Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Conrad Osaka Nakanoshima (Osaka, JAPAN) ❤❤❤❤❤

It's been a while since I last wrote about a new hotel so I thought I better finish writing this when it's still fresh in my mind.

Last week, we had the pleasure of staying at Conrad Osaka, one of the newest additions in Osaka's hotel scene which has been pretty stale the last couple of years with very few new luxury hotels. The 164-room 5-star hotel aimed to change that. Situated in Nakanoshima (中之島), a charming river island in central Osaka sandwiched between the business oriented Kita area and the bustling shopping Minami area, Conrad has been opened for just over a month and while people are a little worried about its location, I found it to be exactly what I'm looking for.

The hotel is part of a large facility that includes an art museum as well as Festival City which offers around a dozen dining options under the same roof. It's well connected to Higobashi subway station (肥後橋站) with underground passage and most importantly, it's away from the hustle bustle of Osaka's nightlife and shopping district (but not really that far off).

Conrad Osaka was not really my first choice to begin with. We made a last-minute decision to go on this trip so I didn't get to plan things out as carefully as I would have. There were two hotels originally pretty high on my list with Osaka Marriott Miyako as my bona fide No.1 choice (It's been my go-to hotel in Osaka for years!). But after securing my flight tickets, I realized that prices for both hotels have already jumped up considerably while the price for Conrad Osaka remained unchanged. That's when I had the change of heart and I'm so glad I did! 

One of the nicest things about staying in a luxurious 5-star hotel is service. It's part of the package and during our 5-night stay, we got exactly what we expected from a Conrad. Service was exceptional even before we stepped through those doors. Knowing that we would be arriving at the hotel late around midnight, I wrote to the hotel's reception team asking for the keys and paperwork to be ready at front desk to minimize waiting time (so my nugget won't get too grumpy) and they did exactly that. Within 6-8 minutes, we got our keys and went straight up to our rooms hassle-free. Restaurant reservations can get complicated at times in Japan but their concierge team handled those for us in flying colors. Other than one minor mistake by the Housekeeping team with their turn-down service, I thought everything was simply perfect throughout our stay.

In the past, I've not been a fan of Conrad hotels because they tend to over-do their room decoration with way too much luxury (which sometimes backfires!) but I was pleasantly surprised with this one that uses minimalist design to perfection. The rooms (we had two) were thought to be a little dark with grey and black as the predominant color but that didn't bother me at all. In fact, the clever use of sliding doors, the round bathtub in the bathroom etc. were all seen as plus for all of us.

The only weird part of the room was the toilet, which was located right next to our front door. We had to walk all the way, passing the bathroom and corridor to get there, which could be a bit of a pain at times.

Like most new skyscraping hotels in Japan (or Asia), the hotel lobby sits right on top on the 40th floor of the premise while the hotel rooms are slotted between 33rd to 39th floor. I was a little curious with how the view would turn out and not surprisingly, it's not nearly as impressive as the one from Osaka Marriott Miyako or Swissotel Nankai with a number of tall buildings blocking the way.

Location was a surprising plus. The hotel is only about a 20-minute walk to Shinsaibashi (心齋橋站) and Umeda (梅田) if one chooses to walk there instead of taking the train. There are restaurants (underneath at Festival City), cafes, grocery shop and art gallery all within a stone's throw away.

If you happen to be looking for snacks, fruits and supplies, there's a Life Tosabori supermarket nearby that operates until 1am. Took me about 10 minutes to get there.

And more good news for those traveling to Kyoto on a day trip like us. The Keihan Railway Line (京阪線) which offers train service between Osaka, Kyoto and Shiga, can be found right across the street from the hotel. By taking the Keihan line via Watanabebashi station (渡辺橋駅) in front of the hotel, then a quick change either at Temmabashi Station (天満橋駅) or Kyobashi Station (京橋駅), one can get straight to Kyoto in less than an hour (without the trouble of going to Osaka station, which is also a lot of trouble due to the crowd!).

One small piece of advice here. When you're changing at Temmabashi or Kyobashi station, make sure you take advantage of the Rapid limited express or limited express trains to avoid stoppage in every single station (There are 40 stations in between!). Some of the rapid trains take you straight to Kyoto in 30-40 minutes while the local trains take at least an hour (after stopping by each and every station).

For more details on Keihan Railway Line (京阪線), click the following link.

Sky bar on the 40th floor

Spiral staircase from 40th floor lobby to the function rooms on 39th floor

Interesting artful display inside the lobby

My nugget so excited running around our room.....

Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: 3-2-4 Nakanoshima, Kita Ward, 530-0005 Osaka, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Higobashi
Tel: +81 6-6222-0111
Website: http://conradhotels3.hilton.com/en/hotels/japan/conrad-osaka-OSACICI/index.html

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Rustico (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Continuing with the Spanish theme (our Restaurant Week theme), we headed over to Rustico, a rustic Spanish eatery on the ground floor of D2 Place for lunch today. This is my second Restaurant Week booking in two weeks. That, on its own, would be a personal record but no one was really counting.

I still remembered visiting Rustico during its infant stage when the Spanish restaurant was in its first week of operation and we had a good time then. Some of the dishes did make a nice impression but the price tags were a little too heavy for a small place in Lai Chi Kok so we never did come back despite the positive experience. Thanks to Restaurant Week, we were given another opportunity to re-visit this place at a very acceptable price ($118 for lunch).

Watermelon gazpacho, strawberry, feta cheese and basil oil - There's nothing better to have than a chilled gazpacho to kick off a meal on a hot summer day. Despite the menu that said "watermelon soup", I thought this tasted more like chilled tomato soup with a small dosage of strawberry and watermelon. That's perfectly fine for us though considering how it excelled as a thirst quencher.

Mushroom croquettes - The crust was hard and a little too crunchy but I like the fillings of mushroom and potato puree. A bit more paprika mayo would have been much better.

Black-ink paella with squid, pork and garlic sauce - I haven't had a good paella since Numero 15 closed down a few years ago but looks like I have found its replacement. This was just seriously good. The perfectly seasoned rice was rich in flavors and its texture was right on the spot. A little moist but not soupy. Very nice.

Roast suckling pig - I dropped a few bucks more to "upgrade" to suckling pig and that was the best move for me all day. The razor-thin pig skin was roasted to perfection with a lovely crispy texture and the meat was juicy and tantalizing. This had to rank right up there with the one we had at AMMO last week although some of us still think the one at AMMO was slightly better. What do I know about food anyways? (They're the real foodies here).

Blueberry tart - The weakest link of this meal. Very average.

Three out of five is definitely not bad at all. It looks like they're giving me an excuse to come back some other time.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop G01, G/F, D2 Place One, 9 Cheung Yee Street, Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Lai Chi Kok
Tel: +852 2743-4511

Saturday, August 5, 2017

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

Earlier this week, my youngest cousin pinged me about this website called Eatigo that offers incredible discounts on affiliated restaurants. I wasn't ready to check it out at the time but later that week, I heard this name again from another source. It was from a newsletter of some sort from Upper Modern Bistro, one of my favorite French restaurants in town. I began to get a little curious and decided to google it up during the weekend.

As it turns out, Eatigo operates very much like The Fork, which is a restaurant booking system that offers online restaurant reviews (mostly just ratings), restaurant information (such as menu) and most importantly, discounts. The discount rate varies by reservation time and if you're booking less popular hours of the day, chances are that you'll be awarded huge rewards such as 30 to 50% off. The Fork has been pretty popular in countries like Spain, Italy and France; and personally, I did have some success booking through their system before.

Anyways, I got more and more curious about Eatigo. So, I started checking out their affiliated restaurants and to my pleasant surprise, there are quite a number of interesting names there including AMMO, The Continental, Upper Modern Bistro, Blue Butcher and Fish & Meat. This little discovery couldn't come at a better time as we were fishing for a place for a gathering in less than 24 hours! As the one delegated to make the final call again, I ended up picking The Continental at Pacific Place.

It's been a while since I last visited The Continental so I was really anxious about coming here again. Of course, there's another driving force behind too, a whopping 50% discount was offered when I made this booking at Eatigo. The catch? We had to arrive at 11am.....(the offer drops to 30% for 11:30am booking and I think 10% for noon).

Believe it or not, we actually managed to arrive not at 11am but 10:45am before the restaurant was even open. That's from someone who can't even wake up in time for breakfast (me!). Huge accomplishment there!

Continental Caesar ($145) - Starting things off was a nice plate of Caesar salad featuring
gem lettuce, croutons, parmesan and smoked sardine.

Escargot and chanterelles fricasee ($190) - I was missing the escargot fricasee from Seasons by Olivier E so this was an easy choice for me. This was pretty tasty having mouthwatering escargot served up with chanterelles, tomato, asparagus flan and some chorizo butter.

Sea Scallop Carpaccio ($180) - I saw this in a number of places including Eatigo's website so I figured this had to be one of the restaurant's most recent recommendation from the chef. The scallop was really fresh and sweet and they have its sweetness backed up nicely with some mustard oil, dried cherry and smoked tomato fondue. I also like the strips of fresh pear there to complement the richness of the scallop. Easily the best of the four starters.

Spicy Tuna Tartare ($180) - Marinated tuna tartare served with pickled pepper, jicama, coriander and avocado puree. I thought not bad but slightly overshadowed by the scallop carpaccio right before it.

Maine Lobster Spaghetti ($298) - Our main courses started off slowly with a slightly underwhelming lobster spaghetti served with roasted pepper, Sicilian pink shrimps and rocket. Personally, I'd like to see the sauce to be a little more tangy (and rich) and perhaps a bit more bite in the spaghetti.

Jeju Pork Ragu Paccheri ($195) - Slightly better was the paccheri which was a little firmer working well with the Jeju pork ragu, san marzano tomato and cream cheese.

Roasted Greenland Halibut ($240) - I thought our fish and meat dishes were both solid. The Greenland halibut was roasted to perfection. It was supported nicely by a cast that included lentil, zucchini, tomato, purple onion and turmeric.

Free Range Chicken ($160) - We only ordered half bird since everyone wanted some room for dessert. The chicken was surprisingly tender and some simple garnish with grilled broccoli and crispy garlic already helped it bag some rave reviews from the four of us.

Peach Melba ($95) - I was hoping they would throw in a chilled peach soup but that wasn't happening. Still it was way better than the second dessert with the peach, almonds and amaretto ice cream all meshing well together.

Valrhona Three Chocolates ($110) - Just different textures of chocolate served with some fresh berries. That was alright.

I did the quick math and was later confirmed (when the bill came) that we actually saved almost $1,000 with this Eatigo booking. Of course, we had to arrive a little earlier than usual for lunch but the extra saved definitely got a smile on everyone's face.

My first visit since former executive Joey Sergentakis left for Singapore and looks like they haven't missed a beat.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Unit 406, L4, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2704-5211 
Website: www.thecontinentalhongkong.com

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Majimeya 北海道爐端 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

We were supposed to be going to Umai (鵜舞) for some robatayaki tonight but some of us forgot to make a booking so at first, it looks like there would be no Japanese skewers for everybody. But my memory suddenly came back.....isn't there another robatayaki place at D2 Place 2 (forgot the name though)?

Turns out I was right and the relatively new robatayaki restaurant is called Majimeya (北海道爐端).

My first impression of Majimeya was a good one. Absolutely love the authentic Japanese atmosphere highlighted by the sake barrels and wooden furniture. The excitement was short-lived though as we soon found out that the food menu has very little rotatayaki items (about 10 choices). Interestingly, there're other options like ramen soup, sushi and roll and even Italian pasta and grilled Angus sirloin available.

Grilled Japanese yam with wasabi ($28) - This was pretty decent but no sign of any wasabi.

We checked out about half of their skewers. The ox-tongue ($38) was easily the best of the bunch. The chicken thigh with leeks ($24) and bacon wrapped prawns ($30) were both alright but all of these had something in common - a lack of smokey, char-grilled flavor. Could they be using an electric grill instead of a traditional charcoal one? I wasn't entirely sure but it certainly looked like it.

Chicken wings stuffed with spicy pollack roe ($5x) - Not something I see everyday from a Japanese restaurant so I took a flyer on this dish. 

Reasonably good although I thought the pollack roe would be a little more spicy.

Majimeya's special yakisoba ($62) - This looked and tasted almost exactly the same as the one from Umai. which I guess is a compliment considering how much I like their yakisoba.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$
Address: Shop 109, 1/F, D2 Place TWO, 9 Cheung Yee Street, Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Lai Chi Kok
Tel: +852 2687-3330

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Tiffany Restaurant 名寶石餐廳 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Tonight, I returned to a place where I got my first taste of "western" cuisine. Tiffany Restaurant has been under different names (English and Chinese) and ownership over the years but it remains one of the few Hong Kong-style western restaurants in an area better known for its florists than dining options. My dad used to bring me here a lot when I was little since we used to live pretty close by. And, that's where I learned about western cuisine. Of course, after I grew up, I realized "real" western food was a totally different animal altogether.

I knew one day I would take this trip down memory lane again and mom would be the easy recruitment as my partner in crime.

Not surprisingly, the place looks almost exactly the same as if it's been there forever. Same goes for the food menu (okay, a couple of new items including grilled Kurobuta pork) and a familiar looking team of waiting staff.

Tiffany cream soup - This one used to be a classic here, with tons of shark's fin (vegetarian), ham, mushrooms and carrots. I always joked around saying that there're actually more ham and mushrooms there than the actual broth. They have obviously tuned it down a bit so the proportion looked about right.

Toast - I don't think I could ever ask for toast in exchange for my brioche at Caprice, can I?

Deep-fried fish fillet - Oh, they have the best deep-fried fish fillet in the business! Okay, they have the best one in Fa Yuen Street, how about that? Look at those two giant pieces of fish, deep fried to the perfect golden brown color. Delish.....

Ox tongue - Mom had their ox tongue with steamed rice. Another legendary dish from our "soy sauce" restaurants in Hong Kong.

I was happy I took this trip back to the neighbourhood that I once called home. Things were of course very different these days as I could hardly recognize some of these places around here. Some of the stuff like pet shop, bakery and a fast-food joint which I frequently visited as a kid were long gone but the fond memories stay.....

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 148 Prince Edward Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Prince Edward
Tel: +852 2381-1516