Sunday, December 30, 2018

Chips Republic Café (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

Chips Republic Café has always been one of my favorite places for a frosty milkshake in town. In fact, I have made no secret of how highly I thought of their milkshakes after I revealed my top 10 milkshake list a few months ago.

Since the summer, they have added a few more flavors to the already comprehensive list of milkshakes and the one that really caught my eyes was this mango pomelo milkshake. Drawing inspiration from the popular mango pomelo sago cream (楊枝甘露) dessert, this had all the ingredients you will find from the famed Chinese sweet soup including mango, pomelo and grapefruit (no sago though!). I had the chance to check it out again over the weekend and it was so gooood! Very rich and thirst quenching!

Food Rating: 6.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 2132, 2/F, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kowloon Station
Tel: +852 2581-1887

HABITŪ Table at Elements (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

With 2018 winding down, we decided to just take it easy throughout the last week of the year. Instead of heading out of town, we visited virtually every mall in town during the holiday season. From Harbour City, Pacific Place to IFC, now it's Elements' turn. 

It's the tail end of the white truffle season but it's never too late to jump on the bandwagon. How about some white truffle chestnut latte and white truffle chestnut hot chocolate from HABITŪ Table? Chestnut and white chocolate, that's two birds with one stone!

A lot of food bloggers said this white truffle chestnut hot chocolate looked like the Chinese black sesame sweet soup (芝麻糊). But personally, I thought it tasted nothing like a hot chocolate, let alone a dessert. It's more like a chestnut velouté with mild nutty flavors which were enhanced a bit with white truffle. So yes, it was a bit weird.

Price: $$$
Address: Shop 1001, 1/F, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Kowloon Station
Tel: +852 2196-8466

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Test Kitchen - Danish Christmas Menu by Chef Filip Søndergaard (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★☆☆

Test Kitchen has long been on my radar screen ever since they opened doors at a former printing house in Sai Ying Pun more than a year ago. Every month, the pop-up style restaurant welcomes a different chef from somewhere around the world where he or she takes over their kitchen for about a week to showcase the talent that has made them relevant in their respective market.   

This is a fascinating concept but it's hardly something new in the culinary world. In fact, it's been around for decades. The most successful implementation of such concept took place at Restaurant Ikarus at Hangar-7 in Salzburg (starting in 2003) where they welcome the world's most top-notch chefs (Richard Ekkbus of Amber and André Chiang formerly of Restaurant Andre were two of their guest chefs during my visit that year) month after month.

Here's the post on my dining experience at Ikarus in 2014. I like the way they put it, kind of like a mission statement on their website.

At Hangar-7, a project was started which no other restaurant in the world had ever dared to attempt: the guest chef concept. A different top chef each month. It doesn‘t matter which continent or country they come from, whether it‘s the USA, South Africa or Japan. Or whether they serve traditional, fusion or molecular cuisine. What matters most is the variety. And, of course, the high quality of the dishes.

Obviously, there's a lot to like about the guest chef concept. The opportunity to sample creative cuisine from different parts of the world without spending money on plane tickets is too much to turn down. So, we gathered a few friends including Fishie who's been there a few times already before signing up for my very first Test Kitchen experience which was themed as the "Danish Christmas".

This is Danish chef Filip Søndergaard's second go-around with Test Kitchen. Trained in Oslo, chef Søndergaard spent years traveling around the world with stints in London, Australia, Italy and Denmark (no place like home) before making Berlin his permanent home these days. But instead of the modern Nordic cuisine which has helped him make a name for himself, he would be cooking a traditional Danish Christmas dinner for us. 

We enjoyed some bread while we waited for our starters to show up.....

First up were a trio of starters which the chef described as their traditional Danish dishes for Christmas.

The shrimp tartare with pickled cucumber, cucumber oil, cress and black pepper mayo was well-seasoned though we were expecting the shrimp to be raw rather than cooked.

Mackerel (Some said tasted like sardine) with endive, okra, crushed nuts and skyr, an Icelandic yoghurt was another fairly decent dish.

But the star was definitely the beetroot cured salmon served with egg salad. I really like the soft and moist flesh which married well with the sweetness of the beets.

There were two main dishes tonight.

The first was crispy Christmas pork belly which could've been a little more tender. But the crunchy pork crackling was perfect.

Not surprisingly, everyone preferred the second main dish which was a family-style slow-cooked duck with classic sharing plates. This tasted a lot like the roasted duck we had in Prague many years ago. Very similar style of seasoning which wasn't bad at all, but it would be hard pressed to beat our Chinese-style roasted duck in my opinion.

The main courses came with all kinds of side dish including red cabbage with orange, caramelized potato, crispy potato, potato purée and cucumber salad. Yeah, it's Christmas so it's always nice to do some sharing of good food around the table.

We had a quick chat with the Danish chef after enjoying our main dishes. Fishie suddenly popped the question on how he managed to travel around with all these ingredients. Well, guest what. Turned out only the cheese came from his hometown of Denmark while the rest were sourced locally. Could would be a much more delicious meal if he could somehow get his hands on some Danish ingredients that he knew inside out? Just wondering.

So I guess we shouldn't miss the cheese section for the world coz after all, we don't see Danish cheese in Hong Kong very often.

I thought the Vesterhavsost, a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from Northwest Jutland, was pretty nice. Its flavors were not unlike the French Comté cheese which was aromatic with a bit of nutty and creamy notes. The Blaa Kornblomst goat cheese was alright.

I have been looking forward to dessert all night and it was a beauty. Ris a la mande is a traditional Danish rice pudding, which is a very popular dessert in Denmark around Christmas time. It is usually served cold with a warm cherry sauce but the chef thought it's already hot enough here in Hong Kong, so he swapped the cherry sauce with a cherry sorbet instead. 

It was a nice 2-hour crash course on traditional Danish Christmas feast. I thought everyone had a great time tonight and that's really the most important part.

Food Rating: 5/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 3, Kwan Yick Building Phase 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Sai Ying Pun

Saturday, December 22, 2018

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

2018 has been a very sad year for the gastronomic world as we mourned the loss of a number of iconic chefs who've worked in the industry including Paul Bocuse, Anthony Bourdain and Joël Robuchon. I was particularly devastated with the passing of Chef Bocuse and Robuchon, both of whom have profound impact on the haute cuisine we all come to enjoy today. They left behind a remarkable legacy as two of the most influential chefs that France and perhaps the rest of the world have ever seen.

I still vaguely recommended one of my first modern French dining experience about a decade ago at Robuchon a Galera in Macau. It's an eye-opening experience that would change me (and my taste buds) forever. With 2019 just around the corner, I thought I should go back to L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon as a way to remember the "chef of the century" before the turn of calendar.

It's my little guy's first time visiting this three Michelin starred culinary temple. Thanks to their new children's policy that allows kids over 4 to dine in. I've been waiting for this change on the rule books for years and finally, my prayer was answered!

Our lunch got off to a wonderful start with a nicely designed and executed amuse bouche centered around a sweet corn velouté. The chilled corn soup came with French caviar, beef consommé jelly, olive oil and paprika. It had a really impressive mix of flavors and they made it look good too, with the decoration of stones and popcorn.

Le King Crabe - Jelloman got things rolling with the king crab salad that used to be my favorite. Leek and egg mimosa salad topped with spiced Alaska king crab and wasabi sauce, had all kinds of wonderful texture and flavor from each layer. A perfect dish to get if you're looking for a refreshing start.

Le Chataigne - I didn't want to stuff myself too much today so I've picked fine chestnut velouté as my first course.

The silky smooth and rich flavored chestnut velouté was topped with smoked cream and artichoke chips. There was some diced chestnut at the bottom of the soup to provide a bit of different textures to the mix.

But that wasn't all. The chestnut theme continued with a homemade brioche which had a chestnut buried right in the middle of the dough. Interesting idea but I wasn't sure if I totally agreed with the concept behind it.

La Langoustine - Jelloman's second course was langoustine bouillon with scampi ravioli. I recalled they had a number of different interpretations of this (also called La Langoustine). As a matter of fact, I had a version which was served with a clear broth made with chicken on my last visit. But this was so much better with the richly intense langoustine bouillon leading the charge and the scampi ravioli playing its supporting role brilliantly.

Le Homard - For my second dish, I decided to try a fairly new addition to the "Small Tasting Portion" menu, lobster rouella with civet sauce. There were two parts to this dish. First, a Maine lobster claw roasted with butter and then as the second leg of the dish, they had lobster meat stuffed inside a sphere made with baby spinach. The keys, however, were the strong and seductive flavors from the brown colored sauce prepared with red wine, diced carrot, onion and dill. A subtle and unexpected spicy kick helped to put an exclamation mark to this brilliantly prepared dish.

Le Pigeon - When it came to her main dish, Jelloman went with the safe bet which would be Robuchon's signature slow-cooked French pigeon with foie gras and mashed potato. This was beautifully presented with a roasted pigeon leg sitting between a trio of pigeon breast and foie gras which have been wrapped tightly with young cabbage and bacon. Talked about a dish that never grows old.

Le Boeuf Wagyu - I wanted some beef this afternoon so the pan seared wagyu beef flap with onion and black truffle was really a no-brainer for me. The succulent Australian wagyu was topped with fresh chives and crispy shallots and served with pepper and a dab of black truffle purée.

It was nice to get re-acquainted with Robuchon's buttery mashed potatoes which have always been touted as one of the silkiest, richest, lightest in the world. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I put my lick on it this afternoon.

Le Black Cod - My little guy got something from this talented kitchen as well. I had this black cod dish before and it's a very good one. Always love how the silky cod fillet was soaked in sake and finished with a miso glaze. A lovely coconut emulsion helped to put on the finishing touch.

Le Mont Blanc - We had two really outstanding desserts, first a classic Mont Blanc with chestnut cream, black fruits and crispy meringue. A beautiful synergy of sweet and fruity flavors, with the black fruits balancing the sweetness of the chestnut perfectly.

Le Chocolat - As a milk chocolate lover, of course I went with their chocolate themed dessert with crispy dark chocolate sable base topped by coconut cream, 50% milk chocolate mousse, shredded coconut and gold leaf. A scoop of coconut sorbet gave this a nice refreshing finish.

After a nice set of petite four, it's time for us to settle the bill and head home for the preparation of our winter festival celebration dinner which will be hot pot at our place tonight. 

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$$
Address: Shop 315 & 401, The Landmark, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Central
Tel: +852 2166-9000

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Triple O's (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

The recent opening of Shake Shack at Pacific Place has made people forget about this burger joint from good old Canada that was once the first burger chain to introduce American style burgers with high-quality Angus beef to Hong Kongers.

I was feeling a little nostalgic today so I thought I should drop by Triple O's to check out what they've got. Turned out they were doing a promotion on their new pork katsu burgers. Many burger joints have tackled the hybrid of burger and Japanese tonkatsu (Japanese style deep-fried pork cutlets) before but most came away without success. Needless to say, I wasn't really optimistic about this.

And I was right. The deep-fried pork cutlet was really dry and rubbery. There was also way too much acidity in the pickled carrot and cabbage slaw that even the rich tonkatsu sauce failed to cope with. In short, it was nothing short of a disaster. 

If everything fails, I knew I could still count on their rich and creamy milkshakes. That's the only bright spot out of this lunch for me.

There was a small drama coming out of this lunch as well. When the server/cleaning lady brought my burger and milkshake over, I spotted the missing straw so I politely told her to give me a straw. But much to my displeasure, she gave me this weird look before telling me to go to the counter myself and get my straw from her colleagues. Now, that's a bit of a joke. I know they were all assigned with various tasks to handle and putting the straw on the tray might just not be her responsibility. In other words, her colleagues dropped the ball, which was not her fault. But working in the F&B industry as a front line staff, you gotta do better than this. Just putting food on customer's table and cleaning up the trash ain't good enough anymore. You've got to go the extra mile (or at the very least metre), especially when you're dealing with a solo diner like me. To venture all the way to the counter for a straw, should I also bring my backpack and tray of food with me? But then again, she probably had no desire to be anything more than an average cleaning lady so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised?

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: $$$
Address: Unit 009, Level LG1, Great Food Hall, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Admiralty
Tel: +852 2581-1887

Sunday, December 16, 2018

SHÈ 舍 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★☆

New contemporary Chinese restaurants just keep coming in 2018. Following the footsteps of John Anthony, Madame Fu and a few other newbies, SHÈ (舍) quietly opened doors at IFC's Lane Crawford last week providing us with yet another option for modern Chinese food.

Taking over the space previously occupied by Angelina, SHÈ is the latest venture by the Gaia Group, who put their stamp on their modern take on Chinese cuisine for the first time. SHÈ's food menu will aim to focus on local nutritious ingredients to bring out a healthy lifestyle.

The bento lunch box menu draws a lot of inspiration from healthy home-style cooking, which is very difficult to find here in Central.

The rest of the food menu consists of sections like dim sum, rice, noodles, vegetables, main dish and snacks. Here's an extract of it in case you're interested.

Rose Gold Har Gao (香檳金蝦餃) ($48) - Starting things off were rose shrimp dumplings topped with gold leaf. These came in a beautiful champagne color.

This wasn't bad but no rose flavor as promised.

Siu Mai with caviar (魚子醬燒賣) ($48) - Equally tasty were the siu mai, which came with some added flavors from the umami-rich caviar.

Steamed beef and water chestnut balls (子薑牛肉球) ($46) - Some meat balls for our little guy. These were mixed with diced water chestnut so a bit more bite than your typical steamed beef balls.

Purple lava buns (流心紫蕃薯) ($48) - This was where it started to get a little more interesting. A couple of dim sum expertly designed by SHÈ's kitchen (that we don't see very often). 

They called these buns but they were more than crispy pastries with runny sweet potato lava. Yum~ (But somehow this tasted more like a dessert).

Stuffed truffle balls with minced meat and mushrooms (珍菌黑松露球) ($46) - Truffle flavored salty fried dumplings (鹹水角) with fillings of minced pork and mushrooms.

I think I prefer the purple lava buns a lot more.

Stir-fried premium soy sauce noodles with bean sprouts (頭抽銀芽炒麵) ($128) - Of course we had to dip into the fried rice and noodle section of the menu. I loooove stir-fried noodles with premium soy sauce and this was really nicely done. Unlike most places in Hong Kong, the seasoning was light which was perfect.

SHÈ Signature fried rice (招牌炒飯) ($148) - Surprisingly good "wok hei" and there were so many different ingredients in there - crab roes, abalone (you read that right, abalone!), clams, squid, egg, kale and of course char siu. This one deserves an encore for sure.

I thought everyone was a little surprised with how well this lunch turned out to be. The fried rice and noodle were definitely the highlights of the meal while some of the dim sums (purple lava buns in particular) gave us some real pleasant surprise. And considering it's located at IFC, the prices were pretty reasonable. 

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: $$$
Address: Portion A of Shop 3025-3026 & 3031-3066, Level 3, IFC Mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Hong Kong Station
Tel: +852 2110-0153