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

Royal Plaza Hotel Cake Shop (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

After meeting up with my high school friends for lunch at MOKO, I walked around the shopping mall looking for some desserts to brighten up my day. Suddenly, it came across my mind that I have not visited the cake shop at Royal Plaza Hotel for a while. So, without any hesitation, I started taking off straight towards the hotel.

I didn't realize it's been 20 years since the Royal Plaza Hotel Cake Shop first opened its door to customers already. That's pretty amazing. To celebrate this milestone anniversary, the cake shop is offering some pretty funky birthday cakes such as this Thai raw shrimp sweet surprise cake (鬼馬泰式生蝦蛋糕) which is actually lemon and mixed berry mousse cake (檸檬雜莓慕絲蛋糕) in disguise.

But I was looking for something less funky this afternoon so a slice of tiramisu would do the trick for me. Disappointingly, this tasted more like a coffee cake than a tiramisu. The layers of different flavors were sorely missing here. Not a very good start!

I thought an easy way to judge a cake shop's quality is to try some of their simpler cakes like a tiramisu. It's like going to a traditional Chinese restaurant, you gotta have a good sweet and sour pork, right!?

Well, after that failed move, I was all ready to pack my bag but I was in a forgiving mood so I ended taking a flyer on another cake - Berriolette mousse cake (雜草莓紫蘿蘭慕絲蛋糕). This was a less common pastry so I was hoping I could unearth a gem here.

Without question, the berriolette mousse cake was a lot better but I couldn't really tell the difference between that and a mixed berries mousse cake to be honest. There's a fair amount of acidity there and it's undoubtedly silky smooth but something seemed to be missing (something with contrasting flavors or texture).

Food Rating: 4/10
Address: Royal Plaza Hotel, 193 Prince Edward Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Mongkok East
Tel:+852 2622-6256

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

AMMO (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

I thought I have given up on Restaurant Week after years of disappointment (the now-defunct Azure, Whisk etc.) but this week, I was in the mood to give it another chance. This summer round of Restaurant Week was said to be one of the largest one in recent memory with around 100 participating restaurants. Some of the intriguing names include Michelin starred Akrame, Aqua group's Armani/Aqua, Aqua and Hutong, CE LA VI and Cassio who are all newcomers to the event (if my memory serves me correctly).

With so many interesting options, I decided to get my feet wet this weekend starting with a booking at AMMO, a place I haven't had the chance to check out since 2012. About a month or so ago, I received a newsletter from Drawing Room Group (AMMO's parent company) about AMMO's impending transformation into a modern Spanish tapas bar. I have been a little curious of their revamped menu so this opportunity arose from Restaurant Week was perfect.

Crab tartare with mushrooms and basil jelly - Lunch started off brightly with a refreshing appetizer of crab tartare. Underneath the pile of fresh crab meat was a thin layer of basil jelly followed by some diced mushrooms. The crab meat was really nice and fresh but what really surprised me the most was the basil jelly offering some nice acidity and earthy flavors to the dish.

Well, not a bad start. One out of one!

Beetroot 4-ways with orange and walnut - I thought they have something interesting on paper with the 4-ways beetroot. The last dish with different textures of beetroot that managed to impress me was chef Julien Royer's "The Beetroot Collection" (at Jaan Singapore before he strikes out on his own with Odette.). Still remembered how well the beetroot ice-cream, beetroot meringue, poached betroot and beetroot confit all worked together as a whole. This one, however, failed to live up to my lofty expectation (yeah, I set the bar a bit high here). The beetroot chip, beetroot tartare, beetroot purée and beetroot confit (kind of sticky) did very little to mesh with one another.

Risotto with morel mushrooms, asparagus and parmesan - Five years since my last visit but I still remembered AMMO as a restaurant with some of the best pasta and risotto in town. The risotto with chopped morel mushrooms and asparagus was really good with a textbook creamy texture. The parmesan was spot on.

Fettuccine with braised short-rib ragout - Same goes for the fetticcine which was al dente with the perfect bite. A very nice dish which had us longing for more.

Crispy suckling pig with mango and pineapple salsa - I was pretty curious with AMMO's transformation into a Spanish tapas bar so on top of our Restaurant Week menu, I went with something from their a la carte menu.

The crispy suckling pig was beautifully done with a crispy skin while the meat was nice and juicy inside. Look at the proportion of fat and meat there. Just beautiful!

Blueberry mousse with mixed berry compote - This tasted like one of those sliced cakes you picked up from Aroma. It did offer some nice acidity but that's about all there's to it.

Catalan creme foam with sautéed pineapple and caramel ice-cream - Much better result comparing to the previous blueberry mousse cake. This was foamy with a bit of sugar on top and sauteed pineapple in the middle. The only blemish is perhaps the caramel ice-cream which was slightly overpowering. It would probably taste a little better if they replace it with something more refreshing like a scoop of coconut ice-cream.

Their service was surprisingly hearty all afternoon. While my little nugget was running around the restaurant causing trouble for everyone, their staff were always there with a helping hand to steer him out of trouble. Very nice job!

My first positive experience from a Restaurant Week event in a long long time!!! Hooray~

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2537-9888

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Octavium Italian Restaurant (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Three Michelin starred chef Umberto Bombana's new experimental kitchen, Octavium has created quite an interesting buzz in the local dining scene in recent weeks. A private kitchen without a phone number, how can customers make their reservations? The restaurant quietly started its soft opening in early July and thankfully, by pushing the right button, I was able to secure a table last week before taking off to Osaka.

Perched on the 8th floor of One Chinachem Central Building on Des Voeux Road Central, Octavium is a casual fine dining restaurant that slides right in between the prestigious 8 1/2 Otto e mezzo Bombana and casual sister CIAK In the Kitchen. Diners can expect the same high-quality ingredients and exquisite cooking from chef Bombana's team but in a quieter and more intimate surroundings.

I arrived at One Chinachem Central a little ahead of schedule and just happened to bump into my food buddy Agent-I, whom I've recruited for tonight's dinner. Just when we were about to take the elevator up, the restaurant's hostess was already waiting there to pick us up at the lobby.

Once we came out of the elevator, there's a big sign that said "Octavium Italian Restaurant" but no doors.....

What would a secret private kitchen be without a secret door, right? Well, it didn't take long for us to spot a door bell on the wall and by pressing the bell, the hidden door slided open and there it was, an elegant dining room just behind the closed doors.

I always love a restaurant with a surprise no-choice menu so I can let the chefs dazzle me with their creativity and imagination. Octavium is pretty close but we still get a say on our starter, pasta, main course and dessert (between just 2 to 3 choices per category).

Like their three Michelin starred fine dining sister, there will be no snacks served before the meal, except some good old country bread and grissini.

Marinated Japanese snapper - I chose to kick things off with this expecting a refreshing start and that's exactly what I got. The Japanese snapper was marinated with orange juice so unsurprisingly, it came with some nice acidity. Some purple carrot and wild fennel provided colorful garnish and difference in textures to the mix. Pretty good start.

Linguini "Gentil" with scampi, caviar and citrus - Next up was my pasta dish. This was an easy choice for me as I am a big fan of linguini, scampi and caviar. One dish to satisfy my craving for all three ingredients. Isn't that wonderful!?

This was just seriously good. The linguini was strong to the bite and the scampi nice and sweet. Love the bouncy texture too. I thought the sauce was reminiscent of the sea water emulsion which I had a couple of times with my pasta dishes back at 8 1/2.

Mayura beef sirloin with "trombetta" zucchini and watercress - This is where things started to regress a bit. I thought the beef sirloin was pretty flavorful and well marbled but some tendons in there ruined the silky smooth texture a little. The "trombetta" zucchini was quite interesting though as it looked like asparagus at first glance. Interesting idea serving it with artichoke purée and cress.

Tiramisu with mascarpone gelato - I have always been a huge admirer of chef Bombana's tiramisu. He changes his recipe from time to time but for the most part, the core stuff remains the same. But for the first time in a long time, I wasn't completely satisfied with the tiramisu from his kitchen. This was still pretty good but I thought it wasn't moist enough in the middle and I'd love a little more liquor (masala?) in there to spice things up a bit more.

We had some homemade hazelnut meringue cookies and chocolate to go with our coffee before calling it the night.

It was a fairly good debut. The food was really well-portioned with a good balance between meat and seafood dishes. Same goes for service which was right on the spot throughout the night. Only a few things to iron out and they should be ready for prime time.

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 8/F One Chinachem Central, 22 Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central

The Mandarin Cake Shop (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I have a very special dinner lined up tonight, one that I have been really looking forward to since I secured the table last month. The only problem now is the fact that I have another hour to kill before the long anticipated meal. So I found myself on a mission to find a place interesting enough near my dinner venue to get me through the hour.

After walking around Central for a good 15-20 minutes without success, I suddenly came across The Mandarin Cake Shop (文華餅店) at Mandarin Oriental Hotel, a place that I haven't visited for a long long time. Bingo.

Opera cake ($48) - This was pretty decent but the contrasting textures from the different layers didn't come through. There're at least half a dozen places that I think offer a better opera cake. Check that, maybe at least a dozen.

1963 Mandarin cheesecake ($48) - A namesake dessert (sort of), oh I love namesake desserts. This was pretty cheesy almost like an American style cheesecake but it was one that was desperately looking for something to spice it up. Blueberry, passion fruit, something.....

I still remember The Mandarin Oriental Cake Shop as one of the top patisseries in the city not too long ago and even now, it's still pretty highly rated by many Hong Kongers (as seen here with customers walking in and out of the shop during my visit). But I thought with the growing number of quality patisseries these days, their stock has dropped significantly to a point where I won't even consider them a top 20 choice in town. The only title I'm willing to give is perhaps "The most overrated cake shop in Hong Kong".

PS. Another 10% was tagged onto my bill for dining in. Fair deal (Service was excellent). 

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$
Address: M/F, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Road, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2825-4008

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Dalloyau Shinsaibashi (Osaka, JAPAN) ★★★☆☆

I thought we were all done in the dessert department on this trip but somehow, we pulled this one out of the bag.

Located right in the heart of Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), this branch of Dalloyau will not be easily overlooked due to its prime location. 

I didn't have the kindest thing to say about them from my previous experiences here but I was in a forgiving mood this afternoon.

Mont blanc (594 yen) - Part of the reason was because mom is such a big mont blanc fan. She already got her eyes on this one when she first saw this from the window. So, I knew I had to get this one for her. The meringue and chestnut cream in the middle did surprise her a bit as she was expecting a traditional mont blanc but the overall experience was a good one for her.

Le chou cubique (540 yen) - I got this for myself. 

A cream puff in a rectangular shape. I personally like the choux to be a little more fluffy but the custard cream was perfectly good. A bit of a mixed bag for this one.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: ¥¥¥¥
Address: 2-2-23 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 542-0085 Japan 大阪府大阪市中央区心斎橋筋 2-2-23
Closest Metro Station: Shinsaibashi / Namba
Tel: +81 (0)6 6211-1155

Benitora-ken Shinsaibashi 紅虎軒 心齋橋店 (Osaka, JAPAN) ★☆☆☆☆

My reputation as a traveling foodie took another hit today when we had to choose Chinese food over Japanese souffle pancakes (at Gram Cafe and Pancakes). That would've been okay if we were in Hong Kong but last time I checked, we were still in Osaka.

But being the good daddy that I am, I decided to go with Benitora-ken Shinsaibashi (紅虎軒 心齋橋店), a Chinese noodle bar near touristy Shinsaibashi because my baby wanted some Chinese noodle soup.

The ground-floor noodle bar was full so we were led up the staircase to the mezzanine floor where a more spacious dining room was waiting.

That's my little boss right there.....

For a small Chinese restaurant in Osaka, this sure covers a lot of ground - noodle soup, fried rice, dumplings etc. Even got some small dim sum like spring rolls.

Fried rice with barbecued pork and lettuce - This looked like a mess. The "wok hei" wasn't bad but there was way too much salt in there.

Chicken soup noodles - The noodles came in a traditional Chinese clay pot which was nice. But the soup was a little strong (MSG?) for my baby so we ended up dilating it with water.

Fried noodles with beef and mushrooms - One of the worst fried noodles I've ever had all-time. The fried noodles were all sticking together and the super gluey sauce actually made it even worse.

Boiled dumplings with minced pork and vegetables - The only dish that really tasted like something out of a professional kitchen really. 

This is outright awful from start to finish but as long as my little nugget enjoys his noodles, papa can live with it.

Food Rating: 3/10
Price: ¥¥
Address: 22-8-1 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka, 542-0085, Japan
Closest Metro Station: Shinsaibashi
Tel: +81 (0)6 6484-3773