Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Café Siam (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

It's been a while since I last met up with my buddy V for dinner. Both of us have been super busy with different things so when I got a ping from him last week inviting me for dinner, there was no way I would say no.

V suggested Café Siam as our dinner venue, a place I have heard rave reviews of but never got the chance to check out myself.

Located on the second and third floor of a tiny building (called The Plaza) in Lan Kwai Fong, I had to walk through some pretty unpleasant street corners to get there but it's a totally different world up here. Very warm and cozy.

And there's a great view of the Calfornia Tower (although not exactly a bird's view from second floor).

Thai iced milk tea ($52) - Price-wise, it's a little on the steep side but this is LKF after all. I thought it tasted OK (barely). I like my milk tea to be a little more creamy but unfortunately, it was a little on the watery side.

Refreshing pomelo salad with sliced shallots and dried coconut ($98) - Refreshing was the right word to describe this dish. The salad was full of refreshing flavors from the fresh pomelo and dried coconut. I was (pleasantly) surprised that there's no acidity in there too. I hate those Thai salads with strong acidity. Strong acidity is often mistaken as refreshing and I was glad they didn't have that "confusion" here.

Steamed mussels in Ton Yum Soup ($138) - V loves mussels so this was an easy choice for us. I thought the soup was pretty nice with a good balance of sweetness, spiciness and acidity but the mussels were definitely not the freshest I've seen.

Char-grilled marinated pork with a tamarind, toasted rice and shallot dip ($115) - One of the signature items here and it certainly didn't disappoint. This was much better than the one we had at Thai Basil last week with a much better proportion of fat and lean meat. Pretty nice.

Stir-fried king prawn in a coconut milk, chili oil and egg yolk sauce ($228) - This came with 5 big pieces but we jumped the gun, which explained why there're only 3 pieces shown in the photo. The king prawn was really nice and bouncy and I love the sauce made primarily with coconut milk and egg yolk. Together with the pork neck, they were two of the best dishes of the night, no question about it.

Fried rice with prawn paste and mixed seafood ($123) - I thought the color of the fried rice would be a little darker with the prawn paste but I was wrong. This was seriously good with very good "wok air". The flavors from the prawn paste were very rich yet subtle while the rice was nice and dry. We had to literally fight for the last bowl.

Smooth pumpkin caramel custard in a Thai pumpkin ($67) - Sticky rice with mango was originally high on our list but we ended up going with the pumpkin caramel custard instead. This was obviously a lot lighter than the sticky rice. The pumpkin custard was soft and sweet like a pudding. Surprisingly, there was no sign of any caramel in the mix but that was just fine with me.

Some said Café Siam is one of the better Thai restaurant in Central and after this dinner, I tended to agree. Even better was the fact that V booked it through openrice giving us a special 40%-off discount in return. That got us both smiling all the way to the MTR. 

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 2-3/F, The Plaza , 21 D'Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2851-4803

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

La Famillie (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

La Famillie, the beloved chiffon cake specialist from Tai Hang has finally arrived in Tsim Sha Tsui as a pop-up store at Harbour City last month.

Heard this was part of the festivity from Le French GourMay Hong Kong but it really didn't matter what the reason behind was. The comforting fact is that I no longer need to venture over to Tai Hang for their fluffy chiffon cakes (well, as long as their pop-up lasts), which often poses a bit of a challenge for me because it closes at 7PM.

The owner and patissier of this chiffon cake specialty store honed his skills back in Tokyo. Where you ask? Of course, none other than La Famille, a famous chiffon cake shop in Ikebukuro. This is a place that only uses some of the best milk products from Hokkaido which explains why the chiffon cakes are so airy and fluffy. At their new pop-up location, the chiffon cakes come in 16 different flavors and toppings.

I had the pleasure of checking out the Earl Grey flavor and the texture was so soft and pillowy, both signs of a very good chiffon cake. For $48 a piece, I would most definitely be back for more!

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Kiosk 3E, 3/F, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, 17 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui / Austin

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Pantry (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

For those of us who are frequent visitors to Elements Shopping Mall, the arrival of The Pantry just couldn't come at a better time. We're talking about a place with tons of dining options (Italian, French, Japanese, American and Chinese) but there was no place for some heartwarming fusion food. So here comes The Pantry for the rescue.

The Pantry is highly touted for their East-meets-west food menu (or West-meets-east, I never seem to figure this one out). Some of the crowd favorites include their curry chicken risotto, buttermilk chicken waffle among other funky dishes. 

Garlic and lemongrass chicken wings ($75) - Who doesn't like chicken wings, raise your hand. There's a lot of lemongrass flavor in there. Also some soy and garlic. Not bad.

Soft shell crab salad ($138) - We always like to sandwich a salad in between all those greasy stuff so this one landed in the perfect spot. On top of the bed of garden green were mango, cherry tomato, radish and a pretty subtle yuzu dressing. Oh, I almost forgot about the deep-fried soft-shell crab. Another decent offering.

Jumbo tiger prawn meen ($188) - Finally, something I would consider as fusion. This is a very Asian-style egg noodle with braised pork ribs, grilled tiger prawn and soft boiled egg.

Interesting pairing with a fairly intense lobster consommé. It drew mixed reviews from the three of us.

Pancetta carbonara ($148) - My little one wanted some pasta so I got this pancetta carbonara specially for him. I was expecting some fusion twist along the way but it turned out to be a textbox carbonara with pancetta, parmesan and mushrooms. That was pretty tasty.

Tiramisu on pancakes ($135) - I almost forgot the fact that The Pastry's shot to stardom was largely related to their waffles and pancakes. Thankfully, I recovered just in the nick of time to order this tiramisu on pancake before we go.

The fluffy ricotta pancake topped with tiramisu sauce and pine nuts, came with mixed berries, banana and expresso syrup on the side. I thought it was almost as good as the one we had at Pan de pain pancake and sweets at K11 a while back. So glad we ordered it.

The bill came to a little over $800 for the three of us which I thought was a little high for what we were having (mostly comfort food) but at this day and age of inflation (specially at Elements), I guess it's a fair price to pay.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 2133, 2/F, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kowloon Station
Tel: +852 2348-8219

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Thai Basil (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I don't normally write about chain restaurants and Thai Basil is a Thai restaurant under the big Maxim's umbrella. But there's something special about this place. For one, I used to come here all the time. When I first started working a little over a decade ago, I spent almost every Saturday here having lunch. At one point I got so friendly with the staff that I was actually asked if I wanted to book their Christmas dinner (which I politely declined). So I knew this place fairly well despite I haven't visited for 7-8 years now (and it's been moved around the same floor on a number of occasions).

Adding to the nostalgic feeling was the fact that Flora Chan (陳慧珊) was in the house. She was one of the goddesses of the nineties featuring in hundreds of TVB drama series including the legendary File of Justice. That sure brought back a lot of memories.

Stir fried morning glory - The same way we started off every meal here nearly a decade ago. This was definitely not bad especially considering the generous portion.

Deep-fried prawn cakes - The minced prawn was fairly tasty underneath the crispy crust but they could have done a better job with the dip.

Barbecued pork neck - Oh, I have had this dish many many times before. Obviously, they have changed its presentation a bit by putting a few pieces on a skewer. Personally, I prefer a bit better balance of lean meat, muscle and fat and this was a little bit lean for me. 

Thai red curry duck - The red curry was nice but the duck meat was a little too firm, a comment concurred by all three of us.

After taking a trip down memory lane, we brought our little nugget to the nearby Hong Kong Park for a walk. It was great walking around the park on a warm summer afternoon. Too bad we won't be able to do the same once the nasty heat arrives in a couple of months.

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 001, LG1/F, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2537-4682

Friday, May 26, 2017

Choo Choo (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Choo Choo is a place I thought deserves another chance following just a so-so performance last time I visited. This time around, I'm bringing my youngest cousin along so I could sample a few more dishes.

Not everybody takes the train everyday so their train carriage decor does have its appeal.

Blood Orange Crab meat Salad ($118) - I only feel a little health conscious before my annual body checks so of course it's not my idea to order a salad to start off the meal. This was fairly decent with a lot of green leaves and fresh crab meat (could taste the sea water flavors still!) in it. Could have done a little more with the blood orange though (maybe a blood orange dressing?).

Crispy pork belly with peppery tomato sauce ($158) - Everybody left and right has ordered this dish so we thought we couldn't go wrong with this pick. Like the previous dish, I thought it's pretty decent but nothing to write home about. The pork belly was crispy enough but it wasn't as rich and flavorful as I first expected. And it's already been smothered with that peppery tomato sauce.

Sous vide salmon fillet with French mustard sauce ($158) - The best looking dish from the trio. The thick slab of salmon was garnished with some black olive, cherry tomato and dabs of mustard sauce. My first impression was pretty good until I picked it apart. Thought the meat was a little bit soft, and to a certain degree mushy in the middle. It just didn't have that buttery-soft and meltingly tender texture to it. Sad.

My cousin didn't have very good things to say about our dinner tonight. I, being the more diplomatic of the two, didn't think the food was awfully bad. There was certainly room for improvement and I still think they have a chance to be a pretty good restaurant in an area that desperately needed one. 

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 1, G/F, Cheung Fai Building, 364-368 Shun Ning Road, Cheung Sha Wan, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Cheung Sha Wan
Tel: +852 3707-1034

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Tsuta Ramen 蔦 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Tang Lung Street has just gotten a little busier this week following the opening of Tsuta Ramen (蔦), the one and only ramen shop in the world currently with a Michelin star. The famed ramen shop from Tokyo has recently opened in Singapore and Taipei so we knew it's just the matter of time before they arrive in Hong Kong. And where else to launch their first Hong Kong branch other than Tang Lung Street which has been home to so many Japanese ramen shops in the city already!

I was hoping I could get a crack at Tsuta's ramen this afternoon before my meeting. But after arriving a little after 12:30PM, I realized that the slow-moving queue of 15 to 20 people are probably not going away soon so I decided to come back a little later.

And come back I did at around 5PM and guess what, there's only one person in the queue. So my strategy worked out perfectly...

Tsuta first opened in Tokyo back in 2012 and became the first ramen shop to receive a Michelin star in 2015. I'm really looking forward to the two elements which have made Tsuta so popular over the years - their special homemade soba noodles and truffled soy-based broth.

Any good ramen shop would have their own noodle making facility in house and looks like Tsuta is well equipped in that department with their own ramen making machine just behind the glass window.

It didn't take long for me to place my order coz Tsuta has a pretty simple menu of just two types of ramen - shoyu which is soy-based and shio which is salt based.

I am normally not a fan of salt-based ramen so I went with their Ajitama shoyu soba instead. 

I really like their clear broth (almost clear) which was made with tons of chicken, fish and clams. While it lacks a bit in volume, it made up for it with the nice depth of flavors. For those who's health conscious, it also tasted a little less oily comparing to most tonkatsu (pork-based) broth.

Apart from the flavorful and slightly sweet broth, I thought the soba noodles were seriously good too. The hardness of the noodles was spot on and it was pretty good in absorbing the flavors of the broth. I could only think of one single blemish here and the guilty party was the truffle oil. There was no question the truffle oil added another dimension to the broth but for most ramen lovers, it would be a bit too overpowering. In fact, I thought it kind of overshadowed the subtle sweetness of the broth which was fine on its own without it. 

For $113, it also came with a thin slice of smoky char siu and a marinated soft-boiled egg. Is it worth the heavy price tag? Well, I think so but for once only. 

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 2, G/F V-Point, 18 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 3188-2639

Shelter Italian Bar & Restaurant (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Our Plan A today was to have lunch at Tsuta Ramen, the Michelin starred ramen shop from Tokyo which has just been opened for 3 days but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. So we retreated to Hysan Place after checking out the crowd in front of Tsuta and at this point in time, we were less picky about where to have our late lunch. We simply wanted to get it over with. It was my call all the way and I went with Shelter Italian Bar and Restaurant which I haven't had the pleasure of visiting for almost 2 years already.

You know what my circle of friends used to say about Shelter - you have to pick the day to go visit them because the space is not air conditioned (since it's located in the terrace of the shopping mall). So if it's a super hot day or rainy day, that's a no go.

We were a little fortunate to find ourselves arriving a little early. Obviously, there's an event happening here in late afternoon so the staff has already cleared up the space for the event. Even the kitchen staff was taking an early break from work so the folks who arrived after 1:30PM (just a few minutes after us) found themselves outside looking in.

So while we were still feeling pretty good about ourselves that we got in just in the nick of time, our starter was already comfortably waiting on deck. I was feeling a little health-conscious this afternoon so I got myself a small Classic Caesar salad. The romaine lettuce was nice and crisp without too much salad dressing on it. Pretty nice.

I haven't had a nice piece of steak for a while so I went with their char-grilled USDA ribeye steak ($238) as my main course. The steak was nicely charred with a flavorful crust and the smoky meat was working pretty well with the red wine sauce too.

I was hoping for some tiramisu or panna cotta for dessert but they threw us a curveball offering us a small bowl of mango pudding. What was a mango pudding doing in an Italian restaurant anyways!?

It looks like their (now former?) executive chef Simonetta Garelli is no longer with the Shelter group. News had her working somewhere in Europe as a consultant now. But whether that's true or not, it didn't have an (adverse) effect on our lunch this afternoon. Everything I ordered was pretty delicious today.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: 718-719 (Open Terrace), 7/F Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Causeway Bay
Tel: +852 2778-8398

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Vive Cake Boutique (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I had the chance to check out Vive Cake Boutique at Lee Tung Avenue during its opening months but wasn't overly impressed with what I have got then. It's been a year now so I thought timing was right to go for my second visit.

Ever Green ($45) - I decided to go with two cakes I didn't try last time around. First up was Ever Green, a green apple themed cake with a nice combination of green apple mousse and earl grey sponge.

This was very refreshing. The green apple compote provided nice acidity to the mix and I love the contrasting texture between the green apple mousse, green apple compote, Earl Grey sponge and almond biscuit. What a lovely piece of cake!

Summer Flourish ($45) - Sitting on top was lychee jelly with a bit of edible flowers providing lovely fragrance over a layer of white peach mousse.

And that's not all. I haven't even touched on the stuff in the middle including the layered vanilla sponge cake, white peach cubes and almond biscuit. A very busy dessert with lots of ingredients in it. The rich white peach flavor was very impressive and they had the lychee there to back it up so it won't get too one-dimensional. Another pleasant surprise.

Two out of two is definitely a result I didn't expect. Perhaps I should keep a much closer eye on this patisserie from now on.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop B05-06, Lee Tung Avenue, 200 Queens Road East, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Wanchai
Tel: +852 5111-4895