Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Caprice (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

The swapping of chef de cuisine at Caprice and The Tasting Room has officially completed last month with chef Fabrice Vulin, formerly of Caprice, taking over the reign at The Tasting Room in Macau while chef Guillaume Galliot going the other way. This is something that is extremely rare and unusual in the fine dining business but as someone who is less curious about what has happened behind the scene, all I care about is how it would translate to the new menus on both sides.

Amid much anticipation, chef Galliot finally launched his new menu in mid June, his first since arriving at Caprice (And good to know that the prices remain unchanged).

Like most foodies in Hong Kong, I was really looking forward to this but before we got into the thick of things, a small amuse bouche helped to set the tone. The foie gras crème brûlée came with some crushed hazelnut on top. Not bad.

Lunch officially started with a seafood tartare that was served with lobster jelly and flying fish roe. When I got the first glimpse of this, I couldn't help but think of another similar dish - the lovely starter of lobster jelly, creamy avocado and prawns that I grew to like so much at Seasons by Olivier E.

Funny how this is also reminiscent of our traditional Chinese steamed meat pie (蒸肉餅). Sitting on top were diced lobster and crystal prawn mixed with little cucumber cubes while topped with dabs of flying fish roes and avocado cream. This whole thing was placed on top of a thin layer of lobster jelly which was surprisingly light and mild in flavor. Pretty good start but it could have been even better if they made the jelly a little stronger.

Second course was an exuberant pairing of poached lobster, green pea fricassé and oyster emulsion.

This was very delicious. I never like lobster with heavy seasoning so this was just perfect. The oyster emulsion was obviously the catalyst here providing a nice finishing touch to the elegant dish.

My meat course was Racan pigeon served with shallot purée, popcorn, stuffed confit legs and jus.

The pigeon was really nicely done while the shallot and popcorn provided different textures to the mix.

Ever since the arrival of pastry chef Nicholas Lambert, desserts have become a very memorable part of our meals at Caprice. While chef Lambert's signature Fraisier Gariguette was not on the menu today, there were 3 pretty exciting options for us to choose from.

The first was a combination of almond sablé, cherry cream, roasted cherry and Kirsch chantilly which I thought was pretty refreshing. Never hurt to have a bit of wine there to spice things up too.

But I was even more impressed with the second dessert, crispy hazelnut, chocolate biscuit, Macae cream and hazelnut praline.

My love affair with hazelnut praline goes way back and this was a good-looking dessert that used hazelnut praline brilliantly along with chocolate and Macae cream. A very nice exclamation point to this wonderful meal.

Mignardises were the usual suspects of profiteroles (coffee flavor?), macaron (raspberry) and dark chocolate.

Despite just hitting the ground running, chef Galliot showed us a glimpse of what we could expect from his kitchen which is a very elegant interpretation of modern French cuisine. I will definitely come back in a few months to check on their progress once again.

Food Rating: 7/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 6/F, 8 Finance Street, Four Seasons Hotel, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 3196-8860
Website: www.fourseasons.com/hongkong/dining/restaurants/caprice

Monday, June 19, 2017

Seorae 喜來稀肉 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

The three musketeers have been itching to meet up for dinner since early May but were unable to come up with a date that worked for all parties. Thankfully, June has been much kinder to the three of us and finally, we managed to fix a date to come out and blow water.

Surprise, surprise, we ended up not going for Chinese food which we normally do for our gathering. Instead, we decided it was time for us to do some Korean barbecue.

All it took were 2 minutes for us to decide what to order at Seorae (喜來稀肉), one of our go-to Korean barbecue houses in the city. While we waited for our meat to arrive, it's time to get the grill ready.

Grilled beef Seorae-style ($130) - It came in its usual flower shape. This was seriously good with very nice texture and tenderness.

Just a bit of Korean barbecue sauce and some garlic chip on top before wrapping it around with a piece of lettuce. Delish~

Seorae special pork skirtmeat ($150) - Another house specialty that I really love a lot last time around. This was still pretty tender and flavorful but a little more chewy tonight. Perhaps my teeth have lost a bit of strength (無牙力).

Beef tongue marinated with Seorae soy sauce ($140) - I never go to a barbecue house without trying their beef tongue. This was pretty tasty. The balance of fat and meat was spot on.

Bibimbap in stone pot ($78) - Some "mixed rice" with mixed vegetables and beef brisket to go with all the barbecued meat.

It's normally impossible to find a table at any of the Seorae Korean grills in town unless you have an advance booking but this branch on Tang Lung Street seems to be an exception as there was a fair share of empty tables around (but it's a Monday!).

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 3, G/F & 1/F Golden Dragon Building, 41-51 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2618-5331

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Wolfgang's Steakhouse (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

2017 has been a pretty slow year for restaurant openings so far but things are about to look up with a number of interesting names slated to open in the next few weeks. Leading that list is Wolfgang's Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zwiener, an import from New York City that specializes in dry aged steaks and quality seafood.

I was looking for a place for my Father's Day celebration so this is just a very convenient choice for me. With 14 locations worldwide including Japan, Korea and Singapore (opening soon), Wolfgang's Steakhouse has earned their reputation as one of the top-tier American steakhouses and I'm looking forward to a great time here celebrating my first Father's Day with my little nugget.

Caesar salad ($125) - Before our steak arrived, some salad to keep our cholesterol level down. This is what a textbook Caesar should look like with freshly chopped lettuce which is nice and crisp. The crispy crouton was perfectly crunchy and the shaved parmesan was the ultimate icing on the cake.

Wolfgang's crab cake ($158) - Could this be two in a roll? You bet it was. The crispy crust of the crab cake really provided a pleasing contrast to the delectable lumps of crab meat in the middle. Unlike some places where they put mashed potato into the mix to minimize their cost, this is just fresh crab meat all the way. Very very nice.

USDA Prime Rib-eye steak ($880) - Finally, today's main event - our 700g rib-eye steak which has been dry-aged for an approximately 28 days like the rest of the steak here.

This came with a very flavorful crust. The texture was just perfect. It was tender, juicy and the flavors were developed very nicely after the dry-aging. I thought it was a little pricey but without question, very tasty and addictive.

I got the chance to check out their "old-fashioned" steak sauce too. This tasted a little like typical barbecue sauce but more on the sweet side. Not my cup of tea. Having my steak with its own jus is just fine with me.

I didn't get to try their other signature dishes like their Wolfgang's salad and grilled green asparagus (I did nail down their signature crab cake). I guess I'll have to find another excuse to come back for those in the near future.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 1/F Printing House, 6 Duddell Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 3990-1646
Website: www.wolfgangssteakhouse.hk

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Big Bay Café (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I do roughly one buffet every year so every time I try to make it count. Picking the right spot and timing is equally important. After receiving a ping from Agent-I about this new seafood buffet at the recently opened Kerry Hotel, it was just the matter of finding an occasion or excuse to check it out and finally I got one with Father's Day coming up.

Located on the third floor of Kerry Hotel, Big Bay Ca is the buffet restaurant I was talking about. Before we got things started, we took the opportunity to first check out the 545-room Kerry Hotel which is part of the Shangrila family that was first launched in Shanghai and Beijing back in 2011. While the place looked gigantic at first glance, I thought it was less glamorous than the original Shangrila brand. Instead, it was more like re-defined luxury through a more casual and relaxed interpretation. 

There's an incredible view of the harbour from the terrace but too bad on a rainy day, it's all a blur from here.

There are all together 7 stations at Big Bay Café. Positioned near the entrance area is the sushi and cold food counter where we find all the Japanese sushi, sashimi as well as cold cuts and salad.

I had 2 rounds of tuna and salmon sashimi today. The first round was actually pretty good with the sashimi coming in real thick slices but the second round was a bit disappointing (see photo below). They seemed to have run out of tuna (see the carpaccio next to the salmon!).

Right next to sushi and salad bar is a station dedicated to Korean bibimbaps. Here they let diners choose their own ingredients and cook them in the traditional stone bowls right in front of their eyes.

Next up were two less interesting stations...first, there is the dim sum and noodle bar. I thought the dim sum was reasonably good although choices were a little limited (choice of ha gow, siu mai, BBQ pork buns and a vegetable dumpling).

and then there's this station reserved for traditional clay pot rice (煲仔飯).

I had this one with Chinese cured meat and taro which I thought was okay. Could have been better if there's a bit more rice crispies.

The grill station was the one that has been attracting everyone's attention.

Apart from the spiny lobster and skewers which they've showcased here, they're also serving sucking pig, sirloin, roasted ham steak, grilled tiger prawns etc. etc. so this is constantly drawing a big big crowd.

I personally found both the suckling pig and grilled tiger prawn to be amazing. The satay and pork belly skewers were decent but I won't go for a second round. Of course, after having all those grilled meat and seafood, we needed some veggies to feel fresh and healthy again and that's when I started looking to the vegetable counter next to the grill. Forget about the new potato and zucchini, the green asparagus were so fresh and juicy that I never seemed to be able to get my hands off them all afternoon.

Oh and of course, the grilled spiny lobster. Always a crowd favorite. I had about half an dozen of those on my own.

The dessert counters are always a crowd pleaser at any buffet and Big Bay Cafe has arguably one of the best in the business, thanks to a pretty competent pastry chef.

We don't normally find this quality at any buffet. The opera cake, passion fruit eclair and mango mousse were all very impressive.

But the white chocolate cake with yuzu compote definitely stood out as THE best pastry out there. 

They have 2 kinds of ice-cream offered at different counters. First, there's this unspecified brand served next to where we found all their cakes.

Then hidden right at the entrance next to the Iberian ham was the Mövenpick ice-cream. Just the two flavors, chocolate chip and salted caramel though. Quality (Mövenpick) versus quantity (unspecified brand), you make the call.

One station I didn't waste my time on was the stir-fried station. This is where you find the stir-fried noodles with beef, stir-fried chicken fillet along with some Japanese deep-fried stuff like chicken soft-bone, fish fillet etc.

With everything being so damn expensive these days, I thought this Saturday brunch represented pretty decent value for money at $388 per head (Dinner at $598). And the fact that they allow us to go from noon all the way to 3PM make it an even more attractive option among weekend brunches in town.

Happy Father's Day, everyone!!!

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 3/F Kerry Hotel, 38 Hung Luen Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Whampoa
Tel: +852 2252-5246
Website: www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/kerry/dining/restaurants/big-bay-cafe/

10 of The Best Cafés and Dessert Spots in Banpo-dong Seoul (2017)

When people talk about Banpo-dong (盤浦洞) and the Express Bus Terminal station, most often than not, the talks would be surrounding its underground shopping streets, shopping malls (such as Famille Street) and perhaps the Banpo-dong Bridge Rainbow Fountain. But the fact that the area also houses Seorae Village, Seoul's "Little France", has made it an unbelievably popular landing spot for European influenced cafés and dessert spots. Here is a list of our favorite cafés and dessert spots that should make your trip to Banpo-dong worthwhile.

(1) Maison M'O Patisserie
The brainchild of pastry chefs Tetsuya Otsuka (大塚哲也) and Lee Min-sun who got to know each other during their time at Pierre Hermé Tokyo, Maison M'O Patisserie has quietly established themselves as the best French patisserie in Seoul. Nestled in a calm residential area near Naebang station, they offer one of the widest selection of French desserts in the city with over 40 different varieties ranging from classic French pastries like mille feuille and Paris-brest to some of their own creations like their signature Mont blanc M'O (I heard they only make 6 pieces of those per day). If you have just enough for one dessert spot in Banpo-dong, this is the place you should be visiting for sure.

Address: 22, Bangbae-ro 26-gil, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 070-4239-3335
Website: www.maisonmo.com

(2) Maillet
Maillet was already one of my favorites before they made their move from Itaewon to the buzzing Seorae Village. The husband and wife team there continued to dazzle us with some of the best authentic French pastries including their choux pastry and citron tart. On most days, it's impossible to get a table there without waiting at least half an hour or so but it's definitely worth the wait.

Address: 106-6 Banpo-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-749-1411
Website: www.facebook.com/maillet.seoul

(3) Gontran Cherrier
With all the success Gontran Cherrier had in Tokyo, it was just a matter of time before the famed French baker expands to the rest of the Asian mega-cities. He made the right call picking Seoul as his next destination after realizing the city's slow but gradual growth into a gourmet capital. Situated in the heart of Seorae Village, Gontran Cherrier is the place where you are guaranteed to find some of the best quality French bread and pastries in Seoul.

Address: 25 Seorae-ro, Vision Tower G/F, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-599-0225
Website: http://gontrancherrier.kr/

(4) Napoleon Bakery Café 1968
Napoleon Bakery Café is a luxury French bakery and dessert café that started back in 1968. The premium bakery brand has a number of branches in Seoul and is known for its list of exquisite (and expensive) French pastries which include my personal favorite ganache bouche (7,000 won) and mont blanc cake.

Address: 797-18 Bangbaebon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-536-5546
Website: www.inapoleon.co.kr

(5) Queens Park
Located just next door to Napoleon Bakery Café 1968 on Bangbaebon-dong, Queens Park is a cake shop and casual diner all under one roof. Personally, I have always enjoyed their desserts far more than their savory food with the fig tarts and carrot cheese cakes highlighting one of the most exciting dessert menu in Banpo-dong.

Address: 797-13 Bangbaebon-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 2534-4054

(6) Patisserie Kim Young Mo
Home grown French pastry shops (patisserie) are tough to come by in Seoul and out of the very limited options, the eponymous patisserie by awarding-winning Korean patissier Kim Young Mo is considered one of the top five in the business. Hidden inside a residential area in Sinbanpo, Patisserie Kim Young Mo offers some of the best French influenced pastries in town with its chiffon cakes, chocolate cakes, fruit cakes and tiramisu leading the charge. Plan your visit to this place early coz their bread and cakes tend to go fast and furious.

Address: 100 Sinbanpo-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-3481-2004
Website: www.k-bread.com

(7) Thank you Cake by DORE DORE
DORE DORE is one of the most popular dessert chains in Seoul and it's virtually impossible to find a shopping mall without their presence. Located inside Central City where the Express Bus Terminal station is housed, Thank you Cake is yet another concept brought to us by DORE DORE with some of their signature creations including the always popular rainbow cake series, giving us another option to spend our afternoon tea time.

Address: Shop 120, 1/F Central City, 176 Sinbanpo-ro, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-6282-2060
Website: www.doredore.co.kr/thankucake/

(8) Frank's
Frank's signature rainbow series have finally arrived at Famille Street (or Express Bus Terminal) giving their fans a much more convenient location to work with. While their rainbow roll cakes continue to be their best seller, we have reasons to believe that their cheesecakes also deserve some love from those with a sweet tooth.

Address: Famille Street, 176 Sinbanpo-ro, Banpo 4(sa)-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-3479-1092

(9) Gelati Gelati
The number of artisanal gelateria is growing rapidly in Seoul but in Banpo-dong, I still pretty much rely on Gelati Gelati to provide me some of the freshest homemade gelato. Their selection of gelato might not be as exciting or funky as those from places like Fell+Cole but their quality is among the best in the field. 

Address: Shop 11, Famille Station, Express Bus Terminal, Seoul, South Korea

Tel: +82 02-6282-3281

(10) Billy Angel Cake Company
Of course, I would never leave one of my favorite cake shops, Billy Angel Cake Company, in the dark. Located in the food hall of Shinsegae Department Store at the Express Bus Terminal, Billy Angel Cake Company offers some of the best chiffon cakes the city has to offer. But if you're into crepe cakes like me, you should be all over their rainbow crepe cakes.

Address: Food Hall, Shinsegae Department Store Gangnam Branch, Seoul, South Korea
Tel: +82 02-3479-6040
Website: www.billyangel.co.kr

How to get there:
Take Subway Line 3, 7 or 9 to Express Bus Terminal Station or Line 9 to Sinbanpo Station.