Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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All Good Things Must Come to an End- Please Sir, Any Mo Food?

This will be brief. Because, sadly, this lovely, compact private kitchen, hidden in what feels like an abandoned building in Kwun Tong of all places, is closing down at the end of this month, i.e. this weekend. This is really a crying shame as 1) I only just discovered it, and 2) the food is really good. But I’ve been told that the owners have been struggling to keep up with cooking their amazing array of dishes and it is time to retire their skills. I could definitely see why they have decided to make this difficult decision to close Any Mo Food Private Kitchen as their menu the evening that I went, was by no means straightforward for a party of 8. So this is more of a photo gallery of what we ate and enjoyed, and to lament the loss of a great private Cantonese private kitchen. I hope that other kitchens serving traditional Cantonese fare of similar calibre do not suffer the same fate and that the older generation’s culinary skills are passed down to those who want to lovingly replicate these delicious dishes.

Ginger Thousand Year Old Egg- one of the tastiest  thousand year old egg's I have had

Ginger Thousand Year Old Egg- one of the tastiest thousand year old egg’s I have had

Not entirely sure what this was, but it tasted like turnip

Not entirely sure what this was, but it tasted like turnip

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Cucumber

Soy Sauce Shrimp White Rice Wine

Soy Sauce Shrimp White Rice Wine

Fried fish cakes

Fried fish cakes

Abalone bamboo shoots with a lovely pineapple and lime sauce

Abalone bamboo shoots with a lovely pineapple and lime sauce

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Steamed scallops with garlic and vermicelli- spectacular and not too greasy

Steamed scallops with garlic and vermicelli- spectacular and not too greasy

Signature Chicken with lots of ginger infused through the sauce

Signature Chicken with lots of ginger infused through the sauce

Fish wrapped with bacon

Fish wrapped with bacon

Seasonal Veg

Seasonal Veg

Pineapple fried rice

Pineapple fried rice

Smoked Egg- amazing

Smoked Egg- amazing

Caviar to go with our smoked egg

Caviar to go with our smoked egg

Gingko tofu egg dessert

Gingko tofu egg dessert

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Appealing to the Sens-es?

Private kitchens are so intriguing to us expats. When I first moved to HK and heard about them, I remember thinking that the label ‘private’ gives these places such an air of mystery and, for lack of a better word, coolness. The idea of knowing about a secret place to eat is appealing and fun, and more often than not, they make great venues for group dining. And for a while these mini restaurants, holed up in apartments or random, seemingly abandoned or dodgy-looking buildings held their appeal and garnered a strong following of patrons eager to have something different or perhaps better than what we can get at a regular restaurant.  From what I recall, many of the private kitchens used  to price their meals extremely reasonably as well, which made me feel that I had stumbled across not only an eatery that many did not know about, but also a place that served fantastic food at fantastic prices. What’s not to love? However, all good things must come to an end, and I feel that this is the case with some private kitchens beginning to lose sight of what used to make them so attractive, including high prices and serving food that strives too hard to set itself apart from everything else on offer. This was the case with newly opened private kitchen, Sens, which opened its apartment doors in February and specialises in ‘modern French Asian fusion’. Blending two or more cuisines together takes a certain amount of bravery, especially as not all flavours and ingredients necessarily work together. I sometimes think that the novelty of making a ‘collage’of cuisines becomes the element that a chef relies on, rather than the taste. With Sens set up in a residential apartment in Causeway Bay and sitting only six to eight people at a time and for one sitting only, it makes for a cosy environment.

Sens Private Dining

Sens Private Dining

A group of seven friends and I went along one Sunday evening last month, guaranteeing a night of good company. Corkage is 50HKD (private kitchens have started charging for corkage which I find irritating!) , but with everyone working the next day, it ended up being a fairly non-alcoholic night, with eight us sharing a very sensible one bottle- livers saved, hooray! Our friendly host, Joy, who opened Sens with her chef partner Michael Druont, welcomed us into her home, which had been cleared to make way for the prettily decorated dining table in the centre. Full respect to Chef Druont who we observed navigating a typically sized HK kitchen (i.e. TINY) with impressive skill, (I can barely cook bacon and eggs without making my kitchen a complete bomb-site, I have no idea how he churned out a 6-course meal replete with presentation).

I accidentally blew out the candle!

I accidentally blew out the candle!

Chef Druont, who had his own restaurant, Fleur de Sel, in France and subsequently worked in San Francisco and then for Starwood Hotels in New Caledonia, has a passion for French fusion and since his move to Asia, has been passionate about combining Eastern cuisine influences with French. At Sens, he has created a six-course degustation menu for $800 per person, a rather hefty price for a private kitchen, especially when I can have a veritable feast at that price at some fantastic restaurants in HK. So was the meal worth that pricing? Ingredients-wise, yes, I can see why they would want or need to charge that much as the menu was very seafood-heavy with uni, roe, scallops and jellyfish and also included duck and foie gras. However, we all were in agreement that there was not a particular dish out of the six that really wowed us.

To start there were Canapés- a fairly standard plate of tasty mini bites of prosciutto with sun-dried tomatoes, smoked salmon wound around cream cheese and smoked ham.

Canapés

Canapés

A pre-course taster was an Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto which was creamy and well-seasoned, whetting the appetite for the entrees and mains. Our first entree was the scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa. If I had to choose one dish that I enjoyed the most, this would be it. The scallop was quite perfectly prepared and I liked the contrasting nuttiness and texture of the qunioa against the bouncy scallop. The foie gras was a little over-seared but added a good, fatty flavour to the dish.

Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto

Asparagus and mushroom consommé with pesto

Scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa

Scallop with seared foie gras and quinoa

The prettiest dish of the night was the next entree- Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé. The ikura (salmon roe) were fresh and the egg nicely poached. Presentation was lovely, but the addition of the jellyfish coupled with the roe AND the uni created an overpowering taste of the sea that drowned the petite egg and its glorious yolk. I would have much preferred the egg served with the jellyfish and the roe only, or just with the uni, to bring out the best in one of those ingredients.

Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé

Poached Egg with Japanese Uni and Ikura with special chef consommé

Our first main was chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce. The ravioli filling was quite tasty but the pasta was a little dense. None of the flavours in that dish particularly stood out and the mushroom sauce tasted a lot like the asparagus and mushroom consommé that we had at the beginning. I think it would have been better if there was less sauce and the clams and the chicken did the talking.

Chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce

Chicken ravioli with clams, Maitake mushrooms and an élixir of mushroom sauce

Our penultimate main was a filet of Seabass on a bed of puy lentils and baby pak choi. The topping of roe gave this dish a wonderful burst of colour but the presentation was not enough to carry it through, as sadly the seabass was a tad overcooked. The lentils did not add anything to the dish and were lacklustre.

Seabass with puy lentils

Seabass with puy lentils

If the last two mains had made an impact or had been prepared perfectly, it would have saved the menu somewhat, but our final main- duck breast with raspberry sauce, was also overcooked for some of us (I was fortunate and had the slightly pinkier section of the duck). This for me was something that was fundamental, especially when you are charging your patrons $800 per head.

Duck breast with raspberry sauce

Duck breast with raspberry sauce

With the mains finished, we had our dessert to look forward to and we were told to expect their signature dish which arrived in the form of a Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit. The idea behind this dessert was clever. I liked the creativity of using tomatoes as a sweet, but the execution was poor. The tomato itself was not sweetened and the accompanying rosemary cream was savoury. When mixed with the berry confit, the concoction was fairly unpleasant. I commend Chef Druont’s attempt to fuse these flavours together, but unfortunately I ended up feeling like my palate was stuck awkwardly in no-man’s land of neither savoury nor sweet. The cream reminded me of roast lamb (I am sure this was not his intention) and the tomato was not only not sweet, it was bland.

Signature special Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit

Signature special Tomato and Mixed Berries Confit

Sens has a long way to go if it wants to establish itself. Chef Druont’s ability to present his dishes is good, but the ingredients and the flavours need some further thought. The menu was too seafood and too cream heavy and the sauce flavours too similar. The ambience was a little stiff and the lighting a little too fluorescent and harsh to make this a really intimate dining experience. I keep coming back to the pricing, but honestly, at $800 per person with corkage fee (I know that at $50 this may seem nominal but most private kitchens do not charge), I would expect much much more for my money. The dessert was extremely disappointing and I hope that they take the time to improve the execution as I believe Sens does have the potential and is worth keeping an eye on. But for now, they should experiment and perfect their menu.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

$$$$$$$$$$

Sens Private Dining and Catering, B3, Floor 25, Pearl City Mansion, 22-36 Patterson Street, Causeway Bay. Tel: 6165 5483

{This was by invitation (only me though) but the rest of my party paid for theirs and I split the bill with the rest of them}


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All things organic

The last month I have been noticeably absent from my blogging duties, and I wish I could say I was doing something noble like building a bridge or training for Trailwalker, but honestly? All I’ve been up to is overindulging with friends and visitors, eating at new places and being selfish and keeping these eating hotspots to myself. (Sorry readers). BUT, after hairy crabbing myself out and experiencing Halloween, Hong Kong style, I’ve realised I need to rein myself in.

So, after 4 weeks of feeling a bit like the greedy Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’ve put the brakes, (for a few days at least), on eating at a “never before tried” establishment until I’ve bashed out at least one review.

A couple of months ago I went to Yin Yang. It’s a place that, although highly rated by some, was a major disappointment for me. The fact that it can be so inconsistent in its cooking is somewhat worrying, that is not to say though, that this place can’t or won’t be able to produce the goods on another day, but maybe I was just unlucky!

Yin Yang, named after HK’s local drink of half-coffee and half-tea, is a tiny, 3 table private kitchen hidden behind wooden doors on the ground floor of an ye-olde stone building on Ship Street in Wan Chai. It was opened by ad-agency owner turned organic chef, Margaret Xu Yuan, who takes most of the produce from her organic farm in the New Territories. The food is HK cuisine eclectic- Contemporary Chinese with a throwback to traditional Cantonese, Hakka, Chiu Chow cooking techniques, mixed with a colonial edge. Confused? I was. But, that descriptive pastiche aside, it’s the taste that counts.

As I sat down at a rickety wooden table with my friend, I cast an eye around the place and was struck by the very cool, retro kitchen at the back of the establishment. The kitchen itself is the decorative centerpiece and that, plus the rest of the tiny decorative details and music, really fosters a HK circa 1950s nostalgic atmosphere. I loved the SMEG fridge which reminded me of my Grandfather’s SMEG in KL and made me smile in fond memory.

My friend told me that when he booked, he was told the menu was somewhat set, but we had a choice between either the “Yellow Earth Roast Chicken” or the “Red Hot Baby Pig”. Luckily for me, he chose the Red Hot Baby Pig (there’s nothing quite like a bit of suckling pig), so I was really looking forward to it when the food started arriving.

The menu was peppered with dishes with vague names and we really didn’t have a clue what to expect, so the waiter had to explain everything to us.First up, was the “Organic Eggxplosion”, “Shiny Spiny”, “Spring water tofu” and the “Summer Sun”.

Shiny Spiny, turned out to be a a whole langoustine set in a plate of chicken jelly and organic fruit. Organic eggxplosion was a large plate filled with very small organic things. The waiter ‘helpfully’ told us, “…that is organic fig, that is organic dried vegetable leaf, that is organic eggplant, that is organic bitter gourd.” Halfway through hearing this spiel, I interrupted and said, “So basically everything is organic?” To which the waiter replied, “Yes” and then proceeded to continue being the spokesperson for all things organic. The plate of organic produce was not presented in a very attractive way and quite frankly, all of it tasted the same, with or without the organic condiments that were nestled in small spoons on the platter. The soft shell crabs were the smallest crabs I had ever seen and were not nearly crispy enough.

The Shiny Spiny dish was scary looking and flummoxed the both of us. After spending 5 minutes trying to work out how to cut and eat the langoustine without flicking it onto the neighbouring table, we decided to call the waiter back to cut it up, as we had only been provided with chopsticks to tackle it with. The meat, unfortunately, was chewy like rubber and the jelly odd and tasteless. Summer Sun was homemade minced ham wrapped around an organic egg, like a very posh Scotch egg. This dish was good, and the only one out of the starters that had any taste to it. The spring water tofu? Watery. G wanted to try out their homemade Kumquatcello, a parody of the lemoncello. It was approximately 98% ethanol, 2% fruit. You could’ve set the table on fire with that stuff. Horrendous. The Red Hot Baby Pig was served next, and that was lovely- juicy, tender with a fantastic crispy skin. It was served with a quirky lychee jam that complimented it very well and lessened the richness of the fat! After the unusual “Soup without Water” interlude, there followed the ‘Chinese Lemon Wok Paella’ and the ‘More More Vegetables’. The paella smelt amazing, but sadly, it did not taste as good as it smelt. There was major crustacean overload, and we had to fight to get to the bottom of the dish to scoop out the rice which was far too al-dente, borderline undercooked.I felt that Yin Yang, although noble for their quest to be all organic, forgot to pay attention to portion size. For 2 people, they served a ridiculous portion of vegetables, enough to feed 6 at least, and it was a complete waste when we could only make a tiny dent in a mountain of greens. I realise the name of the dish was “More more vegetables” but that’s just taking it to the extreme! Added to that, the dish was limply presented and extremely bland. As the last dish to be served before dessert, it certainly lacked the oomph to keep me interested till the end of the meal.Dessert was better, the best out of the selection was the mini banana wrapped in a sugared crepe, sweet and light. Again though, the presentation was lacklustre, maybe I am being overly-harsh but I honestly felt everything was lost in an expanse of crockery.

Verdict? Yin Yang is yearning to be something different, but it should stick to classics instead of attempting to be innovative and giving traditional dishes a contemporary twist. What’s wrong with replicating our ancestors’ cooking step by step and leaving it alone?

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5 (‘cos the pork was good)

Yin Yang, 18 Ship Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2866 0868

$$$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$ Expensive!!!

Apologies for the photo quality- I left my camera at home that day- very remiss of me!


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Tiny bites of pleasure *CLOSED*

Riquiqui, or “Tiny” for the Francophones amongst you, is a wonderfully scrumptious new addition to the Lan Kwai Fong dining scene.

An intimate dessert bar hugs the open kitchen and allows you to watch Chef Amanda Cheng lovingly prepare your sweet treats while she enthusiastically explains each course in detail.

A three-course dessert set, including a drink, is offered at $200. The first and third courses are fixed, but the “main course” can be chosen from a menu that is changed daily. The only dessert regulars are the Pavlova and Napolean.There is no drinks menu but you may choose to have a glass of Chardonnay, Prosecco or dessert wine, a Mariage Frères tea or a coffee to accompany your courses.On my visit I had a truly exquisite cheesecake ball dipped in chocolate with a digestive cookie crumb coating as the first course.For mains, I went for the White Chocolate Mousse cube with a dark chocolate shell and Earl Grey ice-cream. My friend commented that this is what dreams are made of, and we thought the cube was inspired by the film Inception! The white chocolate mousse was faultless, creamy and smooth and offset perfectly by the dark chocolate shell that made a satisfying “crack” as you pierced through it. The ice-cream was beautiful; a delicate infusion of Earl Grey can be detected with a chocolatey edge.The last course was a Trio of Petite Fours. The malt Ovaltine bar was fantastic. Like a tall mug of Ovaltine, but compressed into a 2×2 inch bar, it was packed full of flavour and rounded off a fabulous night.

Absolutely one of the best places to go for dessert in HK. Can’t wait to go back, better prepare my waistline!

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Riquiqui, 2/F 12 Wellington Street, Central, HK. Tel: 2868 3302 www.riquiqui.hk

$$$$$$$$$$

You can also check out my review at HK Spotlight/ World’s 50 Best Restaurants


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Chopstixfix’s 2nd review for HK Spotlight!

Hi guys,

My 2nd review for HK Spotlight /World’s 50 Best Restaurants has just gone up!

A far cry from the spice of Yu Chuan, my recommendation this time is Riquiqui, the French private dessert kitchen.

The review on Riquiqui will be up on Chopstixfix soon!


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Chopstixfix: Featured guest blogger on HK Spotlight, World’s 50 Best Restaurants!

I’m delighted (and very excited) to announce that Chopstixfix is a featured guest blogger on World’s 50 Best Restaurants: HK Spotlight, recommending Yu Chuan Club.

If you are here by way of World’s 50 Best Restaurants, HELLO! and a very warm welcome. I hope you enjoy reading my culinary adventures 🙂 Please do drop me a line if you have any comments or would like some foodie recommendations if you’re visiting Hong Kong for the first time!

Ahh now I’m going to enjoy my Haagen Dazs Macadamia Nut Brittle Ice-cream…


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Spice up your Life

If Yu Chuan were a song, it would be “Spice up your life” by the Spice Girls, and its mascot would be the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Off the beaten (tram) track and hidden away down a side street in Wan Chai, this unpretentious, cheerful private kitchen is dedicated to serving up delicious classic Sichuan dishes. It’s fun, it’s cool and it’s a haven for those chilli junkies out there. Rumour has it the friendly proprietor is the sister of the lady who runs SiJie, the other famous private Sichuan kitchen in Wan Chai. If true, then competition was never this “heated” (get it?). This family style kitchen is run smoothly and service is polite and efficient. The decor is also a bit more “up-market” compared to SiJie.

The doorway is marked by a bunch of Sichuan chilli peppers and when you step into the establishment the spicy aroma hits you immediately. It’s small but cosy inside and great for groups of friends who really appreciate this cuisine and enjoy sweating and “spicing up their lives” together! Booking is a must as there are only 6 tables.

The quality of the food is excellent (essential ingredients are imported from Sichuan), and there are some outstanding dishes.

Making a quick buck is clearly not on the agenda and this is reflected in the price. At $168 per person (excluding service charge), you really do get your money’s worth and it’s evident the owner and chef pride themselves on providing their customers with a traditional Sichuan dining experience. The menu is well organised (identical to Sijie) and there is a clever system: 2-3 people can choose 2 cold dishes and 3 hot dishes, 4-5 people: 3 cold, 4-5 hot, 5-6 people: 4 cold and 5-6 hot etc.

What is fantastic about Yu Chuan is the balance of spice and chilli. As much fun as it is to burn your tongue off, you want to be able to taste the flavours and the chef achieves this brilliantly while still giving your tastebuds a good kick!

There are lots of fantastic dishes to try including the “fish slices in fiery broth” and the chilli prawns but out of those we ordered, the standout cold dishes were:

Sichuan cold noodles: a wonderful, delicate play of flavours from the garlic, chilli oil, vinegar and peppercorns tossed together with wheat noodles.

Spicy and sour eggplants: firm yet soft, perfectly prepared slices of eggplants coated in a mildly spicy sauce.

Best hot dishes of the night:

Ma Po Tofu: beautifully spicy and addictive, one could happily eat the entire dish. Could have done with a bit more pork but than that- excellent!

Chongxing deep fried hot chicken: love the presentation, small nuggets hidden in a gigantic heap of dried Sichuan chillies and peppercorns.

Poached beef in hot chilli oil: tender slices of beef bobbing gently in a huge vat of chilli oil broth. Amazing to look at, even better to eat!

Other good dishes were the Cucumber in garlic sauce, the Chongxing steamed chicken meat in hot pepper sauce and the Fish in broth with preserved vegetables. The most interesting dish was the Duck and purple yam in beer, which took several bites for me to decide if I liked it or not.. turns out I liked it, but it is a bit of a strange taste.

Chopstixfix rating: 4.5/5

1/F, B, Hundred City Centre, 7-17 Amoy Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2838 5233 Opening times: 11am-11pm

$$$$$$$$$$ ($168 per person excluding drinks)