Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Japanese Tapas at Tabibito

I seem to have serious issues pronouncing the name of this place- Tabibibi, Tabito, Tabibibito, TabEEbitto?! The name needs to be enunciated in small, staccato, mono-syllabic portions, much like how their food is served up as small, quick bites. The name Tabibito mean ‘traveller’ in Japanese, and boy did I travel to get there.

Tabibito

Tabibito

Situated in the land of I have no idea where I am, at the end of Po Hing Fong in Sheung Wan, just up from Po’s Atelier, is this compact establishment, specialising in Okazu, or ‘side dish’. The Asian tapas scene seems to be growing in Hong Kong and I actually quite like this trend. Leisurely grazing through a variety of little plates is appealing to those not content with just a couple of large dishes. One thing that is less attractive is probably the bill, which can quickly spiral out of control if you aren’t keeping a beady eye on things.

The restaurant is split into two sections- a long wooden bar space and a few small tables in the main area. The bar looks like a great spot for a private party as you can spill out onto the pavement with a drink in hand and mouthfuls of okazu. My friend and I had made a reservation for the second seating at 8.30pm and were settled in the main dining area.

The menu is divided into four sections- Raw, Sea, Land and Soil. Everything looked extremely tasty and we had trouble deciding what to go for so we got a few recommendations from the very friendly and enthusiastic manager who was more than happy to help.Tabibito

We started with the Spicy Wagyu Tartar from the Raw section. The mixture of raw minced up tenderloin, spicy miso, egg yolk, white sesame and capers was quite good but it would have been better if the flavours were pared down a little. There was almost too much going on and too much spicy miso which overwhelmed the beef.

Spicy Wagyu Tartar

Spicy Wagyu Tartar

Next, were the Brussel Sprouts from the Soil section. These were served with chestnuts, black vinegar, bacon and hazelnut oil. I am not a Brussel sprout girl. In fact I avoid this particular vegetable as I dislike the bitter aftertaste. Every Christmas as a child, my mother would say I had to have at least one sprout, (I think she was hoping that I would eventually love them if she did this every year) . Needless to say, this tiny green nugget had to be dealt with quickly- buried in mashed potato and drowned in gravy. So when my friend suggested the Brussel Sprouts I did wrinkle my nose. But I was surprised. They were actually quite delicious. The bacon bits helped, and the flavours came together very nicely with the vinegar and chestnuts masking the bitter edge. The sprouts themselves were rather sweet. I think I might have been converted.

Brussel Sprouts

Brussel Sprouts

A Sloppy Joe isn’t what I would expect to find on the menu of a Japanese restaurant, but Tabibito’s mini-slider version naturally has a Japanese twist. The buns were soft and covered in poppy seeds and the pulled roast pork leg, BBQ sauce, pickled onions, slaw and the all important Japanese Kewpie mayo, which lent a bit of sweetness,  was a moreish combination.

Sloppy Joe

Sloppy Joe

My favourite of the night was the Hitochino Fish and Chips. Hitochino pale ale is used in the batter for the fish which gave the batter a light, faintly citrus tang. The fish was fresh, the batter airy and I loved the accompanying curry aioli. If this was available on tap I could see myself quite easily eating this non-stop as the fish are snack-sized!

Hitochino Fish and Chips

Hitochino Fish and Chips

Our last main was the stuffed Baby Squid with chorizo, gingko and mint. This was surprisingly heavy as the very tender squid were densely packed with chorizo (no complaints though!). I enjoyed the gingko nuts, but I wasn’t sure if they really added anything to the dish. The chorizo flavours gave the dish a lively kick and more of a Spanish taste than Japanese.

Stuffed Baby Squid

Stuffed Baby Squid

To end we had a rather unusual dessert- a creme brulee made with miso. We weren’t able to make up our minds about this one, but I appreciated the smooth texture of the pudding. The miso was perhaps a bit too much to actually make this a winning dessert.

Miso Creme Brulee

Miso Creme Brulee

Overall, we had a fun, easy-going evening. The service was great, the staff friendly and accommodating and I truly enjoyed most of the dishes and would definitely go back. Ronin, as a similar Japanese tapas joint, is probably the more elegant and suave of the two with an edgier menu, but Tabibito holds its own as a more comfortable eatery and a crowd-pleaser. Most of their dishes hover between $98- 178 each, but I think the quality is there to justify those prices.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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Tabibito 20 Po Hing Fong, Sheung Wan, 2547 2833 facebook.com/tabibitohk

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A Comforting Lunch at Comfort

Most of my friends work in Central, so if ever I want to meet up for lunch, we either have to wing it (meetings/deadlines/projects/a*sehole bosses depending) or engage in complicated Whatsapping messaging to work out if they can risk  committing to a time and booking something in advance to avoid rush hour crush and disappointment. My friends are just as food obsessed as I am and are always asking, ” Is there anywhere new you want to try?” I like to think they are being nice as they say they are ‘helping me out’ as a food blogger. Hmmm. (Joking, love you guys :P)

One lunchtime excursion, my friend R and I decided to go to Comfort by Harlan Goldstein. This had been on my list of places to try for a while but the Food Gods have been sending me elsewhere for the last few months. So when R said the magic words, “You HAVE to try the Mac’n’cheese”,  Food Gods’ itinerary be damned, I had to hotfoot it down there toute suite.

Comfort

Comfort

Harlan Goldstein’s other establishment Gold and now newly opened Sushi To, will appeal to those looking for a classier, finer dining experience, but Comfort offers meals for us mere mortals- more affordable and simpler, like the Armani Exchange to Armani.

Cool lights

Cool lights

At first glance at the menu, I liked what I saw. Dishes are split into various categories such as Something Small, Something Green, Something Raw, Pizza and Pita and Comfort Dishes. Being only two of us, and with an hour window, we didn’t want to be too greedy nor did we want to send R into a food coma at her desk.Comfort

Obviously we only had one goal. Mac & Cheese. I naturally assumed, being a staple, comfort dish, that it would be on the normal a la carte. But, it seems that I assumed wrong. The waitress had to whip out the Daily Specials menu where “Kick Ass Mac & Cheese Is Back” was emblazoned in the middle. Well, this is just silly, I thought. Why on earth have something so KICK ASS as a Daily Special. Just put it on the main menu so we can gorge on it everyday!

Kick Ass Mac and Cheese

Kick Ass Mac and Cheese

And it was damn good. Gooey, cheesy, rich, with a beautiful breadcrumb crusting on top and a smack of black truffle aroma in the face. This dish is death for the lactose-intolerant. Thank goodness I got over my dairy allergy years ago. Whoop. I loved the surprise nuggets of Argentina pork sausage buried in the cheese, which gave it even more savoury deliciousness. This was definitely one of the best Mac and Cheese dishes I have had in Hong Kong.

Gooey deliciousness

Gooey deliciousness

Aside from the Mac & Cheese, we decided to order the Field Greens with Mango, Pear and Tomatoes which was light and refreshing and the Black Truffle, Taleggio and Sausage Pizza for more truffle, more cheese and more sausage. This was the dinkiest, cutest, little pizza I had ever seen and the ingredients so prettily scattered atop the dough. The pizza itself was quite excellent. The sausage was flavourful and the dough soft and pillowy to bite into.

Black truffle, Taleggio and Sausage Pizza

Black truffle, Taleggio and Sausage Pizza

Field Greens with Mango, Pear and Tomato

Field Greens with Mango, Pear and Tomato

To end a rather carb-heavy meal, we thought, why not send ourselves over the edge and order the Old School Apple Crumble with Vanilla ice-cream. This really hit the spot and we both appreciated how they had achieved a good pie to crumble ratio. The apple wasn’t too tart and the crumble did not go soggy as it does all too quickly in some versions. I smothered each mouthful with vanilla sauce and ice-cream and was left truly satisfied.

Old School Apple Crumble

Old School Apple Crumble

The service is smooth and friendly, the atmosphere fun and I feel that Harlan has done a great job introducing a cheaper option without compromising on the quality of the food. Comfort 100% comforted my stomach that day.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

 

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Harlan Goldstein’s Comfort,  5/F Grand Progress Building, 15-16 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, Hong Kong Tel: 852 2521-8638 Email: dine@comfort-dining.hk


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Fish & Meat- Delicious Simplicity

For all our mod cons and modern living, humans are really uncomplicated creatures at heart, and this is becoming more evident with food trends. These days we are exploring the benefits of a more pared down diet and going back to basics, with nutritious yet simple cooking. Maximal Concepts, with their ever-growing empire, (Brickhouse, Blue Butcher and now Mott32) are doing just that, with their restaurant Fish & Meat. Their philosophy is to provide rustic, honest cooking, sourcing the freshest farm-to-table ingredients. As the name implies, the menu is replete with fish and meat and is split into small and large plates for sharing amongst friends, farmhouse, family style.

Fish & Meat

Fish & Meat

F&M F&M

The first time I went was in a large group to make the most of sharing as many plates as we possibly could. Whisperings amongst friends who had already paid a visit told me a fair number of their small plates were worth checking out. The Sea Urchin Bruschetta with lardo di colonnata may not be to everyone’s taste, depending on your fondness for sea urchin, but there was no denying their freshness. I love lardo di colonnata and the fatty flavours lent themselves well to the dish, countering the strong sea urchin. The fresh burrata with grilled Australian yellow plums was good and satisfied our cheese cravings, though the price was a little eye-popping at $180. I’m not quite sure what they coated the crispy whitebait in or what they put in their aioli, but this basket of tiny fish could put someone into food rehab, i.e. ridiculously moreish.

 Sea Urchin Bruschetta

Sea Urchin Bruschetta

Fresh burrata

Fresh burrata

Crispy whitebait

Crispy whitebait

The pan-fried baby Spanish octopus with white bean puree , garlic, parsley and chilli was met with mass approval. I particularly enjoyed the contrast of the crispy exterior of the octopus against the tender meat. The white bean puree was lovely but I would have been happier if the garlic and chilli flavours were little more dominant. The Californian artichokes ‘Barigoule’ with  Black Label Galloni Prosciutto and Mustard Vinaigrette was possibly the most disappointing of all the dishes we had, mostly due to the price and what we actually got. At $170, there really was not very much to look at apart from a meagre sprig of leaves and a couple of artichoke halves topped with two shreds of prosciutto. But all was not lost as the soft duck egg raviolo with ricotta cream, burnt sage butter and pecorino was a winner. Who can resist a burst of golden egg yolk from a secretive, innocent-looking pasta spaceship? None of us it seemed, as we all attacked the cheesy, gooey goodness with gusto.

Soft duck egg raviolo

Soft duck egg raviolo

Pan-fried baby octopus

Pan-fried baby octopus

Californian artichokes ‘Barigoule’ with  Black Label Galloni Prosciutto

Californian artichokes ‘Barigoule’ with Black Label Galloni Prosciutto

Next up, two hand-ground Dutch veal and pork meatballs with melting fontina cheese and a pepperoni sauce eyeballed us. Let’s just say, cutting each meatball into quarters doesn’t exactly cut the mustard. I’m definitely having a plate of those to myself one day. At this point, it was rather difficult to fit in anymore than one main dish X 2 for our group of 8, so we settled for the Slow-cooked Spanish Tereul pork belly porchetta , Italian fennel sausage and apple marmalade. This was ridiculous. Ridiculously good I mean. Tender, bursting with flavour and the apple marmalade was genius. But, there was something even better. And this will sound strange as it is a side dish, but, the sweet-corn polenta. Strike me down with a feather, if this wasn’t the best side dish I have ever tasted. This was definitely a magical dish as we had to order this twice during our meal. I can’t really describe it, but it was comfort epitomised.

Dutch veal and pork meatballs

Dutch veal and pork meatballs

 Slow-cooked Spanish Tereul pork belly porchetta

Slow-cooked Spanish Tereul pork belly porchetta

Sweetcorn polenta

Sweetcorn polenta

Do leave some room for dessert, or at the very least, room for the Sicilian lemon tart with clotted cream which I enjoyed the most. There was a good balance of citrus tang and sweetness with a lovely crumbly pastry base. The deconstructed, whipped mascarpone cheesecake with raspberry shortbread crumble was yummy but almost too light. I couldn’t help but think of the crumbs from Crumbs! Chocolate fans will enjoy the Chocolate Lava Cake with Salted Caramel and Vanilla ice-cream, where flavours lovingly hopped from salty to sweet in every mouthful.

Lemon tart

Lemon tart

Chocolate lava cake

Chocolate lava cake

Mascarpone cheesecake

Mascarpone cheesecake

Lunch is a simpler, more laid-back affair with a pared-down selection of small and large plates. By kind invitation I had a lovely lunch one afternoon and was introduced to the new lunch menu. A couple of the starters from the dinner menu are kept, including the moreish crispy whitebait, but we tried the new addition Crab and Jalapeno crostinis with frisee salad. It is a plain looking dish, but the taste has more colour owning to a fiery kick from the jalapeno. They are quite generous with their crab which is piled high atop the crostinis and is a rather refreshing seafood meaty starter to get the tastebuds going.

Crab and Jalapeno crostinis

Crab and Jalapeno crostinis

For mains, we opted for the hand-ground veal and pork meatball baguette with mozzarella, pesto and tomato sauce, the slow-cooked Spanish Tereul pork belly porchetta ciabatta with pork and fennel sausage stuffing and gremolata (both a clever lunch variation of their dinner counterparts) and their saffron risotto with crispy sea bream, scallops, squid and prawn.

Spanish Teruel pork belly ciabatta

Spanish Teruel pork belly ciabatta

Saffron risotto

Saffron risotto

Veal and pork meatball baguette

Veal and pork meatball baguette

The baguette and ciabatta were toasty perfection, and extremely satisfying for lunch. The pork belly was still deliciously tender and I loved the gremolata which made this dish pop with more flavour. The meat was almost reminiscent of Bee Cheng Hiang’s BBQ meat! The risotto was also excellent- creamy, but not too rich with fresh seafood ingredients. This was a hearty, warming and aromatic dish.

To end we had the amazing Chocolate Pot, which, even as a non-chocoholic, this was sublime. A heady medley of salty chocolate, nutty, praline, biscuit heaven.

More Chocolate pot

More Chocolate pot

Chocolate pot

Chocolate pot

Maximal Concepts have done it again with their magical food know-how and have, I think, successfully delivered their concept. The food is honest, simply done without skimping on technique and the service is quite smooth. Ambiance is fun and as the menu is designed for sharing, make sure you come with more than one person so you can graze happily through the menu. The price per person will vary depending on a) greed b) which items you choose as some are not that price-friendly c) how many people there are.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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Fish and Meat  2/F, 32 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, Tel: 2565 6788 

Many thanks to Maximal Concepts for the kind lunch invitation. 


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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

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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.