Sunday, May 26, 2019

Kyoto Ichinoden 京都一の傳 (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★☆☆☆

Right from the get go, I knew this meal wasn't going to be an enjoyable one for me.

I heard about century-old Kyoto Ichinoden (京都一の傳) opening at Harbour City from a foodie friend of mine and since we were going to be shopping there this weekend, I decided to bring my family along. After patiently waiting at the reception area to be served, it was finally my turn. Honestly, I was a little annoyed by the couple standing in line just in front of me. They had all kinds of questions for the hostess (who's not very good with serving her customers to begin with). It took her 10 minutes to sort out all their queries so they were ready to head into the restaurant. But wait, they didn't know the restaurant only serves set menu. So they needed more time to discuss among themselves to come up with a decision. There, 15 minutes of my time wasted for nothing.

So, it was my turn to step up to the plate. I told the hostess who wasn't very good with serving her customers that we have a party of four (my kid wasn't eating though). She said they're pretty full so the wait would likely be about an hour. I told her that's fine and we're okay with waiting but she was determined to get rid of us and started telling me that, "I'm afraid we can't accommodate you today. Perhaps some other time...". I didn't expect such words coming out of her mouth and was obviously upset. I began telling her that firstly, I have never heard of a restaurant that didn't allow customers to wait (unless it's a fine-dining restaurant who's been fully booked) especially when there's no one waiting in line. Secondly, I spotted at least 3 to 4 tables of four just finishing up their meals right about now. I didn't think the wait would be more than 15 minutes (unless she tells me those tables are already booked which she didn't). And just when we were still engaged in our heated discussion, a colleague of hers came out of the restaurant and told us there's already a table ready for us. An hour's wait, you said? As I slowly entered the restaurant, I looked at her one last time with a grim on my face. Not a good way to greet your customers!

Anyways, enough for my rant.

Hailed from Kyoto Japan, Kyoto Ichinoden is a traditional Japanese restaurant serving kaiseki cuisine. They are best known for their Saikyozuke, a traditional cooking method started in Kyoto where seasonal meat and fish are marinated in Saikyo miso. This is their first overseas branch outside Japan.

The restaurant offers three set menus at lunch, with virtually the same set of appetizers and a small list of main courses to choose from (Kiyomizu $158, Fushimi $198 and Gion $288).

The first to arrive was the Fushimi set. Apparently, it's the same appetizer platter for every set starting with a steamed egg custard topped by salmon roes, sesame pudding, stewed Japanese duck breast, pickled cucumber and so on and so forth. We were told to start from our left to right.

This set came with Ichinoden's signature ochazuke (お茶漬け) which is a simple rice dish that combines tea, steamed rice and an assortment of savory ingredients together. There were two seasonal toppings today, firstly Ichinoden's special marinated silver-warehou which has been placed on top of the steamed rice with some seaweed. 

For a restaurant known for its Saikyozuke, we had high expectation for this small piece of fish fillet and it certainly didn't disappoint. The miso flavor was very nice and comforting, meshing well with the sweetness of the fish.

The other topping was chicken.

Now, time to pour the hot tea into the rice. This was very soothing. I love this set.

Next up was the Kiyomizu set. Like I said the same appetizer platter, just a different grilled item which was Ichinoden style marinated salmon. This wasn't bad but I actually found the marinated silver-warehou a bit more tasty.

Something I started noticing at this point about the restaurant's service. It was very mechanic and most servers here looked very green and inexperienced. When our Kiyomizu set arrived, the server repeated the same line from the first server, that was to remind us to enjoy our appetizers from left to right. But what she didn't realize was the fact that she had the platter placed the other way around. Like I said, very mechanic like repeating something from a recorded message!

Our third set which was the Gion Set came with more or less the same cast, just a couple more snacks. For the grilled item, we opted for the grilled pork loin which was tender and juicy. Most importantly, the pork loin doesn't require a supplemental charge like salmon ($28), black cod ($88) or beef ($128) so I was quite happy with that.

Dessert was some Japanese sweets, which was followed by a bowl of green tea just like a traditional kaiseki meal.

I thought the food wasn't bad and the prices were reasonable considering it's housed under one of the premier shopping complex in town. The only thing that would have me thinking twice about coming back is service. And it's something I value very much from a dining experience.

Food Rating: 5.5/10
Price: $$$
Address: Shop 402,4/F, Ocean Centre, 5 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 3101-4981

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Gokfayuen 菊花園 (Bangkok, THAILAND) ★★★☆☆

Nobody has said it publicly yet but I could see from everyone's eyes that they are sick of Thai food after our recent run of the local cuisine right about now. Tonight, a change is pretty much a foregone conclusion; the million-dollar question is what (cuisine).

While I was still searching for answers, Jelloman took charge and requested Chinese food. Well, that would make all our elderly pretty happy at least for one night.

Located on the seventh floor of Helix Emquartier, Gokfayuen (菊花園) (Literally means "Chrysanthemum Garden) is a Hong Kong style wonton noodle place where we would be having dinner tonight.

Wonton noodle soup - With my relatively low expectation coming in, I thought this was pretty decent. The stringy noodles were nice and al dente. Even the wontons weren't bad. Only a little heavy-handed with the shrimp roes.

Stirred-noodles with chicken - Slightly more successful than the wonton noodles. The tender chicken fillets and ginger worked reasonably well together; and I have never been much of a fan for noodle soup to begin with.

Bottled milk tea - While the noodles tasted fine and authentic, it was their bottled milk tea that failed to obtain a passing score. I like the way Jelloman described it, "It tasted like soy milk"! That's exactly what it tasted like.

With that, our final supper in Bangkok is in the books. Hopefully, we will come back again next year when the temperature isn't in the high 30s. 

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ฿฿
Address: Shop Q7A-11, 7/F Helix Emquartier, 1357 Sukhumvit 35 Alley, Bangkok, Thailand
Closest BTS Station: Phrom Phong
Tel: +66 (0) 2003-6316

Audrey Café des Fleur at Emquartier (Bangkok, THAILAND) ★★☆☆☆

Audrey Café is an all-day casual dining café that offers Thai-European fare at different locations in Bangkok, more or less in the mold of Greyhound Café. Both cafes have very similar style of comfort food (think soup, salad, pasta with a Thai twist) and even the collection of desserts look very similar (mostly crepe cakes).

I have only had dessert at Audrey Café (at Central Embassy) before and I remembered they had a very good Thai milk tea crepe cake and a so-so milo one. That was 4 years ago and I think it's time for me to get re-acquainted with what they have to offer now.

Like Dazzling Cafe from Taiwan, Audrey also has their entire staff dressed in traditional French maid outfit. That was pretty cute.

This branch of Audrey at Emquartier called Audrey Café des Fleur looks a lot "younger" than the one at Central Embassy. They've added some lush green garden feel to make it more homey and down to earth.

Of course, they know exactly what they are famous for - their crepe cakes including flavors like Thai milk tea, milo and coconut.

The coconut flavor with rainbow colors is a limited-time-only special edition to celebrate their 7th anniversary.

Didn't know they also offer these cute-looking cupcakes too. But I'm not a fan...

Thai milk tea crepe cake - Somehow this tasted nothing like we had 4 years ago.

I still recalled its texture being very light and pillowy like those from Lady M but the layers of these crepes were really thick and most importantly, it was really bland.

Without the Thai milk tea ganache, I probably could never tell it's supposed to be flavored with Thai milk tea. Very disappointing!

Unicorn coconut crepe cake - The crepes again didn't have the perfect paper-thin thickness so I knew we were in trouble.

I thought the different colors means different flavors but honestly I just couldn't tell. Very one-dimensional, that's how I would put it (They need to try my favorite rainbow crepe cake from Billy Angel Cake in Seoul and learn something from there).

Food Rating: 4/10
Price: ฿฿฿
Address: Shop Q8A-2, 8/F Helix Emquartier, 1357 Sukhumvit 35 Alley, Bangkok, Thailand
Closest BTS Station: Phrom Phong
Tel: +66 (0) 2003-6244

Café Leitz by Pacamara (Bangkok, THAILAND) ★★★☆☆

The Durian Festival was running wild at Emquartier this weekend but I was looking for a quick bite rather than a buffet of fresh fruits. After checking out a number of places (harrod's and Pierre Hermé) without success, I decided to turn my attention to Café Leitz by Pacamara on the mezzanine floor of Helix Emquartier.

This is a collaboration between the Pacamara coffee empire and Leica, the luxurious German camera manufacturer and the result is this sleek and modern bakery café and coffee shop.

I didn't have time to sit down for a sip of coffee. I only managed to carve out enough time for a crispy croissant and there are some interesting ones right here. Apart from the more common flavors like almond, chocolate, sausage and, ham and cheese, they also serve up some artisanal croissants such as Thai tea charcoal and Ispahan (Both at 120 Baht).

Of course, the Thai tea charcoal croissant immediately caught my eyes considering how much of a Thai milk tea fan I am.

I thought this barely passed as a croissant (the cross section test wasn't bad). It's not flaky enough and there wasn't much Thai milk tea flavors in there other than the little bit of Thai milk tea flavored ganache oozing out from the middle. But that didn't come out until the very end.

I was a little surprised with the variety of non-coffee drinks offered here. Too bad we had to leave for dinner soon.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ฿฿฿
Address:  Shop QMA-6, M/F, Helix EmQuartier, 12 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Closest BTS Station: Phrom Phong
Tel: +66 (0) 2003-6068

Ben's Cookies (Bangkok, THAILAND) ★★★☆☆

After trying out different flavors of Ben's cookies in Singapore (April) and Seoul (March) this year, I think I am hooked to their soft and gooey cookies that have made them one of the most popular cookies out of UK.

Luckily, there's a branch of Ben's Cookies at Siam Paragon so I can ease my craving a bit during this trip.

I'm counting on these two flavors to brighten up my day.

Macadamia Nut and White Chocolate - A must at Ben's Cookies because of the deadly combination of macadamia and white chocolate. Very addictive as always.

Matcha and White chocolate Macadamia - I didn't see this flavor either in Seoul or Singapore.

This was more or less the same thing as the Macadamia Nut and White Chocolate cookie but it's been infused with matcha. Interesting how the flavors (of matcha and white chocolate) came out and matched each other perfectly. I didn't think I had this combo before.

I'm surprised they actually have a branch at the Don Mueang International Airport. Too bad we won't be communing through that airport for our flights back to Hong Kong.

Food Rating: 6/10
Price: ฿฿฿
Address: Siam Paragon, Floor G, 991/1 Rama 1 Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok, Thailand
Closest BTS Station: Siam
Tel: +66 (0) 2610-7539

Espresso at Intercontinental Bangkok (Bangkok, THAILAND) ★★☆☆☆

I don’t usually go for buffets during a trip because Hong Kong has arguably the best lunch and dinner buffets in the world. Why go anywhere else for it? But the moms are big-time buffet lovers (and we have 4 moms on our roster) and it’s Mother’s Day today, so I thought they should get what they want, at least for a day!

One of the things I noticed about the Sunday brunches in Bangkok is that, they ain’t cheap. I remembered them as some of the real bargains (Madison was my fav back then) but not anymore. After comparing a few top choices around, I decided to go with a middle of the line selection - Espresso at Intercontinental Hotel.

I recalled staying here about 15 years ago. Yeah, it has seen better days and sooner or later, they’ll find a way to tear this baby down and rebuild it from scratch.

Espresso is open 7 days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. On Sunday, they offer their Sunday brunch at 2,200 Baht. It’s international cuisine with a mix of Thai, Chinese and Italian dishes and free flow of juices and soft drinks.

This place is huge! They need to somehow fill it up again...

A live band.....

The seafood bar is probably the best place to start off the buffet, with different kinds of oysters, Alaskan crabs, spiny lobsters and more.

I got myself some spiny lobsters, tiger prawns and crab. Not bad.

Each guest also got half of a lobster. For that price, I thought lobsters should’ve been part of the seafood bar!

Apart from their reasonably good seafood bar, I thought the pan-seared foie gras was pretty good as well. These were served with a balsamic vinegar sauce and mango purée.

Other than those, I’m afraid it started to go downhill.

The grill station was boring.

Didn’t try the Sunday roasts coz the roasted beef looked a little dry and rubbery.

Our little nugget had the pasta which was cooked on the spot with mushroom and tomato sauce. Decent.

For a Sunday brunch of this caliber (and in Bangkok where they’re famous for their abundance of great fruits), the fruit section had to be considered a major disappointment. I thought the breakfast at our hotel offered more selection than this!

The dessert bar offered small bite-sized sweets as well as slices of cakes. It’s much better than their fruit section, that’s for sure.

I had a couple of slices of this coffee cream cake. Not bad.

One of the pleasant surprises of this meal was actually the all-you-can-eat mango sticky rice. They offered three types of sticky rice, original, purple glutinous rice and one flavored with pandan.

As I said right off the get-go, soft drinks and juices were included but there’s an upgrade available for those who wanted free flow of champagne and wine.

After all the taxes and surcharges, the bill amounted to about 3,000 Baht per head. That’s a lot of money considering the selection and quality of food that we were getting. I guess I would much prefer to spend it in Hong Kong where the price is more or less the same but I know I will get premium food quality with exemplary cooking techniques. But this is Mother’s day and since all the moms wanted buffet, I was happy to comply. Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. I hope this group of moms enjoyed this meal. Now, I just had to settle this bill before heading to CentralWorld again to burn the dying hours of the trip.

Afterthought: For anyone visiting from Hong Kong, think twice about having buffets and Sunday Brunch in Bangkok because you will likely regret it.

Food Rating: 4.5/10
Price: ฿฿฿฿
Address: 2/F Intercontinental Hotel Bangkok, 973 Phloen Chit Road, Khwaeng Lumphini, Bangkok, Thailand
Closest BTS Station: Phloen Chit
Tel: +66 (0) 2656-0444