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 facebook.com/ctaipei

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Man Oh Mano

As much as I like seeing new things, the ground floor of the L Place doesn’t seem to be overly blessed by long-standing tenants, so I hope that newest occupant Mano can, over time, prove itself to be a popular establishment that deserves that space. European café and restaurant Mano offers all day dining from brioche, bread and pastries with your morning coffee and brunch spreads for your midday hunger pangs to swanky dishes at dinner, so really, you can pretty much spend your whole day there if you’re lazy!MANO IMG_7376 IMG_7372 IMG_7373

I like simple décor, and Mano’s black and white interiors with a lovely marble workspace open kitchen and plush Italian leather seats does give it an air of urban elegance. When my friend V and I went one evening, we found the service quietly efficient and friendly, though our waiter faffed with our seating a bit, deciding between five sets of identical tables. The menu is attractive- dishes such as Parmesan custard with basil and zucchini emulsion and Mezze maniche Mancini sound rather grand and there is a good variety of meats and seafood to satisfy anyone’s palate.

Prices are less friendly with mains coming in at $200-350 each, so if you think ouch, then I would stick with their morning and brunch. We started by sharing the Pan-seared Hokkaido scallops with home smoked Iberico pork belly. Presentation-wise, our three plump and perfectly cooked scallops looked a little lonely separated out from each other on this huge plate, but aside from that the whole dish more or less came together and the accompanying pork belly was a crispy, salty delight. The porcini ratatouille had a slightly bitter aftertaste unfortunately, which affected the overall taste.

Pan-seared Hokkaido scallops

Pan-seared Hokkaido scallops

For mains, the 120 days grass fed Sirloin of New Zealand Ocean beef ($318) was excellent. The beef was well-seasoned and succulent, but I thought that it didn’t need all of the shaved, aged Parmesan that it came with as it made it a little too rich. V had the Seared tuna loin with parsley mash, roasted beetroot, squid cappuccino and truffle caviar ($308). The tuna loin was perfect in the middle but the outside was over-seared but we loved the parsley mash and the caviar gave it a good umami kick. But there was a downside to our experience. Both dishes were served a tad under lukewarm. Now, I have no idea whether it was because the staff were waiting for both dishes to be cooked before serving, or whether they simply were slow to bring them out after they were prepared, but having my hot mains served hot is quite important. Luckily it didn’t affect the taste of my beef and good conversation between friends was enough for us to overlook this.

120 days grass fed Sirloin of New Zealand Ocean beef

120 days grass fed Sirloin of New Zealand Ocean beef

Seared tuna loin

Seared tuna loin

To end, there was Orange lemon crème brulee with lemon ice-cream. I have high hopes for Mano, I do. The citrusy taste of the brulee was fantastic and this dessert would have been wonderful if it had set properly. But our brulee was runny like a fresh yolk. The manager was great and offered to get us another, but at this point we had slurped it up, literally.

Orange lemon crème brulee

Orange lemon crème brulee

Next time I will try their breakfast and lunch. For now, I think I will see if a few months can sort out a few of their existing crinkles.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

Mano Hong Kong, G/F, L Place, 139 Queen’s Road, Central, +852 2384 7339, www.manohk.com


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A’Peeling Tapas?

The tide of Mediterranean restaurants continues with Tapas a’Peel which, as the name suggests, is in the vicinity of Peel Street in Soho, overlooking Pak Sze Lane Park. If Rach and I had known this beforehand, we wouldn’t have spent a very sweaty ten minutes walking up and down Peel Street in utter confusion, so take note!

Tapas a’Peel serves tapas dishes not only from Spain, but also Greece, Italy, Turkey and Morocco. All the plates are created for sharing and the emphasis is on fresh ingredients and simple but tasty recipes.

Tapas a'Peel

Tapas a’Peel

As it is just off Peel Street, the restaurant has in fact, a very peaceful ambience and makes it ideal for cosy meals with friends and family. The decor is rustic and warm, with soft lighting and a homely Mediterranean feel.

Their lunch set is great value at $88 per person for an Appetizer Platter of Mixed Salad, followed by a Daily Pasta, coffee or tea. If you prefer, for an additional $40, you can opt for their Wood-fired Pizza Margarita. But it’s their a la carte menu that is attractive, with a range of dishes from various regions of the Med.

Rach and I started by tucking into their Garlic Loaf with Rosemary and Sea Salt that was freshly baked, wonderfully warm and aromatic. I loved that they serve it with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic with a garlic grater to season to your taste. Feta cheese and goat cheese lovers will adore their stuffed small green peppers and the creamed Goat Cheese in olive oil- both delicious yet simple dishes.

Garlic Loaf with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Garlic Loaf with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Creamed goat's cheese

Creamed goat’s cheese

Stuffed green peppers

Stuffed green peppers

Their dried Spanish Chorizo was wolfed down followed by the moreish Jamon Iberico Croquettes that were all too easy to pop into one’s mouth. The Moroccan Salad with Eggplant, vine tomatoes, red onions and Tahini Yoghurt dressing was light and clean tasting- the Tahini dressing, just mildly piquant to add a touch of zest to the dish.

Spanish Chorizo

Spanish Chorizo

Jamon Iberico Croquettes

Jamon Iberico Croquettes

Moroccan Salad

Moroccan Salad

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the mains we had. Their Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops in Moroccan Marinade was exquisitely done and a fairly generous size, enough to fill oneself up without all the preceding tapas! The marinade was delicious and had to be mopped up by the remainder of the bread and also by my favourite dish of the meal, the Gambas Pil Pil, or King prawns in a spicy chilli olive oil with lashings of garlic. The prawns were fantastically fresh and I love nothing more than still crispy fried garlic slices. Here was a dish that fully reflected Tapas a’Peel’s concept of simplicity and allowing the food to ‘speak for itself’. Prawn addicts beware, you could find yourself ordering more than one plate!

Gambas Pil Pil

Gambas Pil Pil

Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops in Moroccan Marinade

Grilled Lamb Shoulder Chops in Moroccan Marinade

Desserts are few in number but their Chilled Walnut Cream with Caramelized Walnuts and Frangelico Liqueur was delightful, if not a tiny bit too rich after everything we ate. But the silky smooth cream and a medley of nutty flavours won me over and I made a sizeable dent in the pudding! Their home made Lemon tart had all the flavours and potential of being a truly great tart, if it weren’t for the biscuit base being on the soggy side due to an overly moist lemon curd. I do believe though that this will improve.

Lemon Tart

Lemon Tart

Chilled Walnut Cream with Caramelized Walnuts and Frangelico Liqueur

Chilled Walnut Cream with Caramelized Walnuts and Frangelico Liqueur

Even though Tapas a’Peel is one in a long list of ever emerging Spanish restaurants, the real appeal of this establishment is the back to roots approach of letting the ingredients shine through without too much fuss over presentation and the need for dishes with a twist. I certainly know that I will be back for more of their wholesome dishes.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

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

Tapas a’Peel, Lower Ground Floor, 61-63 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2545 5988. Opening times: Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Private room available for up to 12 people. http://www.a-peelasia.com

This review was done on behalf of Sassy HK and can be read here.


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Kyoto Joe Revisited

When you’re not clawing your way up Lan Kwai Fong in your heels to grab drinks in the evenings or weekends or if you’re a man, getting lairy with the lads(!), I do recommend occasionally taking your appetite before drinks to a couple of other establishments around that tiny area that tend to get overshadowed by the likes of Brickhouse down the road.

One is Kyoto Joe. The last time I visited this place was back in 2011 and after two years of making my way round all the other restaurants in HK, I finally found myself back there again by the kind invitation of LKF Entertainments which also owns Tokio Joe, Whiskey Priest and Lux Bar and Tapas. Being back in Kyoto Joe reminded me of actually how lovely it is. Considering its location, it is surprisingly quiet and the food, more importantly is good. When I previously reviewed it, it was just after the tsunami in Japan and everyone was wary of sushi and I mentioned that Kyoto Joe sources most of its produce from other countries, which is still the case. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal then and I had another fantastic lunch again, but this time I sampled some new dishes.

Kyoto Joe
Kyoto Joe

The simplistic decor interwoven with Japanese art and the restaurant’s tranquil ambience are two elements that make dining at Kyoto Joe particularly pleasant. On weekdays, the seats are occupied by the work crowd and businessmen, but I imagine it being a great spot on the weekends to take a breather over a good meal. Their menu has something for everyone, with sushi, sashimi, tempura, hot dishes, robatayaki, rolls and cones, salads, rice and noodles and now a vegetarian menu, which I think is brilliant, as Japanese establishments so rarely have enough on their menus to cater to vegetarians.

Tea service was exemplary as before, you’ll never go thirsty here! My first dish was a special- the Tuna Egg White, a softly steamed egg white and tofu topped with shredded tuna with a touch of spicy sauce. The bite of the shredded tuna and the fluffy, light egg white was lovely and the spicy sauce really jazzed up the dish.

Tuna Egg White
Tuna Egg White

The Ebi Nori roll with grilled king prawn was excellent. Plump, fresh prawn and well dressed in their homemade seaweed sauce.

Ebi Nori roll
Ebi Nori roll

Their Sweet and Spicy Vegetables of slightly fried cauliflower, asparagus and  mushrooms were served with sesame and sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables were fried perfectly but I would have preferred the sauce to be served on the side rather than already coated on them as some may find the sauce a bit too sweet and piquant for their liking.

Sweet and Spicy Vegetables
Sweet and Spicy Vegetables

Their next dish is a very new edition to their now quite expansive menu and my favourite of the meal. The Angel Salmon Tartar, chopped salmon with spicy mayonnaise served on seaweed rice crackers was lip-smackingly delicious. I love mayonnaise anyway, but the spicy mayo with salmon was just addictive. Seaweed crackers may make you think, ‘so what?’, but somehow Kyoto Joe’s made their crackers sexy especially in that combo. I will have to hog all 4 pieces to myself on my next lunch.

Angel Salmon Tartar
Angel Salmon Tartar

For mains I revisited their Karubi grilled beef ribs with teriyaki sauce, which was perfectly prepared, sizzling on their hot stones. After 2 years, I can definitely say that consistency is Kyoto Joe’s strongest point, a bit of rarity in HK!

Karubi
Karubi

Dessert was the Trio of crème brulee (green tea, sesame and coffee) which I also had before, and again, nom nom nom. Yummy. They just needed a minute more of caramelisation on top to give that satisfying crack with your spoon.

Trio of crème brulee
Trio of crème brulee

So there it is, my second visit in a nutshell. I think Kyoto Joe is often overlooked outside of work hours and I think it needs to come out of its shadow more and showcase its dishes, because the food is really very good. The service is excellent, prices reasonable, the manager very knowledgeable and personable and that Angel Salmon Tartar..mmm, I’ll fight you for them.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (It keeps its 4 chopsticks!)

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

Kyoto Joe, 2/F-3/F, 1 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, HK. Tel: 2804 6800

This lunch was by invitation. Interior photo courtesy of Lan Kwai Fong Entertainments.


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The Allure of Azure

When I first moved to Hong Kong, Azure was my go to place for drinks. I enjoyed the views and the outdoor balcony, especially as the floor-to-ceiling windows gave party-goers a fabulous panorama of our city’s skyline. One memorable night in 2009, Rihanna’s Umbrella was blaring at full volume whilst torrential rain poured and rivulets of water cascaded down the windows. It was quite the hypnotizing sight. Therefore, it was a slight surprise to learn that Azure actually serves food and a rather sophisticated menu at that. So it was into a rather different atmosphere that I strolled up Azure’s staircase from the contemporary laid-back lounge and bar to the restaurant.

Azure Restaurant Slash Bar

Azure Restaurant Slash Bar- photo from http://www.womguide.com

Settling into our seats with the soft glow of the lights and the blue hues surrounding us, we were handed the set menu, which at $468 per person, (and sweetly named ‘Cosy Autumn’) is quite reasonable for three courses including a coffee or tea, plus petit fours.

We had a choice of starters: either the Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp, or the Beef Consummé made with slow cooked oxtail. As there were two of us, we ordered one of each so we could try. But before the meal had officially begun, we had made ourselves half full with the complimentary bread and their frankly addictive basil and tomato flavoured butter. Presentation is not the be all and end all of a dish as the taste is the proof of the pudding, but the Beetroot cured Salmon had a rather flat presentation and did not really do much to whet the appetite. The salmon had slight hints of beetroot but the sago crisp failed to hit the spot. The Beef Consummé was more successful, with pieces of flavoursome oxtail to be found in the clear broth.

Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp,

Beetroot cured Salmon with baby squid and black ink sago crisp,

Beef Consummé

Beef Consummé

For mains we were treated to Roasted Chicken Breast with onion puree, crispy wonton skins and Chanterelle mushrooms. This was beautifully prepared and the puree was delicious. I liked the addition of the wonton skins as they added a lovely textural contrast.

Roasted Chicken Breast

Roasted Chicken Breast

We still had a little room left for a savoury dish, and opted for the pan-fried Foie Gras with homemade brioche with a truffle and sherry soaked raisin veloute from the a la carte. Given its price ($298), I was expecting a rather more generous portion. However, despite its diminutive size, it was well executed and the foie gras was seared to perfection.

Pan fried foie gras

Pan fried foie gras

The dessert from the set menu was a Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream, baked white chocolate and mandarin sorbet. The dark chocolate was quite powerful and I could not eat it on its own, but this was balanced out against the citrus tang of the sorbet.

Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream

Bitter Chocolate with mandarin cream

The trio of petit fours was a sweet end to the meal, and we enjoyed the macaroons and the mini profiteroles.

Petit fours

Petit fours

As the dinner drew to a close, the dining room was slowly being transformed into the after-hours club venue that I once frequented, and unfortunately this transformation did impact the service towards the end. That being said, Azure is a good spot to have an elegant, quiet dinner and then late night drinks if you choose to stay on.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

Azure, 29 & 30/F, Hotel LKF by Rhombus, 33 Wyndham Street, Lan Kwai Fong, Central. Tel: +852 3518 9330

You can also read this review on Sassy.


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Linguini Genie

No frills, no fuss, just good food. Sometimes that’s all I want. Should be easy enough to get, one would think?

Perhaps it’s just me, but lately I find that restaurants are pulling out all the stops to impress with their fancy but pricey menus and dishes with convoluted names and intricate presentations, when half the time, I’m only interested in how the grub tastes.

How difficult can it be to get simple, hearty food (aside from my mum’s homemade cooking)? The answer: pretty hard. Apart from cha chaan tengs, and little cafes, most restaurants in Hong Kong seem to have problems mastering simplicity itself. So it’s a breath of fresh air that Linguini Fini has come onto the scene with its delicious and affordable nose-to-tail pork dishes and fresh home-made pastas. The group that brought us Posto Pubblico has got a winner on their hands with a casual eatery that is completely focused on the quality and taste of the food without the pretension. It’s refreshing that it’s all about the nosh and isn’t meant to be a sophisticated experience.The interior is an artistic reflection of the food- modern, simple and hip with a local twist. The street artist group Start from Zero, has an original piece adorning the walls of a space that resonates with the vibe of a downtown New York loft. I like that their kitchen, pasta and salumi-making areas are open for diners to see, which gives a relaxed and fun ambience.I’m convinced Executive Chef and native New-Yorker Vinny Lauria created the menu just for me, because it just about has everything I love about Italian food on it and more. He uses every part of the pig from nose-to-tail, all the pastas are freshly made twice a day and there’s in-house curing of meats and sausages. His interpretation of Italian classics with locally-infused flavours is original and down-right tasty.To start you can choose from the flatbread selection or their salumi. I had the fantastic House cured lingua, which had a light dressing and raw red onions, followed by the utterly sublime Straccetti di Manzo from the antipasti section. Even if you’re not a rare beef person, I encourage you to try this dish as it really was mouth-wateringly delicious. I’ll definitely be ordering this repeatedly in the future as I adore artichokes, beef, gorgonzola and anchovies…. All which happen to be in this one dish. Hooray!The pigs, from which the nose-to-tail menu relies upon, are hormone-free from Bath but reared in Hong Kong. Only a few ingredients are imported- the beef and salmon hail from Australia and the sea-salt from Essex, but otherwise everything else is locally sourced.

I had to have the Rotisserie Porchetta- pork belly with chili mostarda. I adored the crunchy pork crackling and the meat itself was juicy and tender, the mostarda a piquant complement to the fattiness. The pork belly was chopped up and presented on bread, but personally I could’ve done without the carbs, although it did soak up the lovely pork juices.There’s a huge variety of pastas to choose from- 18 to be exact but it’s the signature pastas that really stand out as Chef Lauria has cleverly blended local flavours into the pasta, for example, salted egg, dried shrimp and fragrant grass.

I had the delectable dried shrimp pasta which smelt just like XO sauce and had a great spicy kick to it. It was pretty perfect to be honest.The Fazzoletti nose-to-tail bolo, with a three-meat ragu- pork, oxtail and veal was also excellent, with a good balance of meat sauce to lovely wide-sheets of al-dente pasta.To end my lunch, I had the lemon olive oil cake with poppy seed gelato and the tiramisu.

The home-made gelato and desserts are all meticulously prepared by pastry chef Jack Chua. The lemon olive oil cake is probably the unsung hero of the menu, being overlooked for regular Italian classics like Panna cotta and tiramisu. The whole ensemble is impeccable, from the silky lightness of the gelato to the lemon zestiness of the cake.Chef Chua’s take on tiramisu is innovative, and doesn’t resemble the classic dessert as we know it. The tiramisu is deconstructed with a frozen chocolate tiramisu gelato atop a coffee cake crumble with mascarpone cream. Large mouthfuls are hugely satisfying, with the chocolate-tiramisu flavoured gelato smoothly giving way to the stronger coffee taste in the crumble.I was impressed by the entire package of Linguini Fini. The quality of the food is exemplary and at such reasonable prices, (the most expensive dish is $168), it’s no wonder that it’s doing a roaring trade so early in its infancy. The one thing I have to complain about is their no-reservations policy, but as they say, something’s gotta give.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Linguini Fini, 1/F, The L Place, 139 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2857 1333

You can also read this review on Sassy Hong Kong.

[Many thanks to IHM Marketing for the professional pics you can see!]


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Zawazawa shows some Zest

Ahhh I’m back, it’s been a long couple of months since I last blogged anything or updated the blog, and I know I’m terribly behind, so please bear with me while I update the blog over the next week or so with my reviews for Sassy! If you have been reading the same stuff over and over, massive apologies, and if you’ve been visiting the blog hoping to see something new, again, apologies (SORRY!) and many thanks for the support  🙂 If you’ve not read this review I did on Robata Zawazawa, I hope you enjoy. You can also read it here.

At the time of writing, Japan was dealing with the aftermath of the tsunami with immense courage, so it was fitting that I was reviewing a new Japanese Robatayaki Grill in Lan Kwai Fong, whose chef and staff showed me such wonderful hospitality and demonstrated that same indomitable spirit, which was and is helping them through this time.

Robata grills are relatively new on the Hong Kong scene, but joining Zuma and Roka is Robata Zawazawa, a funky, compact, 10-seat bar and restaurant. Opening just last month and currently offering dinner only, this Edo style establishment has successfully recreated the intimacy of many Japanese eateries which can seat barely a dozen people at a time. With an almost hidden entrance (I nearly walked straight past it and thought I had gone into someone’s house when I first went in), the venue overlooks Lan Kwai Fong and has a little terrace on which customers can sip cocktails.

I was told that the decor was created by Shigeru Sato, a well respected interior designer who was responsible for the design of the Tokyo restaurant, Gonpachi Nishi Azabu, that motivated Quentin Tarantino to reproduce it on the Kill Bill set. Very cool stuff. Beautiful red Washi paper lamps adorn the entrance, and the open-fire Robata grill surrounded by a natural wood bar-top acts as centre-piece, as diners are enclosed by walls by grey stone and paneling.Chef Daisuke Nakano, hailing from the Fukuoka region, whips up a storm in the kitchen and at the grill, producing some truly delightful traditional Japanese fare.

To start, I had the delightful Hasu-imo green salad with Tosa vinegar dressing. Hasu imo is a seasonal (March to June) vegetable similar to cucumber that is native to Japan. It was so refreshing and light, and cleansed the palate before the rest of the dishes.I’ve rarely come across swordfish skewers, so when I spied this on the menu, I knew I had to try. The best swordfish I ever had was in Seville, Spain, in this grubby, middle-of-nowhere café 15 years ago, so I was keen to have this distant memory of a dish long ago digested, replaced by a more recent taste. The swordfish was marinated with sansyo spice, sake and soya-sauce and was sublime. Juicy, tender and rich, the flavours harmonized together wonderfully and the buttery creaminess of the swordfish was not suppressed.Another dish I was excited about was the Seared Foie Gras and Dashi fish stock with stewed Daikon Radish. The foie gras was excellent, delicate yet full-bodied, the radish and fish stock balancing out the heaviness of the liver.I was also treated to beef tongue- grilled to perfection and amazingly succulent and tender and Syu-Ichi beef (a “Royal breed” of beef) skewers, which had a more subtle, refined taste than normal Wagyu and were delicious.

A signature dish at Zawazawa is the Buta-ume Shiso pork, plum paste and shiso basil skewers. The taste can only be described as an aromatherapy in my mouth, the basil and plum paste were so fragrant; an unusual yet fantastic medley of ingredients.Chef Nakano’s signature udon noodles (limited availability daily) are handmade and flown in from Fukuoka. I had the Tanuki Udon Hot soup which was sublime. I could have bowls of this udon soup- the noodles were thick and just al dente with a wonderful chewy texture and the soup base was  bursting with flavour.During my feast, the director Kenji Sato, who also happens to be a dab hand at cocktails, was getting me merrily sloshed on 3 of their signature cocktails. I had the Japa-Jan, made from sake and yuzu- tart but sweet, the Haku- bai cocktail, made from their home-made plum paste, which was delectable and had a very natural plum flavour and the Shiso basil mojito, made from sake instead of rum. I couldn’t decide which one I loved more, it’s a close call between the Haku-bai and the Japa-Jan, but will definitely be going back for more!To end off a really fun afternoon of chatting to Kenji, scoffing my face and watching Chef Nakano lovingly prepare each dish, I had the Houji-cha pudding with Kuro mitsu honey and PON rice pop. Houji cha is a roasted green tea, and the pudding is made by infusing the tea with milk and waiting for it to set. The pudding is gorgeous and if you have a really sweet tooth, you may choose to add the honey, but not too much or you’ll get cavities! The rice pops were a delightful accompaniment, and I happily poured the rice pops into my pudding bowl and scraped off every last bit.If you want a relaxed evening with a friend and want to watch the world go by on the streets of LKF below, then Robata Zawazawa is the perfect place.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

Robata Zawazawa, LG/F, 41 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 2536 9898 www.zawazawa.com.hk

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