed taro with diced pork (蜂巢芋盒) ($42) - The deep fried mashed taro was very fluffy and light on the outside with savory diced pork and mushroom stuffed inside. I won't mind having another dish of these again.

Dumplings in chili oil (紅油抄手) ($43) - It's a bit of a mistake on my part to order this dish at a Cantonese restaurant when it's supposed to be a Shanghainese specialty. This one is just not working for me. Not chilly enough and the dumplings not as tasty as expected.

Steamed dumpling with mushroom (雲南野菌餃) ($42) - Contrary to the previous dumpling dish, these steamed dumplings were pretty darn good. I thought the wrapper was a little thick but I love the flavors and textures coming from the assorted mushrooms. Pretty fragrant too. Not bad.

Steamed rice-flour roll with spring onion and sesame (香葱芝麻滑腸粉) ($43) - I had this last time when I was at Xi Yue (八月芳). Reminded me a lot of my childhood days when mom used to carry a brown paper bag full of these home after visiting the market. They used to have two versions of these back then, this savory one served with hoisin and sesame sauce and another sweet one made with sugarcane.

Anyways, I was really looking forward to having this again and it took them 25 minutes (I was counting!) to get it ready. So I supposed it was made to order. This was fairly tasty, especially after mixing soy sauce, hoisin, sesame and chili sauce into it. Along with the deep fried mashed taro, those were the two best dishes of the afternoon.

As I've said many times here, I don't really follow the Michelin Guide when it comes to Chinese food. I am personally not a big fan of Michelin starred "restaurant chains" because if Lei Garden is getting all the love, then perhaps others like Dragon King (龍皇), Xin Dau Ji (新斗記) or even the high-end Maxim's (in fact, I think Peking Garden in Central did receive a star in 2016.) should also get some serious consideration too. But I guess as always, the Guide for Hong Kong and Macau should always be taken with a grain of salt.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 3008, 3/F, IFC, 1 Harbour View Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2295-0238

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Express Bar by Lassana (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Kwun Tong has traditionally been a very difficult place to find quality French pastries but Express Bar by Lassana managed to change that recently. Billed primarily as a coffee shop, Express Bar now also doubles as a cake shop offering us some heartwarming choices of French style cakes including this 4 1/2-inch cake.

This mousse cake ($138) comes in two flavors, white chocolate mint (in a bright red color) and caramel (see below). Since I am a caramel freak, this is really a no-brainer for me. The caramel chocolate mousse was so smooth and rich, combining well with the chocolate sponge cake on the bottom. I particularly like the crunchy caramel bits in the middle giving it just enough bite. 

Now that Kwun Tong has finally got some seriously good French pastries, we don't have to rush all the way to Tsim Sha Tsui or Central for our sweet treat now! 

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 2, 1/F, Manulife Financial Centre, 223 Wai Yip Street, Kwun Tong, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kwun Tong
Tel: +852 2114-1003

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Steik World Meats (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

It's been a while since the name "Steik World Meats" popped up except for a recent Restaurant Week promotion. The last time I recalled checking this place out, they had a private event going on that evening so that was the end of it.

But when the gang asked me to name a place for lunch this afternoon, this fine dining sister of the legendary Jimmy's Kitchen suddenly came to mind.

We decided to order a few lunch sets to share among the five of us. Classic Caesar salad with candied parma ham, croutons, parmesan cheese and anchovy dressing was obviously one of the more popular choices as everyone was fighting for something green to start things off. Not bad.

I thought it will be a huge mistake not to order this 63 degree slow-cooked egg with grilled asparagus and toasted almond dressing when asparagus is in season. As expected, the asparagus was nice and buttery and of course, working well with the egg yolk.

Out of the five starters, house smoked salmon was probably my favorite starter, but mainly because of the very refreshing apple jelly.

As for the main courses go, we pretty much took the same approach and have everybody share bit and piece of each dish. Broccoli and cherry tomato orecchiette ($158) was barely touched so judging from the responses, it's a very average one from the bunch.

Well, it was tough to share the classic beer-battered fish and chips with garden salad and house made tartar sauce ($178) among us because there was no way we could cut this into 5 pieces. But based on the little portion that I got, it was pretty decent. The beer batter was really nice but the fish was just OK in my opinion.

Now I am starting question whoever responsible for ordering here. Another fish course? Like the previous fish and chips just ahead of it, it was a decent dish. The texture of the slow cooked salmon fillet ($188) was slightly soft but that's what sous vide does, right? I didn't like the bed of cauliflower purée though as the texture was more like a porridge to me.

I thought the star of the afternoon belonged to this pan seared US prime tenderloin steak diane ($298) with potato purée, mushrooms, broccoli and beans. The tenderloin was tender and pretty juicy. I guess one can't go wrong ordering steak at a steakhouse, right?

Passion fruit pavlova, chantilly cream and passion fruit coulis was light with a good balance of acidity.

Tiramisu with mascarpone, ladyfinger biscuit and expresso wasn't very good. I was expecting something much more airy and creamy but that's just my personal preference.

I remembered this is some kind of parfait (I think). Looks more like one of those Italian desserts from Sicily to me though....

I like the starter portion of this meal a bit more than the main course and dessert part. But for the price we were paying (around $200 per head), I wasn't complaining too much (coz service and ambiance were both very good and oh yes, someone else was settling the bill!).

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 14 Level 3, K11, 18 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui / East Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2530-0011

Saturday, April 23, 2016

VEA Restaurant and Lounge (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

Ever since Chef Vicky left Liberty Private Works late last year, I have been following every one of his moves closely on Instagram. From picking out his new digs, renovating the space to fielding and training his new team, every step of the way. So although I haven't been to VEA Restaurant and Lounge just yet, I seem to know the place pretty well already.

It's no secret that Chef Vicky has never failed to dazzle us with his creative fare all these years so to no one's surprise, his newest venture, VEA took off immediately following its soft opening. The place is absolutely packed every single night and it's been one of the toughest place to get a table in the city.

Like previously with Liberty Private Works, we gathered ourselves around the horseshoe-shaped bar table and got ourselves ready to be peppered with their wonderful creations one after another.

Firstly, we started the prix fixe dinner off with some grissini branches made with black olives and black pepper. That was accompanied by leaves made with pesto, pine nuts and egg white. Very interesting and unusual start to this meal.

Are these really crispy deboned chicken feet with coconut gel atop?

Then a pair of nibbles arrived at the same time, first we have quail eggs pickled in Chinese ginger. This is a nice tribune to the boiled egg (along with pork trotters) in Chinese ginger and sweetened vinegar (薑醋蛋) often cooked for Chinese women after giving birth.

Very nice and runny yolk. I almost tried breaking the other two eggs in the basket but thankfully they stopped me just in the nick of time and told me it's for decoration purposes only. 

Lastly, some "cigars" with parmesan cheese foam in the middle to finish things off a nice set of amuse bouche.

Following an interesting array of amuse bouche, we were finally warmed up and ready to go. I was really excited about my first starter having seen the absolutely gorgeous presentation.

Judging from the colorful display, I knew for sure there are a lot of ingredients in there and yes indeed it's a very busy dish with tuna, Hokkaido sea urchin and espelette leading the way.

Here we have a bed of delicious tuna tartare with piment d'espelette emulsion that was topped with fresh sea urchin from Hokkaido, fermented radish, edible flowers, cucumber and scallion. The transparent layer on top was a burnt cucumber jelly that put a lovely finishing touch on the dish.

This is an extremely well designed dish with the perfect mix of contrasting temperatures, textures and flavors. I like the sweetness of sea urchin meshing well with the spicy espelette and pickled radish for a sophisticated and exciting dish. And as always, Chef Vicky is so great with finest details of each dish as he really impressed me by serving this on an ice cold plate to bring out the best of the tuna and sea urchin.

Anyone who has dined in Liberty Private Works before should be familiar with the frozen longan as this would always be provided alongside the first starter to deliver a sweet and refreshing touch.

While I was still a bit overwhelmed by my first starter, Chef Vicky came over himself and brought along with him our second dish, which also happened to be my favorite dish of the night.

Meet my Japanese mackerel, aged three days and slightly poached. It was beautifully served with edible flowers, pickled daikon and radish.

The key here is obviously the broth which was prepared using star fruit juice among other flavorful ingredients giving it a very sweet taste and tangy texture. That was simply breathtaking.

Next we have Japanese sea cucumber stuffed with scallop mousse and served with a variety of seaweed, again from Japan, Iberico ham, asparagus and Okinawan sea grapes. It was an interesting dish but being the old-fashioned guy that I am, I have always thought that sea cucumber is better suited for Chinese cooking.

They brought back one of the all-time favorites from Liberty Private Works in this egg ravioli with black truffles, ricotta cheese and spinach. The whole thing was topped with a taiyouran egg yolk and caviar and showered with a rich parmesan foam.

This is without question one of my personal favorites from LPW and it was so nice of them to turn back the clock and serve it up to its diehard fans. 

They left me scratching my head by pairing the ravioli with a small piece of deep-fried truffle flavored Chinese cruller. I know it's perfect for dipping into the parmesan foam but I thought the flavors didn't really match.

Very raw do we see Chef Vicky does a classic French dish so I was a bit surprised to have this dish as my first meat course. Bresse guinea fowl roulade was stuffed with foie gras and then served with compressed apples, pickled cabbage and truffle purée (the black dots). It was super juicy and very tender. Very nice.

Less successful was the 48-hour braised pork belly which was served with in-season Japanese firefly squid, French asparagus, morel mushrooms and pickled mustard seeds. They did well to balance the richness of the pork belly with the acidity from reduction of the pork bones, apple juice and apple vinegar but serving it with fermented vegetable purée managed to raise some eyebrows among the few of us (though I like the inspiration from the Chinese braised pork belly with preserved vegetables 梅菜扣肉).

My first dessert was a strawberry themed one with a lot of ingredients forming a circle in the middle of the plate. This included macerated strawberries, candied beetroot, rose-shaped beetroot and a scoop of strawberry flavored sorbet and it didn't take long before they started shoving strawberry and rose snow in the middle of the circle.

As a beetroot freak, I just love the refreshing finish from the beetroot to go with the different variations of strawberry although quite honestly, it looked a lot better than it tasted.

I have been getting a steady diet of miso desserts this week (Belon and Cobo House by 2am dessert) so why not another one tonight?

Honeycomb meringue and miso ice-cream.....interesting mix of flavors.

We finished dinner off the same way we did at the start of the meal with a napkin and test tube of water. The only difference is the fact this is actually marshmallow and lychee cocktail. That was refreshing~

Like our amuse bouche, petite fours were very comprehensive.

Orange Earl Grey madeleines were very nice.

Finally some salted kumquat macaron and chocolate caramel truffle before the amazing dinner draws to a close.

In my opinion, Chef Vicky's Liberty Private Works has been one of the greatest snub on the Michelin Guide since the guide arrived in Hong Kong back in 2008. Now with the change of scenery, would he finally capture that elusive star in the upcoming guide? I am eager to find out at the end of this year...... 

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 29-30/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2711-8639