Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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If You Go Down To The Woods Today

And I’m back! After my Nood experience (let’s NOT relive that again), I had a few pig-out sessions and a night out on the town drinking cocktails to make up for losing several days’ worth of calories. Then I upped and left for London for a couple weeks, hence, you have been subjected to my juice cleanse post for a while- sorry!

I don’t think I have ever done a full-scale post on drinking, mostly because I have the dreaded Asian flush which strikes after 1 drink and therefore have a pathetic tolerance towards alcohol, but I make an exception for this post on The Woods. This relatively new bar in Central can be found off Hollywood Road, down a dainty, invitingly lit flight of steps. One sleek sliding door later, and into The Woods you step- all decked out in wood and marble. The whole interior is quite striking and one certainly gets the impression of nature and foliage. I have been back a few times now, and whenever I visit, I always feel like I’m holed up in a sophisticated, yet comforting wooden barn.

A peep through the woods

A peep through the woods

The bar display

The bar display

The Woods opened back in July and is the brainchild of the three Chow sisters, but the youngest, Victoria, is the lovely lady responsible for the food and drink. The cocktail bar is split into two distinct areas- the lounge and the Prix-Fixe Bar, which seats eight and needs prior booking. The interesting concept behind The Woods, is that the cocktails are themselves the culinary art, so if you’re in search of a pint of beer, don’t go here!

The photos that I have for this post were from back in August(!), so some of the seasonal cocktails may no longer be there, and the Prix-Fixe menu I would think is changing very very soon, but I’m sure that you will find a drink that tickles your fancy. The words market-fresh, seasonal and artisanal sum up the core principles of The Woods.

From the a la carte, I tried The Caprese ($120), which was basically a salad in a glass. As someone who can’t take the taste of strong booze, this was rather perfect- light on the Tito’s Vodka, and heavier on the fresh tomato water. I love sour and salty things, and the combination of aged balsamic vinegar with the vodka, tomato water, Himalayan pink salt and black lava salt rim was highly enjoyable to the point where I was half drunk by the end of it. In addition, the cocktail itself was pretty to look at, bursting with colour from the cherry tomatoes.

The Caprese

The Caprese

The Caprese The Caprese

I took a sip of someone’s Watermelon Cilantro, (that’s coriander for the Brits among us), and was pleasantly surprised my palate wasn’t assailed by the cilantro flavour, which I’m not normally a fan of.

Watermelon Cilantro

Watermelon Cilantro

The biggest surprise for me was their Oak Whiskey Sour, which was finely balanced and had a lovely hint of a smokey flavour. This was a surprising drink because I usually really dislike whiskey, (I can trace this dislike back to uni days of cheap whiskey shots and feeling very unwell afterwards), and not only did I think it was tasty, but I think I might have been converted! But only at The Woods will I drink this, I will proceed with caution at all other, as yet untested establishments.

Oak Whiskey Sour

Oak Whiskey Sour

So what about the Prix-Fixe menu? For hardcore drinkers who like arty drinks and enjoy 4 courses of alcohol with very small nibbles. People with Asian flush, will start to feel very drunk 1 course in- yep, yours truly was pretty merry at the end and needed to go to Tsui Wah for noodles; no judgement please.

The Prix-Fixe menu is creative, interesting and definitely unique in Hong Kong. For $688 per person for 4 courses, (essentially 4 drinks), this may be a little pricey, and I for one, prefer the a la carte, but that’s because I normally can’t take 4 drinks in a row anyway!

The menu we had started with the Basil Smash (Sipsmith Gin and Thai and Sweet Basils), which was fun as we got to smash a hollowed ice sphere with a little hammer to release the cocktail. This was served with watermelon and feta cheese on the side. Next, we had the Bacon Bourbon Luge for mains. This was STRONG. I’m not a bourbon drinker, and I admit, I was way more interested in the accompanying roasted bone marrow (delicious by the way). However, this bacon infused bourbon was smooth and I like the savoury taste. I completely failed to use the bone marrow as a luge to pour the cocktail in my mouth as I was starting to feel tipsy at this point!

Basil Smash

Basil Smash

Bacon Bourbon Luge

Bacon Bourbon Luge

For dessert there was the Absinthe Floss. This was messy. Instead of the traditional absinthe served poured over a sugar cube, The Woods replaced the cube with candy floss. This was far too strong for me. To end, our Digestif was a Tanqueray Gin and Jasmine tea infusion with lemongrass, galangal and lemon peel. Like a hot toddy, this was warming but not aromatic enough for me and the gin was overpowering. Not sure if this combination really works in its favour.

Absinthe Floss

Absinthe Floss

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Tea Infusion

Before I forget, we also tried their fries from the a la carte nibbles section. One word- addictive.

The Woods' Fries

The Woods’ Fries

I’m happy to see a concept cocktail bar like The Woods spring up in Hong Kong, and it’s refreshing to have a place to go for consistently well-made drinks. I didn’t mention mocktails, but one of my favourites is the Virgin Galangal Mojito which is delicious. And now that I’m a whiskey sour convert and a few friends have also given it their nod of approval, I think The Woods will be a regular haunt (alongside The Envoy, which is another go-to), for my friends and I, who aren’t hardcore liquor-lovers but who definitely appreciate the delicate touch with cocktails.

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Virgin Galangal Mojito

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 for decor, ambience, good mocktails, their fries and that whiskey sour

The Woods, L/G, 17 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong Tel: +852 2522 0281 http://www.thewoods.hk

The Prixe-Fixe tasting was by invitiation. Many thanks to The Woods for a fun evening!

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Five Guys, Two Girls and a Sex Shop

It could be one or the other or a combination of all three- either I’ve gone senile, my lasered eyes are finally failing or London is changing faster than a quick change artist, but I swear that half the restaurants in the city are new since I was last home in February. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but it does make me feel that I am missing out on the smorgasbord of restaurants that has descended upon London. So it’s fortunate that on this three week break that I’ve taken, that my friends have been determined to fat feed me as much as possible.

One fine day last week, my friend S and I had the hilariously un-pc The Book of Mormon to look forward to at the theatre, but before we immersed ourselves in the world of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints, S took me to the artery-clogging Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Long Acre.

While you wait you can munch on monkey nuts at the door, or, like some people I spied, tut tut, take a whole bagful on the way out. You can have a normal hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger and then you can stuff as many free toppings as you like in between the buns. Clearly I went for the bacon cheeseburger and bit off more than I could chew haha as I asked for at least 6 toppings. You can go for the little burgers, but that just seemed like the wimpy option. They also serve hotdogs and sandwiches, but for us, it was burgers all the way. The American diner approach is also to have unlimited refills of your drink, which I can never take full advantage of  but we entertained ourselves by trying squirts of different Fanta flavours.

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web again!

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web!

Word of advice: order small fries. Do not think you can finish the regular fries between two people because you will be eating till the cows come home- ahh the puns. There were chips coming out of my ears by the end of the meal. But how was the burger? Monstrous. I loved the coarse grind of the juicy beef patty and although it was a messy affair, I enjoyed my Five Guys experience. Even if it took us nearly 45 minutes to get through it. The only trouble is the bun does get rather soggy from all the juices, especially if you have one too many toppings. But I would go back again. Perhaps I will share with someone next time- for my arteries’ sake.

Bacon cheeseburger

Bacon cheeseburger

20131016_131257IMG_7455After waddling to see The Book of Mormon, which was side-splittingly entertaining- thoroughly recommend it to everyone, we stopped for a sophisticated tea break and mini Austrian strudels at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Love having tea out of their gorgeous silver teapots.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Mini Austrian Strudel

Mini Austrian Strudel

Tea at The Parlour

Tea at The Parlour

And then we came to the slightly eyebrow raising part of the day- dinner at La Bodega Negra, near Leicester Square. S remarked to me, “This place is quite hard to find….because it doesn’t have a sign and it looks like a sex shop from the outside. So this could be potentially embarrassing.” I didn’t really know what to think. Were we going to end up wandering into some sort of bondage shop and end up eating off tied up patrons? We couldn’t look more clueless or lost when we got to Moor Street and shuffled nervously around the general vicinity of a sex shop- bright neon lights saying “Peep show”. When we realised that we were in fact at the right door- it says, “Private Dance Downstairs” and “COME” in red neon lights, (I confess I sniggered), we walked through and down some stairs, only to be greeted by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit. Cue nervous hand twitching, until the helpful lady at the desk confirmed our booking for 7 people. Phew.

La Bodega Negro Entrance

La Bodega Negro Entrance

Fancy a peep?

Fancy a peep?

It’s dark inside. Very dark. Stone walls and arches evoke images of dungeons and handcuffs, though I suppose that is the point. The atmosphere is vibrant and palpable and there is a dark allure to the whole set-up that I enjoyed. Ushered into our seats, we squinted and nearly lost an eyeball trying to make out the menu until I blinded everyone with my phone torchlight. The food served is Mexican comfort, with tacos, ceviche, tostadita and salads, as well as main dishes such as slow roasted lamb and chicken mole. We decided to share a mixture of everything but skip the mains in favour of cocktails.

The starters were surprisingly good. Their guacamole with sesame tostadas was quite beautiful- rich, creamy and chunky and had the right amount of lime juice to give it a clean taste. The Quesadilla Rustica- a toasted flour tortilla with four cheeses and roasted tomato was delicious and had a lovely crispy edge.

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Quesadilla Rustica

Quesadilla Rustica

We loved their quinoa salad with grilled courgette and the textured roasted corn salad, which had a light piquancy from the Serrano chili. We tried two Ceviche dishes- the mixed seafood (squid, prawn and octopus)- excellent dressing, and the Spicy yellow fin tuna which was gloriously chunky and had a wonderful citrus-fruity tang from the Guajillo chili.

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad

One can’t go to a Mexican without having tacos, so we went full pelt and ordered the pork belly, lamb, soft shell crab and the char roasted mushroom (we had a vegetarian in our group who was immensely happy with the veggie options). The soft shell crab and the pork belly were the winners, though I am still questioning whether two tiny tacos for £8.50- crab and £6.50 for the rest, is strictly worth it.

Soft shell crab taco

Soft shell crab taco

Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.

Churros

Churros

Portions are a bit on the stingy side, the prices too high to make you feel you can be completely satisfied and the salads in no way feed 6 people, despite the waitress’ insistence when we were ordering, but, I don’t think people come here for the food. The cool, underground vibe is the attraction, the cocktails are excellent and the amusement of being next to a shop that sells adult videos and seeing grown men accidentally go to La Bodega Negra on the way out are definite pluses however, but I’m not sure I would go back other than to feel hip whilst sipping a Tijuana Whore. Another negative is that when S phoned to book, she was told that they do not normally allow same sex groups to dine and there usually needs to be a mix of males and females to secure a booking, which is the biggest load of BS that I have ever heard. Thankfully our friend’s husband turned up. Hmmm.

And so we left, walking past the mannequin dressed in PVC and lingered with wild abandon in front of the sex shop before trotting off home.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1-3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH.

$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

Apologies for quality of La Bodega Negro photos- massive headache trying to take anything in pitch darkness at a tiny table crammed with dishes.


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Aberdeen Street Ascension

It doesn’t take a genius to work out where this latest restaurant is. It does however, take some sturdy thigh muscles to trek up this street to reach it, a street which usually induces a wrinkling of my nose whenever I need to walk up it. However, for the love of a pretty outdoor terrace, cool decor, (think gigantic bottles of tequila- fake unfortunately, and contemporary art) and a chance to eat away from the madding crowd, Aberdeen Street could become a few people’s new favourite haunt.

Aberdeen Street

Aberdeen Street

 By kind invitation, my friend and I went to check it out one evening a couple of weeks back and after sweating like a pig from our mini-hike, declined the offer to sit on the terrace for fear of ending up like a puddle, reminiscent of Senator Kelly in the first X-men film *geek moment*. After taking up a table near the front, we got a good look at the sweet, compact space decked out in sea blue and tan hues. A bar area and the giant tequila bottles are the decorative features and creates a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.IMG_7347 IMG_7331 IMG_7333

The menu is quite extensive and has a good selection of starters, salads, meats and sharing plates. Croquettes are always so enticing, probably because they are so easy to eat and pop-in-your-mouth parcels of fun when done well, and their Vegetarian croquettes of rice balls with carrots and mushrooms were a tasty start. Up next were a dozen Australian oysters which were fresh, fleshy and filling but I would say go easy on the oysters and get a half dozen if you intend to eat more and there’s only two of you!

Vegetarian croquettes

Vegetarian croquettes

Australian oysters

Australian oysters

Aberdeen Street highly recommends their monster Soho salads which are all quaintly named after various streets in Soho. The Old Bailey Street salad intrigued us with its various ingredients- chilli prawn, red and green peppers, Feta cheese, cucumber, watermelon and lettuce. It was crisp, light and our chosen dressing, the ‘Aberdeen Street’ vinaigrette did not drown out the refreshing watermelon.

Old Bailey Street salad

Old Bailey Street salad

The Meat Touch was quite the show-stopper and definitely encourages parties to embrace the ‘Sharing Spirit’ that it is labelled under on the menu. Grilled back ribs, mini beef burgers made with grilled steak tartare, foie gras rècme brûlée, cornichons, pate de campagne, cold cuts and sauteed potatoes fill the eyes before the stomach. The ribs were disappointing, overly grilled and so were tough to pull apart from the bone. The mini burgers were rather nice, but I wasn’t sure about the patties being made from steak tartare specifically, as I couldn’t tell the difference between that and a normal patty. The foie gras creme brulee was smooth and delicious with cornichons and the extremely moreish potatoes.IMG_7358 IMG_7359

The Meat Touch

The Meat Touch

IMG_7357

To end we had their vanilla Crème brûlée which would have been good if it weren’t for the too charred caramelised sugar on top which left half of my mouthfuls with a burnt aftertaste. The custard itself was pleasantly sweet but this could have been executed far better.

Crème brûlée

Crème brûlée

Aberdeen Street has good service, the manager Morgan, is attentive and helpful and as mentioned, the ambience is laid-back and chilled. There is also a good brunch offering on the weekends with free-flow booze from 12pm to 3pm ($348), eggs done any way you like and ‘Total Recovery’ dishes for those hangovers. The food was a bit hit and miss, but I do think that with time this could become something worth making a visit to, even with that bloody steep climb.

 Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Aberdeen Street, UG/F King Ho Building, 41-49 Aberdeen Street, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2546 5833. contact@aberdeenstreet.com.hk

This was by kind invitation- thank you Aberdeen Street for having us!


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Enomod- Social Dining in HK

“Social dining” is a seemingly new term that has sprung up. This concept of eating to socialise and to connect with others should not be a novel philosophy in our society, given that social dining dates back to Ancient Greek times, but now, it has had a modern face-lift of sorts. Like anything in HK, once a concept has taken hold, it becomes the island’s obsession for a while and I can see that social dining will be two words bandied about for the next year by those who want to wax lyrical about dining values, connecting with food and the like. Frankly speaking, it is not much different from having dim sum with your family or sharing plates of tapas, but I suppose actually uttering the words “social dining” is meant to have some sort of profound effect on the way we approach eating with our nearest and dearest or even strangers. Anyway, before I get carried away with the philosophy of eating, (I am having one of those deep thinking days), I will cut to the chase and give my thoughts on new Mediterranean restaurant Enomod.Enomod

Dining area

Dining area

Enomod is the amalgamation of the words Enoteca Moderna, thus reflecting this idea of ‘connection’. Enoteca Moderna represents a form of social dining that emerged in 1930s America and this establishment seeks to blend all areas of wining and dining with several different zones. Taking over the sprawling space that Entourage once inhabited, a lounge area, communal dining tables, a bar, wine corner, charcuterie and cocktail lounge now take its place.

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

The areas are well put together, with plush, comfy chairs and hints of art deco in the lounge section, plain white chairs and dining tables in the social dining zone and darker, night-scene colours and lighting for the bar. The wine barrels in the ‘wine area’ give Enomod a sweet, Italian provincial feel, yet the overall artistry of the place has very much a Great Depression vibe, especially with the copper fixtures adding that little bit of extra character.

Wine area

Wine area

Bar area

Bar area

As it was a friend’s birthday, we decided that there was no better way of celebrating with pals than embracing the social dining concept of Enomod. So it was on a Saturday night that ten of us found ourselves occupying one of the communal tables and perusing the menu of Social Dining and Canteen Selection dishes. As a glutton who hangs with gluttons, it seemed sensible to order almost 80% of the menu and get two of each dish, just to make sure we had most of the bases covered. The Social Dining menu is split into Wood, Stone, Copper and Ceramics, denoting the material of the serving dishes onto which the food is served. We started with the Mezze Platter of crackers, eggplant and hummus dip from the Ceramic selection, which was served on a wooden paddle, (minor detail but get your materials correct!). The eggplant dip was slightly piquant but subtle and the hummus light. Nothing unique, but was a pleasant appetiser.

Mezze platter

Mezze platter

We ordered a daily special- the Balsamic beef stew which was tender and well marinated, though more sauce would have been great. The balsamic reduction was a nice balance of acid and sweet and our party were quite happy with our first shared plate.

Balsamic beef stew

Balsamic beef stew

Next up, the Roasted Seabass from the Stone section made an appearance and this was excellent. The fish was succulent and I loved the light seasoning and coating of the herbs which allowed the seabass flavours to shine through.

Roasted seabass

Roasted seabass

Our Citrus scented Crispy Prawns (Ceramics) were lacking the citrus edge I was looking for and the batter was slightly too thick. They were still appetising but somehow the accompanying mayonnaise was the bit I was more interested in as I ended up with more mayo per bite of prawn.

Citrus scented crispy prawns

Citrus scented crispy prawns

The zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata (a traditional aubergine stew) was absolutely delish, not least because I have not had haloumi in yonks, apart from one night out many moons ago when a couple of us visited Beyrouth Cafe and had haloumi kebabs. The saltiness of the cheese was a delectable complement to the sour-sweetness of the caponata.

Zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata

Zucchini, fig and haloumi rolls with Sicilian caponata

The highlight of the menu was the 6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust. The lamb was moist and that perfect pink in colour and I loved the textural dimension that the pistachio crust gave. The cheesy wafers were a hit too, shame there were not more!

6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust

6 hour lamb rump with pistachio crust

It was following this dish that a few of the next offerings became less impressive. The Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips were tasty enough but nowhere near as tender as the balsamic beef stew. The Couscous Bouillabaisse was flavourful, the squid, fish and clams were fresh but I would have enjoyed a tad more bouillabaisse broth over the couscous. The worst dish of the night were the Blue Mussels with white wine sauce which, much to our chagrin, were not fresh. I have not had much luck with mussels of late, and it was really disappointing to find that our bowl of molluscs had gone bad. I managed two, a few friends had a couple each, and we unanimously agreed that we needed to give up on the mussels. The white wine sauce was however, quite flavoursome.

Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips

Cinnamon beef tenderloin tips

Couscous Bouillabaisse

Couscous Bouillabaisse

Blue Mussels

Blue Mussels

We tried two of their pastas- the Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest, which was nicely al dente and fairly spicy (some may find it a little too fiery to appreciate the lovely citrus tang) and the Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce which was delicious but, as with all carbonaras, became too rich to fully appreciate, especially after all the above dishes.

Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest

Penne with Chorizo and Cherry and orange zest

Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce

Tagliatelle with Walnut Carbonara Sauce

Spanish Tortilla is my litmus test for any restaurant that offers it, as it is simple but seems strangely difficult to master as I have not had any tortillas that have really satisfied me in HK except for the ones at Fofo by el Willy and Tapeo. I am a little hard to please in this area as my various travels in Spain have given me a high benchmark to compare to but still, a girl can hope! Sadly, while Enomod’s fancy-looking Spanish tortilla was presented lovingly (I would prefer it if they just served Spanish tortilla in one dish rather than cutting it up!), the taste just was not there.

Spanish Tortilla

Unsurprisingly, their sauteed broccoli and pancetta side-dish was a complete hit with our table. Anything with bacon gets the thumbs-up from us!

Sauteed broccoli and pancetta

Sauteed broccoli and pancetta

Desserts were where Enomod became more interesting. We tried all of them- the Absinth Spicy Tiramisu, Ricotta Cheesecake with crushed pistachio and candied orange peel and the Pumpkin Crumble Godmother-Style with Amaretto Bisquiti.

Absinth Spicy Tiramisu

Absinth Spicy Tiramisu

Ricotta cheesecake

Ricotta cheesecake

The Absinth infused tiramisu definitely piqued my curiosity and we were all expecting it to pack a wallop but I was pleasantly surprised by the subtlety of the absinthe. The Ricotta cheesecake was my favourite. The cheesecake was light and nutty and the biscuit base and orange zest made it moreish. The pumpkin crumble can only be described as a scrumptious, adult version of baby food.

Pumpkin crumble

Pumpkin crumble

Dining at Enomod was an enjoyable experience and the birthday girl had fun. While the food was decent, I could not say that anything in particular wowed me for the price (it came to $480 per person including wine) and the mussels tainted the meal somewhat. We would have said something but we too far along the meal to make a fuss. However, as far as socialising is concerned, Enomod does its job but I think it could benefit from a warmer ambience in the dining area. The stark chairs and tables did nothing to generate a cosy atmosphere, but the absinthe tiramisu certainly left a warm feeling in my stomach.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Enomod HK, 1/F, 1-5 Elgin Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2555 6065, www.facebook.com/Enomod