Monday, April 30, 2018

Ecriture (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

After waiting an extra 5 months, the most highly anticipating restaurant opening of the year is finally here. I'm talking about Ecriture, the fine dining French restaurant from Le Comptoir Group who's also behind culinary gems like Bibo, The Ocean, Hotshot and Djapa.

Housed on the 26th floor of HQueens in the heart of Central, Ecriture along with Arbor are two of the brightest young stars in the city's fine dining scene this year. Ironically, both of them happened to be housed in the very same building.  

Before we touched on our dining experience at Ecriture, it's important to know who's working behind their kitchen. The man on a mission here is executive chef Maxime Gilbert, the former chef de cuisine at Amber who is also the protégé of world renowned chef Yannick Alleno. Chef Gilbert cut his teeth at a number of Alléno's fine-dining establishments including La Grande Table Française (Marrakech) and the legendary Le Meurice (Paris) so it's safe to say that he knows a little something about modern French cooking.

As there's only one tasting menu ($1488) being served in Ecriture at the moment, we went straight into our amuse bouche once we decided on our wine selection. Our first nibble was a potato croquette with sour cream filling topped by caviar.

Next was an elegant serving of crispy pumpkin biscuit with pumpkin purée and pumpkin cream, a tasty "wafer" made with tiny Japanese fish topped off with herbs and vinegar, and last but not least, a steamed bun with seafood sauce (hoisin?) and a bit of ginger. That's quite an impressive collection of contrasting flavors all packed into these bite-sized nibbles.

The first course of the tasting menu was a visually stunning spot prawn dish. It was beautifully presented with a beetroot wafer on top and underneath that were delicious spot prawns, dashi jelly and purple onion. 

This dish reminded me a lot of a pike conger dish I had at Florilège in Tokyo which had the same visual effects and equally impressive results. The dashi jelly provided perfect depth of flavors to complement the sweetness of the spot prawns while the purple onion added lovely acidity to the mix. That was brilliant.

The spot prawn dish was immediately followed by Ecriture's house specialty deep-fried Hokkaido scallop with black truffle. The batter looked thick at first glance but it turned out to be just perfect. Crispy but not too flaky. Underneath it were layers of scallops and nori, wonderfully matched by the celeriac purée, scallop foam made with scallop trimmings and hazelnut shavings. I don't think I have had such a delicate and well designed scallop dish before and it's certainly a dish that makes you crave for more.

As soon as we finished our deep-fried scallop, we were shown a large Japanese abalone which has been poached in sake.

Tender slices of abalone was then served with crispy Galicia beef ham, eggplant, grapefruit and a delicious abalone-liver sauce with Dijon mustard.

Our fish course was Japanese kinki, one of the most amazing fish in the sea, cooked in three different ways.

We first had the fillet accompanied by a yuzu-seafood purée topped with dried scallop in a red wine and vegetable sauce.

Very lovely texture and I love the smoky flavors from the crispy skin.

The second part of this kinki dish featured the most prized part of the fish, the cheek which was served with the liver and homemade ravioli with gorgonzola cheese filling. A flavorful broth made of olive oil, tomato, lemon juice and the bones of the kinki added good depth of flavors to the dish.

Finally, the tail. Our server told us to simply eat it like a piece of "fried chicken". As instructed, I quickly picked it up with my hand and finished it off. This was pretty tasty. The hint of lime zest really provided some nice citrus notes to the mix.

Meat course was savory lamb fillet and chop from Adreyon, served with in-season morel mushrooms, cabbage and a reduced lamb jus. Our server explained that they only use baby lambs which have been around for 20 so days and drinking nothing but milk, this in order to preserve their succulent texture (which explains the meat is so light in color).

This was nice and gamey with the perfect proportion of fat. I'm not a huge fan of lamb to be honest but if I was going to have lamb once a year, this is THE one I want.

I had so much food at this point that I already lost track on how many dishes we had. This next dish could be our palate cleanser or our first dessert, I guess it didn't really matter.

A scoop of sake ice cream was served on a bed of silky jelly made with sake lees along with lime, lemon, orange and grapefruit. Very refreshing and clean flavors all around.

Our final dessert was a mix of spicy cacao custard, mango chutney, peanut ice-cream, peanut and hazelnut crumble all hidden under a crispy chocolate wafer. Looked like the spices used on the cacao custard were Sichuan pepper.

There was a small cup of fresh coconut milk that came on the side.

Food continued to keep coming. First, there's a kouign-amann sandwiched with sour cream.

That was followed by some Japanese strawberries sliced at table side.

And just when I thought we were done, our server came over and revealed the best kept secret around here - There's a chocolate-cognac tart hidden inside the decorative box on our table. This one even had my name written on it!

I have been spoiled with some really good food the past 10 days. After dining at HAKU, à nu retrouvez-vous and Arbor within a short span, I thought it's going to take a lot for Ecriture to blow me away but wow me they did. Not only were tonight's dishes innovative (spot prawn and scallop dish came to mind), they did it with very precise cooking. Also full marks for the tableside preparations which have added a special element to this dining experience. I know old-school tableside service is making a comeback (Fancy restaurants in France never stop doing it all these years.) and personally, I am all for it.

Food Rating: 8.5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 26/F HQueens, 80 Queen's Road Central, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2795-5996

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Dragon Wind 雲龍軒 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I have been hearing a lot of good things about Dragon Wind (雲龍軒) lately which helps to explain why it's getting harder and harder to find a table at this popular Chinese restaurant at Disney Explorers Lodge on the weekends. But anything with Mickey and Minnie, I always take with a grain of salt.

It's our fourth visit to Disneyland Hong Kong this month. I think we should be given VIP status right about now.

Right before the meal, we all agreed to just order some simple dishes to share among the four of us. Nothing fancy or expensive. That would be the game plan tonight.

Braised mock abalone and young cabbages (素鮑片扒娃娃菜) ($148) - I'm not going to say no to starting the meal with something healthy first. This was okay although the mushroom-turn-abalone was slightly disappointing.

Sweet and sour bean curd (糖醋咕嚕豆腐) ($138) - It's getting a little warm this week so a dish with both sweet and sour flavors was right up everyone's alley. A pretty good dish to go with my steamed rice.

Crispy Cantonese chicken with condiments (脆皮一品燒雞) ($168) - Interesting description from the menu there. Did it mean the chicken was from Canton (or Guangdong) or were they referring to the cooking style as Cantonese?

Anyways, love the crispy skin. The chicken itself could have been a little more meaty but pretty tasty without question.

Pan fried minced pork lotus root cake (家鄉煎釀蓮藕餅) ($188) - The star of the evening for me but mom and others would likely dispute that decision. Not the most impressive presentation by any stretch of imagination, but the flavors and textures were both right on the money. Perfect to go with my steamed rice again.

Wok-fried de-boned short ribs with shimeji mushroom (石窩茶樹菇爆牛肋肉) ($198) - For whatever reason, this dish came a lot later than the rest. Another solid dish featuring some seriously delicious shimeji mushrooms and de-boned short ribs. Now, I think I need more steamed rice to finish this off.

For me, this came a close second right behind the previous lotus root cake.

Stewed beef noodles in clear broth (清湯牛肉麵) ($88) - A little something for my little nugget who's been mostly a spectator throughout the night. I was told both the noodle and broth were decent but didn't get the chance to try it out myself.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 2/F Explorers Lodge, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Disneyland Resort
Tel: +852 3510-2000

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Stew 燉 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

I was walking past Lai Chi Kok on my way to the bank last week when I came across this new cafe that specializes in steamed rice, dim sum and double-boiled soup. Most of the items on the menu are supposed to have nourishing effects so I thought it's worth checking out. 

This is quite a convenient take-out option for those wanted healthy fast-food in the area. 

All the soup and desserts are served in these lovely porcelain pots.

I didn't have time to dine in so I conveniently grabbed a double-steamed milk with fish maw ($48) on my way. (Please excuse the poor quality of the photo as my camera was unavailable at the moment!)

Fish maw! This was okay but I'd prefer a little less ginger in the steamed milk if I have a choice.

They have some interesting homemade rice box priced at $30. I'll definitely check those out next time.

Price: $$$
Address: Shop 3A2, G/F, Cheung Lung Industrial Building, 10 Cheung Yee Street, Lai Chi Kok, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Lai Chi Kok
Tel: +852 2816-1411

Xihe Yayuan 羲和雅苑 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

It's been a while since we last have a new Peking duck restaurant in the city so when Xihe Yayuan (羲和雅苑) first opened in Harbour City two months ago, there was a bit of lukewarm interest there.

Xihe Yayuan has over 30 branches in mainland China alone and most recently, they have expanded overseas to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Despite not having advance booking, we were able to find ourselves a table and a pretty good one too. This is almost like private dining but without the "special" price tag.

Scrambled eggs with truffle and baby oyster (松露蠔仔煎蛋) ($88) - I don't think one could ever go wrong with scrambled eggs and black truffle together. This is a clever twist to the famous oyster pancake (蠔仔煎) from Chiuchow cuisine. Very tasty and we can smell the truffle well before the plate touched down on our table.

Fried squid with salted duck egg yolk dressing (金沙鮮魷魚) ($168) - I love deep fried squid especially those in typhoon shelter style. Just way too tempting to resist. My expectation was high when I first saw this version with salted duck egg yolk dressing on the menu. I thought they really got something there.

But unfortunately, the execution was way off. This was the blandest fried squid I have ever had in my life, even with the salted duck egg yolk. I thought the smart way to do this would be to mix a bit of salted duck egg yolk into the batter to give it some much needed flavors but that was not the case. Instead, they had the salted duck egg yolk in the form of powder to sprinkle on top of the fried squid and that wasn't doing the job (of course, if the squid was fresh, then we probably don't even need that kind of seasoning too but...).

Xihe Pork Pancake (羲和小肉餅) ($48) - Next up for us was some pork pancake. This came with multiple layers of crispy pancake and minced pork, almost like a mille feuille (but in the shape of a roll). Seriously tasty even without the sauce. 

Xihe's Peking duck (羲和馳名烤鴨) (Half bird, $328) - This was what we came here for, their signature Peking duck but before our prized duck arrived, our server set the wheels in motion by dropping off some nice condiments.

This is quite a lot of condiments, even if we compare it to the world renowned Da Dong.

Our baby duck finally arrived.....

As soon as the chef finished peeling off the crispy skins and meat, our server came over to introduce the three different cuts and proposed sequence to eat them (and how).

We were supposed to start with the skin first. This came from the breast area.

The way to eat them was to mix it with some homemade blueberry sauce and pop rocks. Interesting results! It felt almost like having a dessert!

Next up was duck meat from the breast area. 

We were told to dip it with this special mustard sauce and eat without the pancake. Unfortunately, it paled a bit in comparison with the previous cut (the skin).

Finally, we had the meat from the leg area. We were recommended two ways to eat it; firstly with cucumber, scallion and hoisin sauce all inside the pancake. This was the traditional way that we've been doing it all along. I thought fairly decent. 

Then, a contemporary way with hawthorn (山楂) and purple onion. The acidity there was quite an interesting match with the duck meat but I guess I would prefer sticking with the traditional way, cucumber and scallion.

I came away with mixed feelings about this meal due to two reasons - one really bad dish (fried squid) and another seriously undersized dish (the Peking duck). The roasted duck, for what they're charging, should easily cater for 2 to 3 people but I was still feeling hungry after just sharing half a duck with Jelloman (The three little plates were all we've got from our order). I knew food was getting more expensive but it looked like inflation has just reached its new heights.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop OTE203, 2/F, Ocean Terminal, Harbour City, 3-27 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 2157-3128