Friday, March 31, 2017

Bovini Steakhouse & Bar (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Work is about to get a lot busier starting in April so before things start to get ugly for me, I plan to treat myself to a nice dinner on the last day of March. Located in Tai Hang just a stone's throw from May Chow's Second Draft, Bovini Steakhouse & Bar is the newest addition to the buzzy district offering some really nice steaks as well as some of the other steakhouse favorites.

Starting things off was a basket of warm bread with herb butter. This tasted like it has just been fresh out of the oven. Not bad.

Classic Caesar salad - We went with the 3-course set for two and it came with a classic Caesar salad with croutons and crispy bacon. The romaine lettuce was crisp and I like the minimal seasoning without getting too cheesy.

Homemade crab cake with tartar sauce - I was really looking forward to this. The classic New Orleans style crab cake never fails to impress me. And look at that generous portion!

It came stuffed with loads of lump crab meat and a crispy crust. That was so good!

Wild mushroom soup - Our set came with two soups and the first to arrive was this wild mushroom soup which was rich and smooth. Very nice.

Lobster bisque - I was told their lobster bisque was one of the signature dishes here. Thought it had great depth of flavors and the cognac easily stood out but I liked the wild mushroom soup a little better.

Ossobuco risotto - Normally when we go to a steakhouse, a nice piece of steak would be the integral part of the meal but not tonight. I didn't want to get too stuffed so I went with their ossobuco risotto instead. This was just perfectly portioned for the two of us. The risotto was creamy and buttery with strong meaty flavors, which I found very irresistible. The ossobuco was soft and tender too. Not bad but there was no question that the risotto was the key here.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: G/F, 128 Tung Lo Wan Road, Tai Hang, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tin Hau
Tel: +852 2886-9381

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ronin (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Hong Kong has always got a reputation as a city with a complicated dining scene. We don't need to look too far to discover all these fine dining restaurants which are places to see and to be seen in the city. Then there are these upscale but low profile places which are intentionally made to be very private and hard to find. Ronin is obviously the latter.

Hidden behind the grey-colored sliding door is Ronin, a 20-seat Japanese influenced izakaya on On Wo Lane in Sheung Wan. It's yet another wonderful concept brought to us by Matt Abergel who also owns Yardbird.

Ronin has slowly gained the reputation as an excellent speakeasy Japanese tapas bar over the years. Of course, a wide selection of wine and sake is crucial to the making of a speakeasy bar. Look at all these different labels here, brilliant!

I really like the way they designed this tiny space. Every inch of space was used to perfection. See how I managed to find just enough space for my cola. That's beautiful.

Ronin's food menu is a fish oriented one that changes daily based on what's available from the market. They also have a market tasting menu reasonably priced at $980 for anyone interested in sampling a bit more variety.

Before I start placing my order, here comes a small amuse bouche of broccolini with ginger and dashi to kick off my evening. That was pretty refreshing.

Shima aji (striped jack) sashimi ($70) - Pretty thick slices. Love the firm texture and rich flavor. They have ice on the bottom to keep the temperature right too. Very thoughtful.

Hamachi yellowtail sashimi, shitake, mizuna, negi soy ($180) - A lot of reviews on Ronin touched on their tiny portions so I was pleasantly surprised when my plate of hamachi sashimi showed up.

I thought this dish could easily accommodate two people but I was more than happy to take on it on my own. The hamachi yellowtail sashimi was nicely flavored with negi soy combining well with the shitake mushrooms, diced mizuna and garden green. Very nice.

Black pilsner battered, smoked amadai tilefish, black sugar kewpie ($170) - I was really tempted to go for their Kagoshima beef with sukiyaki egg yolk, one of the few non-fish items on the menu but since it's served as a carpaccio, I decided to pass in favor of some cooked food to wrap up this meal. I ended up getting their black pilsner battered amadai tilefish instead.

This was the chef's modern take on the British classic Fish and Chips. I love that tiny and crispy batter lightly flavored with black pilsner beer. Interestingly, the dish was paired with a small glass of black pilsner.

The amadai tilefish was really meaty and it was exceptionally tasty under that golden brown colored, pilsner flavored batter. I thought the black sugar kewpie (Japanese style mayo) was a pretty nice touch too.

I'm not sure about Ronin being the 45th best restaurant in Asia yet (according to the folks behind Asia Best 50 Restaurant, they are!) but one thing was certain, I would definitely be back for more pretty soon.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2547-5263
S. Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants: 45th (2017)

Tartes and Pop (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I was going to have dinner in Kau U Fong (九如坊) later tonight. Since there was still about an hour left before dinner time, I thought I should have enough time to venture over to Sheung Wan for a quick visit to Tartes and Pop, a popular French tart specialist who has been on my radar screen since last year.

Tartes and Pop pride themselves on offering the best, high-quality French tarts using only the freshest and finest ingredients available. Judging from their "Wall of Fame" and the number of bands and celebrities they've catered for over the years, I knew I was in for a real treat.

Delicious French tarts served on a vinyl-inspired dining plate? That was perfect for the "Tartes & Pop" theme. I have to say, it's very difficult to just pick one single tart here (trust me!) so I ended up getting three!

Coffee creme brulee ($45) - I was kicking myself for arriving late and missing out on their signature items, sesame matcha tart but their other most sought-after tart, Coffee creme brulee more than made up for it. I love the crunchy base on the bottom working wonderfully well with the soft and creamy fillings in the middle and the glaze on top gave me the impression that I was actually having a classic creme brulee rather than a tart!

I was very impressed with the results from the contrasting texture and temperature in this one. Very nice.

Yuzu chocolate ($50) - Oh I love yuzu and chocolate together and this was a classic example of how the mild acidity from yuzu doing great work to bring out the sweetness of the milk chocolate. Another pretty solid piece of tart!

Lemon Gianduja ($45) - Like the rest of the tarts here, this came with two very simple flavors, lemon and Gianduja. I thought the lemon flavors were a little too overpowering for my palate.

For those of you who's coming to Tartes & Pop expecting the traditional chocolate or lemon tart (yawn~), this is going to be your lucky day coz they have so much more to offer. Not only are their tarts made with the freshest and finest ingredients, they are also made with a lot of heart. And believe me, you would love their contemporary (and Asian) twist.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: 2 Morrison Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 6597-6667

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Little Creatures (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

There's been very little motivation for me to drag myself all the way to Kennedy Town these days but someone brought up the idea of visiting Little Creatures for brunch this weekend. Since Little Creatures have long been on my radar, the result was a resounding yes for me.

In case you haven't heard of Little Creatures yet, they're one of the newest additions to the Kennedy Town waterfront offering an all-day menu of burgers, pasta, pizza, steak and beer from its own brewery. I guess gastropub would be the proper term to classify them.

They have around 10 beers on tap when we arrived today. Which one should I get!?

I ended up getting this one called Hoppy Hoffy which was refreshingly light.

It was almost 2PM already so after ordering our drinks, we started going through their brunch menu at lightning speed.

Beetroot and goat cheese salad ($95) - This was a no-brainer for a beet freak like me. Poached beetroot and a mix of garden green always make me a happy camper. I like the goat cheese and sherry vinaigrette there for a bit of mild acidity and the crushed hazelnuts for the nice crunch. Pretty good start.

Corn on the cob ($65) - I just finished off a trip to Australia last month and boy, did I ever have a steady diet of sweet corn and quinoa. Not surprisingly, since Little Creatures is also originated from Australia, they have this starter called Corn on the cob on the menu featuring sweet corn with toasted quinoa. I really like the texture there. The spiced mayo did a fine job for the extra kick (though I believe there's still a bit of room for improvement).

Uni carbonara ($160) - Everyone was saying sea urchin and spaghetti are a match made in heaven. I couldn't agree more. Looks like they have a good one here with generous portions of sea urchin and egg yolk served on top of al dente linguine pasta. This was a very nice dish. I personally would prefer angel hair with sea urchin but they had me convinced that linguine would work with uni just fine.

Mushroom risotto ($130) - I thought this was even better than the uni carbonara. The risotto was perfectly creamy and the rich porcini mushroom flavor was wonderfully complemented by the smoked cheddar and truffle cream. Without question, the best dish of the afternoon.

Grass fed rib-eye ($295) - The rib-eye was alright but unfortunately, not enough smoky flavor and it's missing a bit of a flavorful crust.

Creme brulee ($95) - Traditionally, dessert is always the weakest link from a gastropub but that's not the case here at all. I went with their creme brulee and it was a pretty solid offering. Love the hint of rosemary there for the nice spicy kick (a very subtle one).

Ice-cream cup ($105) - And who would say no to three large scoops of homemade ice-cream!?

It was served with honeycomb and fresh berries. A nice and refreshing end to our brunch.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 1, G/F, New Fortune House, 2-5A New Praya, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kennedy Town
Tel: +852 2833-5611

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Al Molo (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

It's been a while since I last visited modern Italian restaurant Al Molo at Harbour City. The last time I was here, it was one of our high school reunion dinner that didn't end very well. Some of us were particularly upset with their small portions (I wasn't one of them) and we ended up going to our friend's family-owned restaurant for some late-night snacks afterwards.

Coming back here reminded me of another pretty obvious issue - service. Ironically, this already happened to me quite a number of times from different Dining Concepts restaurants in the past (which explained why I wasn't surprised at all!). I don't want to get into the specifics but let's just say that ordering water and asking for a high chair for my little one should be pretty simple and straightforward so I didn't see why it would drag on for so long that I had to keep reminding our servers over and over again.

After I got everything sorted out, it's time to get down to business. It was a pretty late lunch so some delicious focaccia would most definitely be welcome.

Calamari ($168) - Everyone wanted something a little crispy so I chose to kick things off with some crispy squid rings much to everybody's delight. This was pretty tasty and I particularly liked the thin batter which was very nice. The lemon aioli was alright.

Pepperoni ($178) - They have this pizza which comes with three different types of cheese toppings that used to my favorite here but since my partners in crime aren't as happy with cheesy stuff, I went with something safe.

I thought the pepperoni pizza was a tad better than the calamari. The timeless combination of spicy salami and mozzarella never disappoints!

Spaghetti carbonara ($178) - Then the wheels began to fall off from here. Okay, perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit but there was no question that the last two dishes were trending down and I certainly didn't see it coming.

Everybody knows how Al Molo does their pasta in house fresh daily so my expectation is naturally high for my spaghetti carbonara. There's a lot of eggy flavors in there, which was okay but its soft and mushy texture suggested that it's been badly overcooked.

Pan-seared yellowfin tuna ($278) - This was the dish that really ticked me off. When we were placing our orders, our server (the same one who forgot our water and high chair) kept telling us how adept they're with pan-seared yellowfin tuna. And she specifically pointed out the fact that they always serve their tuna raw inside. But does this piece of tuna looks like it's raw inside?

I actually kind of enjoyed the supporting cast of green asparagus, olive and salmon roes but the yellowfin tuna was way too rough for someone with a set of bad teeth (Me). What a waste!

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop G63, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2730-7900

Friday, March 24, 2017

Amaroni's Little Italy (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

It's been a while since I last met up with my youngest cousin. I was planning to call her up to see if she's interested in joining me for dinner this week but before I could reach out for my phone, I got a ping from her asking me to have dinner together. As always, I was tasked with finding ourselves a place to eat. Since she has already picked Festival Walk as our meeting spot, that really helped to narrow things down a lot for me.

I had a pretty good time dining at Amaroni's following their brief renovation work a few months ago. Their revamped menu looked more than decent and oh their tiramisu, I can never stop myself from ordering that. That pick turned out to be much easier than I thought.

Stuffed mushrooms ($92) - Garlic herb butter-stuffed shiitake mushrooms, parmesan shavings, spinach, pine nuts and herbs served over a basil butter and wine sauce.

It's nice that they offer most of their dishes in different portions so we can order a little more variety for sharing. A small portion of their stuffed mushrooms was the first thing we ordered. Didn't realize that it comes with just 4 little pieces though.

This tasted pretty good. For a moment, I thought I was having an escargot (thanks to that herb butter on top).

Pan seared salmon ($238) - Judging from its texture, it looked like the salmon fillet has first been sous-vide and then lightly seared for the crispy skin.

I couldn't say I really enjoyed the texture of this "pan-seared" salmon at all. Thought it was a little too mushy for my liking. On top of that, there was a miscue on the description of this dish on the menu. While the printing said the salmon came with peas, mint and crispy prosciutto, it showed up with asparagus and mashed potato!

Penne with mixed mushrooms and black truffle sauce ($198) - We ordered the L-size here and it was probably the best decision we made all night. Both of us liked the way the penne worked with the mixed wild mushrooms and porcini-black truffle cream sauce.

While some of the dishes tasted alright, the overall experience was clearly trending in the wrong direction (and I haven't even touched on their service!).

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 32, LG1, Festival Walk, 80 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong Closest Metro Station: Kowloon Tong
Tel: +852 2265-8818
Website: Link