Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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WHISK yourself into a gluttonous frenzy

My half year resolution is to explore Kowloon side a bit more, specifically the food, but the vastness of the area and the sheer number of restaurants and cafes and dai pai dongs has me in a tizzy and at a loss of where to start. But, one must start somewhere, and I am fortunate to have a food loving and romantic other half to take me out on date nights, and one such evening I found myself being taken to the Michelin-recommended WHISK at The Mira in TST.

WHISK

WHISK

The Mira is smack bang in the middle of the heavily built-up shopping area of TST and is not lacking in amenities with the Mira Mall next door and six places to wine and dine at. The Mira was yet another another place on my hit list that…I hadn’t quite hit until yours truly got WHISKed there, (haha, I love puns),and low and behold I found myself travelling up a lift and trying to get out of the wrong lift door, confusing, lift malarky(!) and gazing at plush, crop circle-centric carpets and admiring the twinkling lights of an impressive chandelier. WHISK, a contemporary European restaurant, is edgy but stylish, especially in the evening where diners are bathed in candlelight. The ambience is quite lovely but not too stuffy and reserved, paving the way for a casual yet elegant experience.

WHISK Interior

WHISK Interior

Their a la carte menu has a good range of starters, mains and grill selections, which are all mouth-watering to read but a new addition is their degustation menu Voyage 2.0, which allows for 5, 6 or 7 ‘culinary stopovers’ in European gourmet destinations, (HK$820, HK$960 and HK$1,280 respectively). The menu explores a variety of dishes influenced by Scotland through to Finland and looks quite exciting, though we did not try it that night.

We decided instead on starting with their Celebration Starter of Pork Belly Carpaccio, Beef Tongue, Duck Confit with Apple & Foie Gras for 2 people. This rather extravagant looking platter was a delicious if quite rich beginning to what would be a meat heavy main course, but as voracious carnivores it didn’t matter one iota. The foie gras was beyond smooth and the pork belly carpaccio was wafer thin and oddly went well with the duck confit and apple medley, even if it was a pastiche of meats!

Celebration Starter

Celebration Starter

My other half can’t resist Suckling Pig if he sees it on the menu, so he naturally went for that. I, on the other hand, opted for the 200g Wagyu Chuck Flap from Spain. The presentation is extremely simple, nothing more than the meats arranged in the middle of an expansive plate with no adornments save a sprig of foliage. We did, however, order side dishes of mashed potato- heavenly velvety and green beans which were unfortunately overpowered by a heavy dose of ginger. My Chuck Flap was a beautiful hunk of meat, some parts more rare than I would normally like, but with my black pepper sauce, all was dandy and the Suckling Pig was succulent and flavoursome, the skin perfectly crisp. I was starting to get meat sweats at the end of my chuck, I think I am losing my carnivorous edge!

Suckling Pig

Suckling Pig

Chuck Flap

Chuck Flap

By this point we were full to bursting but we noticed that they have a Flaky Apple Tarte served with Vanilla and Almonds for 2 people and we could not resist. This gorgeous, flaky, tarte was spectacular and arrived in a hot, shallow pan which fed the eyes in its almond and sugar dusted glory and, I fell in love. The sweet apple aroma hits you first, then with that first bite of the tarte and the creamy vanilla ice-cream melting and mixing with the light pastry and sugary delights, you enter dessert heaven. This is the apple tarte I had been searching for in HK. Sublime.

Flaky Apple Tarte

Flaky Apple Tarte

Sweet things to finish

Sweet things to finish

So there ended our night, tummies happy and smiles from me towards my beloved. The service was stellar, with very helpful staff and more importantly cheerful dispositions! We did not have any wine, but if you want to have a tipple, then there is no shortage of wines to choose from with some good vintages at reasonable prices. Otherwise you can go to Vibes next door and indulge in a cocktail or two! If lazy lunches are more up your street, you can check out their Sunday free-flow champagne brunch.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

$$$$$$$-$$$$$$$$$$ 

WHISK, Level 5, The Mira Hong Kong, 132 Nathan Road,Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, Opening Hours: 12:00 noon – 2:30 pm and 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm (Tuesday – Saturday)/ 11:00 am – 4:30 pm (Sunday) / Closed on Monday. Tel: +852 2315 5999

(Apologies for the poor quality of my photos, I left my camera at home! But many thanks to The Mira for their pretty interior pics!)

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Californication- wines and small bites at Brim 28

California Vintage on Wyndham Street is a tiny, tiny drinking hole that tries its best to be a restaurant as well, but in reality, its diminutive size does not really allow it to be the fully-fledged eatery that it yearns to be. Be that as it may, I do love going there for a spot of Riesling, but I never linger long enough to have a substantial meal. However, since the fantastic renovation and transformation of the space near the Great Eagle Centre and China Resource Building in Wan Chai (by Victoria Harbour) into Brim 28, a number of restaurants, bars and cafes, including a brand new branch of California Vintage, have moved in, making that area a pretty funky, new hang-out.

The second CV wine bar and restaurant is MUCH bigger and here, the emphasis is definitely on making sure the food does not play second fiddle to the wine and has more of a equal partnership on the palates of its customers. Of course, it remains a place for wine enthusiasts- there are still the smartcard-enabled dispensing machines to go nuts over at Happy Hour and clever iPad menus to help customers choose their wines. The concept of CV is to introduce Hong Kongers to the wine culture and the taste of California and their wine list boasts a fine selection of over 100 wines produced by 22 family-owned wineries across the Californian state. The wines themselves are for retail sale, but if you are popping by for a quick sip or three, you can dispense yourself some wine by the taste (1oz), the half-glass (2oz), full-glass (5oz) or  just buy a bottle.

Image from winetimeshk.blogspot.com

Image from winetimeshk.blogspot.com

A group of friends (a couple of whom who hail from/ lived in California- we needed Cali tastebuds!) and I went round last Saturday evening for what became a very relaxing meal of small bites paired with wine. The construction of Brim 28 means that each of the restaurants has an al fresco dining space outside the  establishment, which makes the new CV even more appealing than the ‘flagship’ in Central. Inside, there are high tables surrounded by emptied wooden wine barrels, a display of wine bottles and the dispensing machines taking centre-stage. There’s also a lovely fresh seafood bar area that is slightly elevated and off to the left-side of the restaurant.

Wine bottles have multiple uses!

Wine bottles have multiple uses!

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We were having their Seasonal pairing menu that night (which feature wine-inspired Californian cuisine) and our first dish was the deep-fried calamari with a tangy tomato dip. Frankly, it is quite hard to go wrong with deep-fried calamari unless it’s caked in batter (which this wasn’t), soaked in oil (which it also wasn’t) and not fresh (this wasn’t.. you get the idea). I was starving and also in much need of a glass of wine after a rather trying day at work, on a Saturday, ugh, so I positively beamed with delight at the first glass of wine that appeared- the 2011 Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma County. This crisp white had pleasantly fruity notes with a refreshing finish and paired well with our starter dish.

Deep-fried calamari

Deep-fried calamari

Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc

Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc

My favourite ‘dish’ of the night were CV’s Gilroy garlic fries with homemade aioli and tomato ketchup. OMG those fries are good. I had them in the original CV many moons ago, and it was love at first bite and I knew I had to stay away to save my waistline. But on Saturday, all diets were off as I chomped my way rather rapidly through them, and it was only when my friends shoved their cone of chips at me, that I realised I had had one golden stick too many. I’m easy to please, clearly!

Gilroy garlic fries

Gilroy garlic fries

The San Fran sourdough bread with Marin Camembert cheese and green apple, served with a side of sweet tomato soup for dipping was nicely toasted, though the cheese could have done with a few seconds more under the grill to attain perfect meltiness. The Camembert itself was a little too mild, and the green apple did not have the acidity to make this a completely balanced dish, though dipped in the tomato soup, it was still very tasty. My friend and I tried to drink the soup on its own, but it was far too sweet- strictly for dipping only!

San Fran sourdough bread with Camembert cheese and green apple

San Fran sourdough bread with Camembert cheese and green apple

Next, were the California sliders with fried soft-shell crab. I love soft-shell crab and these mini burgers were rather sweet, with the crab legs sticking out awkwardly like they were attempting to escape. The crab was slightly bland on its own, but dipping it into the homemade chipotle aioli made all the difference. I would have liked the battered crab to be more heavily seasoned with salt and pepper, but that is just personal preference.

California sliders with soft shell crab and chipotle aioli

California sliders with soft shell crab and chipotle aioli

Served alongside these dishes was the white Flying Nymph 2010 Paso Robles. This blend of 56% Viognier, 32% Marsanne and 12% Roussanne may be too sweet for some, but I enjoyed it immensely. The fruity flavours emerged after a while in the glass and the taste lingered long enough to give a nice end to our second round of dishes.

Our third round of dishes began with the California Tacos with Baja Fish. Here, the white fish were battered and served on shredded cabbage and topped with pico de gallo and cumin-enriched sour cream. The California taste-buds may like it mild, but these tacos were far too meek in taste and could have done with some punchier, more robust flavours. Not entirely sure what was missing from this recipe.. perhaps some Tabasco sauce would give it a kick.

California tacos with Baja fish

California tacos with Baja fish

The Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta topped with a walnut, was a simple dish but a far more flavoursome combination than the tacos. For some reason, the camembert here worked better, perhaps there’s just too much bread in the previous sourdough sandwich to give the cheese justice. Our wine for this round was the Anaba Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, a fairly intense red with a smokiness that was not entirely to my liking. We also had the pork quesadillas made by shredding pork and combining it with green chillies and melted jack cheese.  The house-made guacamole was very sweet and resulted in a few grumblings at our table.

Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta

Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta

Wine wine wine

Wine wine wine

Pork quesadillas

Pork quesadillas

Our last round of savouries came with a glass of Stuhlmuller Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon- California Sliders with Angus Beef Burger and Bravo Farms Cheddar Cheese and the California Tacos with Grilled Flank Steak and Chimichurri Sauce Steak. The juicy Angus Beef burger sliders were the best dish of the night together with those addictive fries! The soft corn tortillas topped with Harris Ranch flank steak were fine but again, something was missing with the flavours.

California sliders with Angus beef

California sliders with Angus beef

California tacos with grilled flank steak

California tacos with grilled flank steak

Their house-made taco chips with salsa were excellent and I have to say, as carb-heavy as CV’s menu is, they do excel at the fries and the chips. Perhaps a few more salads or some Californian-taste inspired ceviche would be good additions to the menu to balance it out.

A meal is not complete without dessert. The manager suggested we just have the Chocolate Pot de Crème- a gorgeous, smooth chocolate pudding generously topped with whipped cream, but at the mention of a new dessert- apple tart with vanilla ice-cream, there was no way I was leaving CV without sampling some of that. Of course, that just meant that we had both puddings, each of us having our own pot de crème and then sharing two plates of apple tart.

Apple tart!!!

Apple tart!!!

Pot de Creme

Pot de Creme

 The pot de creme was extremely rich and gave me a massive chocolate and sugar high. I have had this before at the flagship and as delightfully satisfying as it was, after four or five bites, it was too much. However, the apple tart was divine and demolished within minutes by our group. It was beyond yummy, the pieces of apple nice and chunky and the all important pastry was perfectly crumbly and not too thick. I am an apple crumble/ tart fiend and this was one of the best apple tarts I have had in HK. I only hope the preparation stays consistent, when I return, or I will be most disappointed. They served our desserts with a glass of R & B Cellars Fortissimo Port Dessert Wine which I did not care much for; it was far too strong and medicinal in taste, so I abandoned my glass and opted for a glass of Moscato mmmmmm.

So what did I think? California Vintage Wan Chai has a great location and the space is fantastic. Their Happy Hour is a good deal, (I can’t quite remember the details, sorry! But I know I will definitely be heading there for a glass), but with their dishes priced between $68 (for their fries) to $148, for relatively small bites, it is on the slightly expensive end for what it is. I have no idea what ‘the taste of California’ should taste like, but I was assured by the Cali lot that the menu can afford a few tweaks here and there.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

California Vintage, Shop 110, Brim 28, 28 Harbour Road, Wan Chai Tel: (852) 2511 4028

Set lunch is $88-$128 + service charge depending on what you order for mains.


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A touch of France in a Le Creuset dish- Bistro Du Vin

French restaurants and their air of je ne sais quoi seem to generate much excitement in HK, leaving people all hot under the collar. With a bevy of unpretentious French eateries popping up around town of late (e.g. La Cantoche, Les Fils a Maman), Bistro Du Vin in Kennedy Town is the newest addition to the scene. Created by Les Amis Group who also own Piccolo Pizzeria and Cepage, it’s already attracted a fair bit of attention with its rustic, home-style and finely executed dishes.

Kennedy Town, like the other hip foodie hotspot Tai Hang, is starting to come into its own and Bistro Du Vin is another reason to hop on that tram, enjoy the ride west and explore the area.

Bistro Du Vin

Bistro Du Vin

The interior is welcoming and eclectic with a lovely collection of unconventional but distinctly French antiques; delicate drawings of can-can dancers, Mickey Mouse vintage prints and tastevins (small metal cups used in times gone by to assess wine by candlelight) adorn the walls in a charmingly haphazard manner.

Bistro Du Vin's eclectic interior

Bistro Du Vin’s eclectic interior

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The owner’s passion for wines from the Burgundy region is evident by the extensive wine collection housed at the back of the restaurant, which in itself adds a decorative flair to an establishment, capturing the essence of a Parisian bistro quite successfully.

The interior creates the right ambience, but what about the food? The compact menu has a good selection of ‘Les Charcuterie, Pate et Rillettes’, ‘Les Entrees, ‘Les Oeufs’ and ‘Les Plats Prinicpaux’, as well as the all-important ‘Les Desserts’. A mini chalkboard at each table showcases the appealing selection of daily specials; that day, I sampled the baby squid a la plancha as well as the bouillabaisse. But before plunging into the mains, the homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes were an absolute must.

Daily specials on mini chalkboards

Daily specials on mini chalkboards

All three were superbly prepared, with both the pork and duck paté vying for attention from my knife! The duck paté was beautifully smooth and rich, and was scrumptious with the sourdough bread. Given a choice, I normally prefer rillettes as I’m a particular fan of its more rustic texture, and in this case the fat-encased duck rillettes came out top, with me eating it on its own (no bread required!) and having to stop the waiter from whisking it away.

Homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes

Homemade pork paté, duck paté and duck rillettes

The baby squid a la plancha were delightfully fresh and I adored the simple seasoning and squeeze of lemon that brought out the flavours. This was definitely one of the highlights of the meal.

Baby squid a la plancha

Baby squid a la plancha

Although the bouillabaisse, presented with aplomb in a blue Le Creuset dish, was teaming with sea life (mussels, prawns, crabs, fish), the thin broth was lacking the robust flavours that would have reflected the many hours of stewing – though it still makes for a great way to fight off our current cold spells!

Bouillabaisse

Bouillabaisse

Egg-lovers will be interested in the ‘Les Oeufs’ section and I would be surprised if diners didn’t enjoy the home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce. The brandade, traditionally an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil, was perfectly salted and tasted heavenly with the runny yolk and Hollandaise sauce. Espelette pepper is a variety of chili pepper that was originally cultivated in Espelette in the Basque region but is now also grown in other areas; the addition of the pepper here gave the hollandaise a slight smoky tang and sweetness, rather than the heat or strength one might expect from a chilli.

Home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce

Home-salted brandade and soft egg with Espelette Hollandaise sauce

The usual French fare of coq au vin or duck leg confit caught my eye on the menu but upon spotting rabbit, I knew this was a dish worth checking out, especially as rabbit is not common in Hong Kong. The rabbit leg was tender with a subtle game taste. Generous amounts of white wine had gone into the white sauce and the pommery grain mustard was just a tad too piquant, but otherwise the dish’s flavours combined well on the palate.

Rabbit leg with white sauce and pommery grain mustard

Rabbit leg with white sauce and pommery grain mustard

The classic apple tart with vanilla ice cream was a scrumptious end to the meal and beautifully made. I loved the crisp flaky pastry with slices of still juicy apple, finished off with an attractive dusting of sugar.

Classic apple tart

Classic apple tart

Bistro du Vin is worth the journey to Kennedy Town, and the quiet area adds to its charm. The relaxed atmosphere and quirky decoration is a definite draw, and the dishes are prepared with enough care to tell me that no detail has been overlooked.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5


Bistro du Vin, Ground Floor, Shop 1D, Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, 2824 3010

You can also read this review on Sassy.