Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong

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Checking Out Check-In Taipei

Hollywood Road is getting a bit of a face-lift with all these new establishments and latest on the radar is contemporary Taiwanese joint Check-In Taipei, which opened a little over two months ago. When I think of Taiwanese cuisine I immediately think of you tiao (Chinese dough stick) , soya bean milk, fan tuan (sticky rice roll), sesame noodles and NIGHT MARKET FOOD- basically all the food I usually scoff my face with when I go to Taipei. But Check-In Taipei’s menu is a tad more sophisticated than that, with some of Taiwan’s classic dishes undergoing an inventive spin.

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Photo courtesy of BD girl!

Inside Check-In Taipei’s narrow space, the decoration is relatively minimalist with clean lines, dark furniture and a long bar where you can sip on their signature cocktails and share plates with friends. There is also a takeaway window for those on the go, a great idea to retain some of the Taiwanese street food charm and makes this establishment appear more accessible to the masses.  Leung Nga Fong, whose CV boasts working at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Amber and Taiwanese ‘drink architect’ Shin Chiu, have successfully created an attractive menu and there are a few dishes which definitely capture the eye.

But, there are some buts to this tale.

When four of us paid a visit one evening, it was to celebrate a birthday, a fact that was subtly relayed when the booking was made. Not that we expected anything but possibly a little candle wedged on top on of our desserts (which actually happened, hooray!), but what I did expect, as one should from any restaurant really, is decent service, and there isn’t anything much worse than a birthday celebration marred by wearily making the same simple request over and over and over again, seeing your dessert get dropped, (more on that later) or the credit card transaction getting mixed up. Luckily the birthday girl, whose sweet nature is rarely riled up, didn’t mind too much.

Before I get caught up in my grumblings, I must say that the food itself was quite enjoyable. The menu is split into a few sections- some interesting bite-sized appetisers, vegetables, classic dishes with a twist and desserts.

Chicken and Waffles, one of their signature dishes, immediately caught our attention. The night market favourite of salty, crispy chicken that the Taiwanese do so very well, has been transformed into a fancy little thing at CIT. Mounted atop mini waffles with accompanying pineapple chutney and balsamic maple syrup, it looked delightful. The chicken was succulent, the skin crisp, but the waffle was unfortunately slightly sodden from the syrup and I didn’t detect the pineapple chutney.

Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

Next, we had the Oyster Duet- homemade oyster soup served with a crispy oyster croquette (the oysters were fried with oyster sauce, Chinese chives and onion then mixed with mashed potatoes). This again, was a unique take on the oyster pancake and I have to say I liked this dish the most. The soup was a wonderfully warm and comforting oyster version of a clam chowder, and the croquettes were fluffy and light. I also loved the presentation- the soup being served from a teapot with tea cup. How very Asian chic!Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

Oyster Duet

We followed this up with their Gua Bao with two different fillings- braised pork belly with spicy sweet bean sauce and crunchy spiced eggplant with spicy bean paste and sweet chili mayo. The pork belly was good but to my surprise, I preferred the eggplant. It was spot on with its aromatic condiments and still firm texture.

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- spicy eggplant

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

Gua Bao- braised pork belly

It was around this point of the meal that we had begun to notice a couple of service failings, namely, a complete failure to collect any finished plates and dishes without us calling their attention, failure to then pick up the empty dishes even when pointed at, (the waitress in fact smiled sweetly several times with a little giggle and then promptly walked off!) and a bizarre aversion to filling up our glasses with water. At one point I was tempted to walk over to the bar where I could see the water jugs, and just help myself. The aversion to topping up water continued for the rest of the night; I counted that between my friend and I we had asked the manager at least 5 times and waited a good 20 minutes before any water finally arrived. The place is tiny, “I CAN SEE WHERE YOU ARE GOING AND IT ISN’T TOWARDS THE WATER!!”, I yelled in my head at the staff. Exasperation.

Anyway, our savouries continued with the Seven Layered Rice, a prettier, compact version of the Taiwanese braised pork pork rice (滷肉飯, Lu Rou Fan) which is one of my all time favourites. Whilst the flavours were all there and the egg was nice and soft, I would have liked more sauce. It was also served in a bloody difficult receptacle- a glass cup. It was a mess. Rice bits falling everywhere on the table trying to dig down through all the layers and in order to spoon a serving on our own plates. As I had then come to expect, the rice mess was not cleaned up either when the plates were eventually cleared. (I sound like a right moaner here!)Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

Seven-Layered Rice

We were most intrigued by their Ping Pong dish- four balls of purple yam with a mochi and parmesan cheese filling which are deep fried at low heat to attain a crispy outside and a chewy inside. This recreation of the traditional sweet potato balls is a great concept, and we especially liked their presentation on a ping pong bat but something was missing. The mochi was nicely chewy and the filling itself was tasty, but somehow this combination fell flat and certainly raised a few quizzical brows in the group.

Ping Pong

Ping Pong

The Fish’N’Squid Sticks with flying fish roe served with chili mayo and sweet plum sauce was strange. The consistency can only be described as squidgy and whatever the batter was sprinkled with, was too sweet to make this dish work. I also couldn’t detect the fish roe anywhere. Great chili mayo though.

Fish'N'Squid Sticks

Fish’N’Squid Sticks

Our last savoury was the Mushroom Forest and this was excellent. Four types of mushrooms, shiitake, white, portobello and reishi are sautéed in truffle cream and then for an added touch, fried mushrooms, lightly battered in potato starch are in the mix to create a nice textural contract. Best bit is the gorgeous onsen egg which bound all the flavours together wonderfully once smashed in.

Mushroom Forest

Mushroom Forest

To end, we ordered both the desserts on offer- the Taro cheesecake and the Yin Yang- marshmallow honey toast with black sesame paste. So this is a funny story…actually not that funny when it happened; the waiter, as he was just about to serve the Yin Yang toast to us, tilted the plate at such an angle to put it down that it was quite easy for all to see that this was going to be a disaster. CIT seems to choose the oddest plates to serve their food on, and toast on a flat plate, is BOUND TO SLIP OFF, especially if waiters are dashing in and out balancing stuff. And so, we see our toast promptly slide off and land face down with a loud PLOP on the dirty, rice strewn table. Mouths agape and sharp intakes of breath later, the waiter, for a nanosecond, looked like he was prepared to flip it over and serve it anyway. We sharply looked at him with a Don’t you dare! glare and thankfully he turned around and got us a fresh piece of toast. By the way, the toast was very satisfying, just be prepared to catch it in mid-air if you order it. The table, incidentally, got a perfunctory wipe later.

Yin Yang Toast

Yin Yang Toast

The taro cheesecake was dense, dense, dense. But we didn’t care as it came with a candle and our birthday girl was happy!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Birthday Taro cheesecake!

Taro cheesecake

Taro cheesecake

There was also a bill fiasco, but I have no strength to go into that. Suffice to say, the food just about saves this review from being a total whiny account  and whilst there are a couple of misses, I do think that the food is enjoyable and the prices reasonable. I do recommend that if you go you keep your service expectations on the low side. Let’s just hope they improve ASAP.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5


Check-In Taipei, 27 Hollywood Rd, Central, Tel: 2351 2622


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Estates & Wines “Flavours Asia” Free iPad App and Coffee Table Book Giveaway

Since the creation of the blog, nothing has got me more excited and chuffed than to be invited to events and schmooze with fellow foodie and drink enthusiasts. A few of these events have not only made me a happy, satiated bunny, but also a more knowledgeable one. I love learning new facts and learning more about F&B is so much fun, which explains why the Travel and Living channel is constantly on at home. I am such a nerd.

Anyway, there is a point to this spiel! I was lucky to be invited by Moët Hennessy Asia Pacific to experience the new Estates & Wines iPad app at a launch event, which was a wine pairing dinner with Cantonese fare at Island Tang. Moët Hennessy Estates & Wines Collection has created a free iPad app called “Flavours Asia”, based on their coffee table book, A Heavenly Wine Match with The Flavours of Asia.I’ll be the first to admit that up till earlier this year, I knew nuts about wine. Nuts = nada, nothing. Wine generally causes me to speak gibberish and adopt the colour of a fire engine truck,  so I had taken to avoiding learning anything about wine as I couldn’t drink enough of it to appreciate it! However, after a session earlier this year with a sommelier that got me stonking sloshed as well, I’m a bit more clued up.This event was perfect to add to my growing wine knowledge base. But what does this swanky new iPad app do exactly? It helps clueless lemmings like myself, to pair different wines (from the Moët Hennessy range), with a variety of dishes from existing Asian restaurants in different countries. So, that means, if you decide to visit a particular restaurant and you’ve ordered, let’s say, a Thai red curry, you can simply navigate through the app and find the recommended wine. Wine pairing headache solved!It is notoriously difficult, so I’m told/hear/experienced myself, to pair wine successfully with Asian cuisine, simply because there are just too many different dishes and too many flavours.

This app is brilliant. It’s comprehensive, looks cool and it’s easy to navigate. On the front page, you can browse through articles on restaurants, wine trends, vineyards and there’s a spread on sommeliers. The sophisticated looking man featured on the Sommelier Spotlight, nosing a glass a wine, is none other than Arnaud Mirey, the brand ambassador, who was also at the event and excellently guided us through the wine pairings. You’ll find three categories- Pairings with Wine, Pairings with Food and Brand stories, which gives you background information on the vineyards.

The Pairings with Wine page is pretty as you get pictures of the wine bottles to click on! You can browse through them by taste, grapes, wine colour, country brand and awards. The Pairings of Food category is quite exciting. You can search via Cuisine (there are 12 countries that contribute: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines), Flavours, (sour, salty, spicy, savoury, sweet), or Ingredients, (pork, noodles, shrimp etc).Pages on individual dishes tells you how the dish is prepared and gives you the recommended wine.If you’re looking at individual wines, the page gives you ratings and reviews, tasting notes and recommended dishes.

There’s a helpful map that shows you the location of the restaurants in a particular country and also where you can buy your wine from. A few things need to be tweaked and added to the app, such as linking the dishes to the restaurants, and adding more restaurants, but that is a work in progress!

Unfortunately, yours truly doesn’t have the iPad to even use this app, but if you have one, then click here, to download it for free! It’s only available for the iPad at the moment, but here’s hoping it will launched for Android and iPhone.

If you’re like me and are iPad-less, I am doing a fabulous giveaway of the BOOK VERSION- “The Flavours of Asia”. It’s a beautiful book with oodles of information and loads more detail on wine and food pairings recommendations. Obviously, if you can’t get your mitts on the wines recommended, you will still have the general gist of what would go well, so go forth and try out other wines.Many thanks to Moët Hennessy for inviting me to the event and for generously letting me have four copies of the book to give away!

I will be giving the books to HK residents ONLY.

All you need to do is:

1) Email me at chopstixfix AT with the heading FLAVOURS ASIA, and tell me

a) Why you need the coffee table book (be imaginative please- for my amusement 😛 )

b) Which Asian dish you would most like to pair a wine with.

2) When you’ve done that, please go to my Facebook page and “Like” if you haven’t already, and write a post on my page saying “I LOVE WINE” 🙂

The first 15 people to successfully complete the above, will be entered into a random draw, and 4 names will be drawn out of a hat (literally!). I will notify the winners by email and sort out the collection.

If you would like to buy the book from Moët Hennessy, I think it’s around $250, and you can email me and I’ll get back to you with the relevant contact.

Details from the night of the event to come soon!


Excremental “delights” (don’t poo poo it before you go)

Modern Toilet is now closed.

I’m all for “unique” dining experiences. I’ve eaten at Dans Le Noir, the “blind” restaurant in Clerkenwell, London, where diners eat in pitch darkness and hopefully experience a heightened sense of smell, hearing and taste whilst being robbed of the predominant sense of sight. I found myself stabbing myself in the chin, missing my mouth, poking my friends in the eye and completely ignoring the food as I attempted to throw bread rolls at my friend’s head (don’t think my aim was accurate).

So I was intrigued but also repulsed by the concept of eating out of toilets (not real ones in the lavatory obviously, you sicko!), drinking out of urinals and eating turd shaped icecream at the Modern Toilet Restaurant.The Modern Toilet Restaurant originates from Taiwan, and has, as you may have guessed, a toilet theme. As R and I were ushered to our table, I gazed around in amazement at the bathroom sinks parading as tables, the toilets acting as seats and showers doing their bit as decoration. It was all very surreal. What was more surreal was seeing a display cabinet of toilet paraphenalia and then a gigantic cuddly (if you can cuddle something like this without vomiting) pink turd with flies on it. Hmmmm.I’m not really going to talk about the food. There are a million other more exciting and delicious meals to eat in HK but if you’re up for a laugh and want to sit on a toilet whilst eating a bowl of ramen then this is the place for you.

The menu is nothing special, just ramen and curry sets but the novelty is eating out of mini ceramic squat toilets. There was something quite unsanitary about slurping my kiwi drink out of a bright blue urinal, but I must admit that the presentations of the Japanese pork cutlets and the BBQ pork in milky broth were borderline cute.To end off, R and I shared the “Marten No.2 Strawberry flavour” shaved ice and icecream sundae which was ginormous and for future reference, should probably be shared amongst 4. There was a charming turd shaped chocolate icecream perched atop a wafer and a lot of random sweets hidden in the ice. I hear the Mong Kok branch is better decorated but to be perfectly honest, the novelty wore off mid-way through my pork cutlet meal. But go check it out, sit on the bog and then bog off 😛

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

4/5 for the novelty and decoration, although I felt like I was in the bathroom section of B&Q the whole time

Modern Toilet Restaurant, 4th Floor Capitol Centre 5-19 Jardines Bazaar, Causeway Bay (above Watson’s, exit F). Tel: 2895 6288