Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Gluttonous Food Porn at Doppio Zero

Oh what a night. Late June, back in ’14, what a very special night for me, as I remember, what a night. Doo-do-do-do-do… Ok, I’m not a wannabe lyricist trying to create my own version of December 1963 by The Four Seasons (classic song, by the way), but for some reason this song did pop into my head as I looked over my photos from a night of pure gorging at Doppio Zero for a Seasonal Menu Tasting. When I was invited, I thought back fondly to the first meal I had there, and wondered if some of my favourites would make an appearance, and yes sirree they did. But, this wasn’t just any ol’ gathering, we had a raucous night with some new and familiar faces and wine pairing to boot. And 16 dishes to get through, (14 if you don’t count the vegetables). I wish I had worn my stretchy pants.

I’m not going to really go into too much detail on this post, because frankly, I’ll get tired writing something about each dish, and you will get tired reading about them. Just take my word for it, the food is good. The execution of a lot of the dishes was spot on and I more than enjoyed every morsel. My favourites: Roasted Bone Marrow, Truffled Fried Oyster, Beetroot Ravioli, Lamb Short Ribs and the spectacular USDA Prime Ribeye. Feast for your eyes and your tum!

Heirloom Tomato Salad- all I can say is: great anchovies.

Heirloom Tomato Salad- all I can say is: great anchovies.

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Roasted Bone Marrow- this is a must-eat dish at Doppio Zero. Am also addicted to their balsamic onion jam. Rich, wobbly, soft and full of greasy goodness.

Roasted Bone Marrow- this is a must-eat dish at Doppio Zero. Am also addicted to their balsamic onion jam. Rich, wobbly, soft and full of greasy goodness.

Truffle Fried Oyster- no words. Loved this. Black truffle aioli atop a freshly and delicately fried oyster? Genius.

Truffle Fried Oyster- no words. Loved this. Black truffle aioli atop a freshly and delicately fried oyster? Genius.

Prosciutto Ball- ricotta, mozzarella, and pecorino with Honeydew melon sauce. The sauce was an interesting touch. Nice, crispy outside. A tasty morsel.

Prosciutto Ball- ricotta, mozzarella, and pecorino with Honeydew melon sauce. The sauce was an interesting touch. Nice, crispy outside. A tasty morsel.

Prime beef carpaccio- the combination of beef with sea urchin was quite good , but didn't wow as much as the other dishes.

Prime beef carpaccio- the combination of beef with sea urchin was quite good , but didn’t wow as much as the other dishes.

Sunny Side Up Duck Egg with crispy watercress, Thai asparagus, Bottarga and horseradish vinaigrette. This was a dream to look at and the egg was fabulous but I couldn't really detect the bottarga. The dish was delicious overall but I didn't think they needed to make the watercress crispy!

Sunny Side Up Duck Egg with crispy watercress, Thai asparagus, Bottarga and horseradish vinaigrette. This was a dream to look at and the egg was fabulous but I couldn’t really detect the bottarga. The dish was delicious overall but I didn’t think they needed to make the watercress crispy!

Beetroot Ravioli made with Gorgonzola, Italian butter and poppy seeds and Shrimp Ravioli made with chives, lemon zest and green peppercorn butter. Loved both of these but I absolutely fell in love with the Beetroot ravioli the first time I had it. Hard to describe quite how delicate the flavours are, yet how beautifully rich and sweet the beetroot is. 5 stars for that dish.

Beetroot Ravioli made with Gorgonzola, Italian butter and poppy seeds and Shrimp Ravioli made with chives, lemon zest and green peppercorn butter.
Loved both of these but I absolutely fell in love with the Beetroot ravioli the first time I had it. Hard to describe quite how delicate the flavours are, yet how beautifully rich and sweet the beetroot is. 5 stars for that dish.

Sea Urchin Chitarra- I've had this dish before but the Chitarra was surprisingly thick this time, a detail we all pointed out. Apparently they have just changed their chitarra pasta cutter, think they need to make some adjustments otherwise this was almost like an udon. Great dish for sea urchin and crab roe fans.

Sea Urchin Chitarra- I’ve had this dish before but the Chitarra was surprisingly thick this time, a detail we all pointed out. Apparently they have just changed their chitarra pasta cutter, think they need to make some adjustments otherwise this was almost like an udon. Great dish for sea urchin and crab roe fans.

Ricotta Gnocchi with red wine braised beef cheeks. The gnocchi was filled with salted duck egg which is always a winner, but as with most gnocchis, this was quite a heavy dish with the rich beef.

Ricotta Gnocchi with red wine braised beef cheeks. The gnocchi was filled with salted duck egg which is always a winner, but as with most gnocchis, this was quite a heavy dish with the rich beef.

New Zealand Lamb Short RIbs with grilled corn. Lamb is one of my favourite meats and this was cooked to perfection. Some found it a bit too 'lamby' but lamb lovers will think this is ace. The corn was mouthwateringly sweet.

New Zealand Lamb Short RIbs with grilled corn. Lamb is one of my favourite meats and this was cooked to perfection. Some found it a bit too ‘lamby’ but lamb lovers will think this is ace. The corn was mouthwateringly sweet.

Prime USDA Ribeye with Bone Marrow and Anchovy and Garlic Butter. This was just a ridiculous plate of ridiculous deliciousness. Too much umami for my brain to compute.

Prime USDA Ribeye with Bone Marrow and Anchovy and Garlic Butter. This was just a ridiculous plate of ridiculous deliciousness. Too much umami for my brain to compute.

Olive Oil Gelato Float with salted caramel cookie bar and Lambrusco Sparkling Red wine sauce. This was a little overwhelming for my taste-buds, probably because I poured too much Lambrusco onto my gelato, but I found the sauce a bit strong. The cookie bar was scrumptious though.

Olive Oil Gelato Float with salted caramel cookie bar and Lambrusco Sparkling Red wine sauce. This was a little overwhelming for my taste-buds, probably because I poured too much Lambrusco onto my gelato, but I found the sauce a bit strong. The cookie bar was scrumptious though.

Yin Yang Affogato with Milk Tea gelato, Espresso shot and Peanut Butter cookie. Another DIY dessert here. This was a wonderful sweet ending to the meal. I would like a whole packet of those peanut butter cookies please.

Yin Yang Affogato with Milk Tea gelato, Espresso shot and Peanut Butter cookie. Another DIY dessert here. This was a wonderful sweet ending to the meal. I would like a whole packet of those peanut butter cookies please.

Yin Yang Affogato

DIY dessert time!

So there it is, my entire meal in pictures, vegetable dishes excluded unfortunately (I can say that the Baked Brussel Sprouts and the Roasted Oyster Mushrooms were very good too, but when you are faced with Prime Ribeye, your attentions are more or less diverted).

If you haven’t yet been to Doppio Zero, I do recommend a visit one day soon. Atmosphere is suitable for low-key dates or bigger groups, and whilst it isn’t the cheapest meal (around $400-500 per person depending on how gluttonous you are!), I think the quality of the ingredients makes this place worth visiting. Especially for that Beetroot ravioli and Prime Ribeye.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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

Doppio Zero, G/F The Pemberton, 22 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2851 0682

This was by kind invitation. Many thanks to Coco Alexandra PR & Events and Doppio Zero. 

 

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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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Malaysian fix at Cafe Malacca

I take my Malaysian food pretty seriously. As a daughter to Malaysian-Chinese parents and someone fortunate to have spent a portion of my childhood in Penang, finding somewhere outside of the mother country that satisfies my cravings is more often than not, a total non-starter. Call me a snob but honestly, I didn’t even bother visiting any of the establishments lin HK as I knew, deep in my heart, (sob), that it wouldn’t pass muster. Why try when I can make trips back to Malaysia? And what about my Penang Assam Laksa cravings? Oh how I lust after the sour taste of the soup and kick of the chilli, but alas, this seems to be the one dish that is missing from many a Malaysian establishment, most of them opting for the normal curry laksa. Having said that, I have been oddly relieved as I fear that cataclysmic disappointment would overwhelm me should the laksa not be executed correctly.

So imagine my surprise when I learnt the Traders Hotel’s Malaysian and Singapore restaurant, Cafe Malacca was making a few waves on the food scene and actually seems to be tentatively given the green light amongst fellow Malaysians. Interesting. And even more interesting is their menu, with none other than a Penang Assam Laksa making an appearance.

Cafe Malacca

Cafe Malacca

They didn’t make it easy for me- the Traders Hotel is as far west as you can get on HK Island and by the time I arrived my stomach was downright whimpering.

So named after the Strait of Malacca, a channel of huge economic importance that links the major Asian economies, the restaurants aims to reflect the multicultural cuisine that one finds in Malaysia and Singapore- a lovely mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan. To those unfamiliar to the cuisine, the menu has a helpful photo guide to the dishes. The restaurant itself is spacious, minimalistic and rather indistinct, with no real indication of it being a Malaysian restaurant other than a few framed black and white photos of hawker stalls.

Picture menu!

Picture menu!

But the food injects life into the place and Rach and I immediately got stuck in, with me prattling away about my childhood favourites and explaining the finer details of each dish. First up was the fried carrot cake- cubes of turnip fried with bean sprouts, prawns and the must-have preserved turnips to give it that all important crunch. It was good. Fresh out and hot, the cubes were plump and deliciously fragrant.

Fried Carrot Cake

Fried Carrot Cake

Of course, you can’t have Malaysian food without Char Koay Teow. Expectations were high, especially as it is labelled as Penang Char Koay Teow (nothing beats the Penang version) and it came on a banana leaf. It had the chives, the Chinese sausage, the only thing that was missing were the sea cockles but otherwise, it was pretty authentic in terms of colour (not too dark) and texture. The aroma triggered my senses and it looked like the real McCoy. Not overly oily, the flat noodles and sausage were delicious and had that little bit of charring round the edges that I love.

Char Koay Teow

Char Koay Teow

The one I had been waiting for, Penang Assam Laksa, arrived. The signature dish of Penang, this wonderful bowl of noodles is either your cup of tea or not. A spot-on assam laksa needs to be tart, sour and aromatic and the spice should pack a wallop. The tartness comes from the tamarind and the addition of the ginger flower gives off a slightly sweet accent that helps to dampen the fishiness of the broth. Both ingredients, I was happy to find out, had made it into Cafe Malacca’s version. No laksa is complete without the hae ko (thick, sweet prawn paste), which came on the side and I was delighted to find out that they had imported the Penang brand that the hawker stalls use. Did it pass the test? The broth had a good balance of flavours, was decently tart and had a generous amount of mackerel but was lacking in spicy punch. All the ingredients were there but the taste seemed a little pared down and the presentation was not as vibrant as the traditional version. I did however enjoy the sourness and as a beta version, it will do enough to satisfy homesick Malaysians.

Penang Assam Laksa

Penang Assam Laksa

Other dishes we tried were the Nasi Lemak- the fried anchovies were fantastic and the chicken succulent, and the Beef Rendang, which was quite tender and had its aromatic flavours enhanced by a rather excellent side of roti. The only real disappointment was the Sambal Belachan Kangkong, which despite its generous portion was distinctly lacking the belachan and the sambal kick that makes this normally so moreish.

Belachan Kangkong

Belachan Kangkong

Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang

Onto desserts and here we were greedy. The Sago pudding was lovely, not too sweet nor heavy and the Bubur Hitam (black glutinous rice pudding with coconut cream) was very authentic. The warm glutinous rice was soothing and had texture and bite. Some of you will wrinkle your noses, Rach moved her chair away from me, but Cafe Malacca do a rather stupendous durian pudding which is made from D24 Malaysian durians. Sublime.

Durian Pudding

Durian Pudding

Sago Pudding

Sago Pudding

Bubur Hitam

Bubur Hitam

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And if you like to keep things simple, indulge in the Kaya toast. Their freshly toasted buttered bread with pandan coconut jam beats Toast Box’s version by a mile.

Kaya Toast

Kaya Toast

So my verdict is, if you are craving Malaysian food and can’t get on a plane, definitely try out Cafe Malacca, as it is as close to authentic that you can get in Hong Kong. The chefs have been carefully trained and have done the research and travel to know what it takes to recreate these dishes and Penang chefs have been brought on as consultants, so they have certainly gone through a lot of effort. Prices are very affordable for a hotel, with the noodles averaging $85 (just don’t think about how much it costs in Penang) and the staff are friendly and unassuming. The laksa may not be a hundred percent yet, but it is close enough to bring a smile to my face.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (for as authentic as you can get in Hong Kong!)

Cafe Malacca, Traders Hotel, 508 Queen’s Road West, Western District, Hong Kong. Tel: 2213 6613.

This was by kind invitation by Trader’s Hotel. This review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong


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Sensational Sushi Shikon

Some gastronomy experiences are so fantastic that it would be rather futile to try and put into words exactly what made them sublime. This is the case for my meal at Sushi Shin, where frankly, I don’t know enough adjectives that would fully capture and describe each morsel.

Formerly Sushi Yoshitake, Sushi Shikon has now been awarded three Michelin stars, just like the original Sushi Yoshitake in Tokyo. However, there is a sticking point to this sushi experience- the price. My eyeballs almost popped out of their sockets to see only two prices- $2,000 per person for the Lunch Menu and $3,500 for the Omakase Dinner Menu. No choices in what you order, you get what you are given, and at that price tag, you hope you get given something good. And it is more than good. A superb offering of 12 nigiri sushi pieces, followed by soup and dessert in the most intimate of settings. Sushi Shin has only 8 seats at their sushi counter and a 6 seat private room at its home in the unassuming Mercer Hotel in Sheung Wan, so the entire experience feels as though you could be in Japan, shut away from the outside world, with nothing but the rhythmic sound of fresh wasabi being grated on a sharkskin grater in front of you.

Sushi Shikon counter

Sushi Shikon counter

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I sat down and perused the Sushi Etiquette page I’d been given, and after two minutes of etiquette cramming, had a bit of a worry over how to take photos swiftly and look elegant whilst eating, when I read that the sushi should ideally be eaten within 30 seconds of being served and not in little bites if the portion is too large for one’s mouth, (you ask the chef if this is the case and he will cut them up for you). We were also told by Chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma that we should use our hands to eat the sushi as we would have a greater sensory experience and he could also serve the “Shari” sushi rice at a softer consistency. Some of us already knew not to mix the wasabi in with the soy sauce (I imagined us being death-stared by the staff if we did this), and I was interested to see they had mentioned that soft drinks are not served as they “overwhelm the delicate flavours of sushi and disturb the ambience”.

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

Fresh wasabi

Fresh wasabi

All that aside, once everyone had settled in at the sushi counter, Chef Kakinuma began to weave his magic. We started with the outstanding steamed abalone, which was nothing like abalone I had had before. Smooth and tender, and almost steak-like, the succulence of the abalone went so well with its accompanying velvety liver sauce that I felt I needed to chew extra slowly to prevent the inevitable end of this mouthful. I can only describe this as a complete umami taste. Chef Kakinuma then brought a smile to my face by giving us a blob of their signature red vinegar sushi rice to mop up the remaining sauce.

Preparing the steamed abalone

Preparing the steamed abalone

Abalone

Abalone liver sauce

Abalone liver sauce

Steamed abalone

Steamed abalone

The ‘tender octopus’ should have been renamed ‘exquisitely tender’. My brain grappled with something to compare the taste to, and came up with pork belly. Who knew that octopus massaged and braised in sea salt could be this incredible?

Tender octopus

Tender octopus

As each sushi piece arrived, we each of us became more excited. The Marinated Medium Tuna was wonderful, but trumped by the outstanding Fatty Tuna, which by just one glance, I knew was going to be sublimely melty. The Seasonal Sushi Roll of mackerel, ginger, shiso and  braised Japanese squash skin was delightful and I loved the burst of shiso and contrasting texture of the pickled ginger. Sea Urchin is one item I am not overly keen on usually, but this was so ridiculously fresh and chilled that it was almost like cool, fresh water with a delicate nutty flavour and no overpowering smell. By far the best I have ever had.Chef Kakinuma

Medium Tuna

Medium Tuna

Fatty Tuna

Fatty Tuna

Seasonal Sushi Roll

Seasonal Sushi Roll

Sea urchin

Sea Urchin

Sea Urchin

The salmon roe with Chef Kakinuma’s secret special sauce marinade and yuzu zest was a balance of subtle flavours and I thoroughly enjoyed the sensory experience of eating the Tiger Prawn with my fingers and being attuned to its bouncy texture. The Golden Eye snapper was beautiful and the Conger eel exuded its wonderful charcoal, smoky flavour, a testament to its stint on the bamboo leaf grill.

Conger Eel

Conger Eel

Tiger Prawn

Tiger Prawn

Salmon Roe

Salmon Roe

Golden Eye Snapper

Golden Eye Snapper

The meal ended sweetly with a sponge-cake textured Tokyo traditional Castella egg, soup and a light, fruity dessert.

Castella Egg

Castella Egg

Miso soup

Miso soup

Fruity Dessert

Fruity Dessert

This was absolutely the finest Japanese meal I have had in Hong Kong, but I’m not sure if I can bring myself to repeat the experience at such a price, even though it can be explained by daily deliveries of the freshest fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market. I’m sure you can think of better uses for $2,000, but maybe the lure of world-class sushi without getting on a plane to Japan is too attractive to pass up. In any case, if you decide to bite the bullet, you won’t leave Sushi Shikon feeling cheated.

Chopstixfix rating: 4.5/5

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Sushi Shikon, Ground Floor, The Mercer Hotel, 29 Jervois Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. http://www.sushi-shikon.com Tel: 2643 6800

This was by kind invite. The review can also be seen on Sassy Hong Kong.


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Keeping it Simple at The Pasta Place

Simple eats are invariably the most satisfying and that’s what mother and daughter-owned The Pasta Place in Sheung Wan aims to do by going back to basics and providing hearty pasta dishes and desserts in a home-style setting. Despite owner Andrea Wannop being a Brit, her love of NYC and cooking Italian-American dishes inspired her and her daughter Charlotte to open their own establishment.

The Pasta Place is cosy, small and decorated with vintage wallpaper and black and white photos. A compact selection of Appetisers, Small Plates for sharing, Sandwiches and Pasta dishes grace the menu, though of course, it is the pasta that one would be most interested in. All the pasta sauces are Andrea’s own recipes and if any of them tickle your fancy, you are in luck as they are now bottling and selling her sauces.The Pasta Place

The Pasta Place

The Pasta Place

By kind invitation, my friend and I popped over one evening to try the food over a catch-up session. I started with a thirst-quenching homemade Mixed Berry spritzer before taking a forkful of their appetiser- Eggplant Parmigiana. The layers of roasted eggplant, mozzarella and pomodoro sauce came well together and I liked the burst of basil that came through. I would have preferred it if the eggplant could have been slightly more roasted but otherwise this was a lovely dish to begin with.

Eggplant Parmigiana

Eggplant Parmigiana

We then chose to try their Small Plates selection (you choose three dishes to share for $70 per person) and opted for the Caprese Skewers, Italian Meatballs and Garlic Mushrooms. The Caprese Skewers were an uncomplicated combination of Buffalo Mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes and basil. The Italian Meatballs were succulent and quite aromatic and I would have loved to have had them on a plate of spaghetti, which is sadly not offered amongst the pasta dishes! We also enjoyed the Garlic mushrooms which I do not recommend getting if you are on a date or going home to a loved one straight after, but if you are garlic fans like we are, then these will be right up your street.

Garlic mushrooms

Garlic mushrooms

Caprese skewers

Caprese skewers

Italian meatballs

Italian meatballs

For mains, my friend had the NYC Style Penne alla Vodka with Chicken Breast. Here, the pasta (I nicked some haha), was nicely al dente and the sauce rich and creamy with a good balance of tomato and garlic flavours and a sharpish tang from the splash of vodka. We both agreed that this would have been a far more comforting dish if they had a been more sauce.

NYC Style Penne alla Vodka

NYC Style Penne alla Vodka

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Spaghetti Carbonara

As for my chosen main, I went for my ultimate pasta comfort dish Spaghetti Carbonara. This was cream and carb satisfaction to the max with a generous topping of Parmesan cheese, just the way I like it. It was cheesy and filling and completely obliterated any feeling of hunger. The major let-down of both mains was that they came out a bit on the lukewarm side, something that I later relayed to Charlotte.

To end, we had the Tiramisu and the Chocolate Fudge Brownie with Gelato. Both were solid offerings; the rich chocolate brownie sufficiently gooey/chewy and the Tiramisu flavours light and delicate.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Chocolate Fudge Brownie

The Pasta Place is by no means out there to compete with other establishments such as Doppio Zero and I like that this mother-daughter duo are doing something they both love and gain inspiration from. The Pasta Place will appeal to you if you crave an enjoyable, affordable meal in a restaurant with no airs or graces, just smiles and happy attitude to life.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

 

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The Pasta Place, 8 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan, Tel: 2774 6692 http://www.thepastaplace.com.hk

This was by kind invitation- thank you to Andrea and Charlotte at The Pasta Place for having us!


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I don’t think canteen food normally tastes this good…

With Hong Kong stuffed to the rafters with fine-dining restaurants it makes such a refreshing change to have a slew of casual, humble and reasonably priced eateries opening up. This city, as always, has a habit of flooding diners with restaurants of the same cuisine in a short space of time, and recently it has been French food following hot on the heels of the Spanish and Mexican invasion. But before the likes of the cosy Les Fils à Maman and Bistro du Vin, the funky La Cantoche opened its doors to the public back in July. La CantocheMy girlfriends and I first popped round soon after its opening, (yes, yes, I know I’m really behind on the posting, but better late than never! I have returned since, but have done nothing, till now,  except stare at the poor quality photos I took). I love that La Cantoche (‘The Canteen’ in French), is tucked away off Hollywood Road and if you spot the small sign on the corner of the side street, it points you in the right direction. The glass entrance is bright and cheerful and the eye is drawn to the foosball table and the colourful, graffitied, white-washed brick wall inside.

Foosball table!

Foosball table!

I arrived early and was greeted by an ebullient David Sung, the French-born owner, who gave me a huge smile and welcomed me like a long-lost friend. His equally buoyant staff ushered me upstairs and settled me at a table in front of a wall projection of an awesome, old-school kung-fu film which I gazed at, mesmerized, whilst waiting for the girls. When I pried my eyes away, (I’m easily distracted by TV, am such a child), I managed to drink in the rest of the decor and liked what I saw. The interior is very minimalistic, with a mix of concrete and white brick walls, cement flooring and almost playground-like primary-coloured chairs. It has a hip, industrial feel but it doesn’t try too hard to be achingly cool.

Loved the decor

Loved the decor

Our waiter was brilliant. Introductions were made, water provided and the menu explained. David later came up and took time to tell us a bit of his background. The menu is simple and pretty much a hark back to his childhood, with French, homey comfort food a mainstay. His mother grew up in Vietnam, which explains the Vietnamese influence in the appetisers and salads. A lot of the recipes are his mum’s and the joy on David’s face as he talks about his dishes is quite infectious.

We started with the Boulettes Viet, two herb-infused meatballs skewered and balanced over a salad of cabbage and carrots dressed lightly with nuoc nam and lemongrass. The meatballs were a tad overdone, their bottoms overly scorched, but I could taste the potential within and would definitely give them another go and hope that they are less eagerly cooked. The salad was lovely though and saved the dish.

Boulettes Viet

Boulettes Viet

The Rice Krispies de la Cantoche were great and warrant a bit of fun DIY- wrapping the puffed up rice and Vietnamese-spiced minced pork combo into a lettuce leaf before taking a big flavoursome bite.

Rice Krispies de la Cantoche

Rice Krispies de la Cantoche

The Goat’s cheese spring rolls, (Nems au Chèvre) were incredible. I loooveee goat’s cheese, and love it even more when its in all its gooey, melty glory, which was the case with these golden delights.

Nems au Chèvre

Nems au Chèvre

The mains selection is concise with seven hearty dishes to mull over. All come with a side dish of your choice- including potatoes three ways, ratatouille and buttered macaroni. I have a massive weakness for mashed potato, and David was not kidding when he said I would want to cry with joy after one mouthful of his creamy Purée maison. It was seriously potato heaven. My girlfriend was obsessed with the pommes noisettes, (something I’ve not had in many years since my less than enjoyable French exchange when I was 13 years old), which are these glorious bite-sized, crispy golden potato balls hiding mashed potato inside. Our waiter was starting to think we had a carbohydrate problem as we also ordered the frites. They were very helpful as well, as we were able to get half portions of our potatoes to make room for some peas and carrots and the ratatouille.

Pommes noisette

Pommes noisette

Pommes frites

Pommes frites

Ratatouille

Ratatouille

Anyway, back to mains, and I ordered the Cordon bleu, a beautiful breaded, then fried cutlet of tender chicken breast rolled around ham and soft cheese. For me, this was the most outstanding dish, made more mouth-watering by my generous slathering of mash. The roast chicken (which I had the second time I went) gets my vote for second best dish followed by the Poisson Papillote, (fish wrapped in foil), which my friend had on our first visit. As we unwrapped the foil, a billow of steam was released, revealing the delicately textured fish with a lovely buttery sheen from basting in its own juices.

Cordon Bleu

Cordon Bleu

Poisson papillotte

Poisson papillote

The desserts are definitely worth attacking. I’m pretty much in love with their M&M nougat ice-cream which was absolutely divine. It’s playful presentation reflected the essence of La Cantoche, and us girls couldn’t help but ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ over every spoonful. We were also in raptures over the crème au chocolat which would make many a chocolate addict happy. At this point, David then popped up with a slice of his ridiculously yummy chocolate cake sitting in custard. If you want to win over girls’ hearts, this is the way to do it.

M&M nougat ice-cream

M&M nougat ice-cream

Chocolate cake!!

Chocolate cake!!

OOooooohhh Chocolate cake!

OOooooohhh Chocolate cake!

We were utterly replete with sugar. With smiles on our faces from the chocolate high, we got ready to settle the bill and give a good tip (there’s no service charge, so it’s up to you, but they deserve it!), but not before David produced 3 shot glasses of vodka, toasted our health and gave thanks for visiting La Cantoche. The best bit about the shots? The naughty glasses reveal a naked lady at the bottom when you’ve downed your drink. Ooh la la!

Waiting for the naked lady while David pours us vodka

Waiting for the naked lady while David pours us vodka

I love this place. It’s fab to have a laid-back spot to hang out and enjoy simple, good food with your mates. Even though I’m not French, I can pretend to be one for a few hours and hop over there for a slice of ‘home’.

They definitely deserve a tip!

They definitely deserve a tip!

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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La Cantoche, 5 Wa Lane, Sheung Wan, 2426 0880. Mon-Sat midday-3pm & 7pm-10.30pm. Closed Sun.


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208..not so great

Hype sometimes works in your favour, but for 208 Duocento Otto, it definitely has not.

Opened by Yenn Wong of JIA Boutique Hotels (one of which is by 208 on Hollywood Road), Chef Vinny Lauria promises New York style Italian food, specialising in Neopolitan-style pizzas.

D and I went lastnight and when the taxi pulled up in front, I saw a building that looks a bit like a solid bar of dark chocolate..so far, so intriguing. Walking past the the outdoor seating area and up the steps into the ground floor bar, you first get the impression that you’re entering a gentleman’s club from the Tudor/Renaissance period with all the dark browns encapsulating the interior: wooden panelling on the ceilings, dark wood flooring, seating, shelving behind the bar.

Then, I noticed the walls. Floor to ceiling, downstairs, upstairs and in the toilets, it seemed like the whole restaurant had been infected by bathroom tiling and I felt like I was sitting in a bowl.Tiling overdose aside, what matters is the service and the food. After being told on Monday that there were no tables available, and we would be wait listed, D was then told yesterday that a 7pm slot was free.

When we arrived, we were ushered upstairs, only to be greeted by the manager who demanded if we had a reservation (hmm obviously we had one otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten as far as upstairs) and then, we were told to go back downstairs as we were early (it was 7.01pm) and wait as they were still having their staff training! I understand staff training is important, but don’t open the restaurant at 7pm if you’re not going to be ready, and definitely don’t have your staff meeting AT 7!

As we waited at the bar, more people arrived and soon there was a cluster of “7pm people” waiting at the foot of the stairs. We perused the bar menu and I spied my favourite pizza- the Capricciosa, so D and I decided we would order that as one of our mains.

When we finally sat down upstairs (ambience was quite lovely, still had that bathroom feel to it!), we realised the restaurant was pretty empty, even with all the other diners. Tables all fully booked and suddenly one free at 7pm? Lies!!

Back to food; we had heard mixed reviews, especially about their pastas but their starters have gotten a big thumbs up from our friends. D and I decided to share the “Pomodori Uovo”- poached japanese egg, pecorino romano and garlic fett’unta (lightly greased sliced of bread) and ‘nduja (soft, spicy hot spreadable salami, mostly produced in Calabria). It was quite a hefty portion and the chef was a bit heavy handed with the tomatoes and salt, but overall, it was good. I loved the ‘nduja and the runny egg, and it was deeply satisfying heaping a spoonful onto my “fett’unta”.For mains, I tried to order the Capricciosa pizza, which wasn’t on the restaurant menu (the pizza selection on the main menu has fewer selections than the bar menu), but the manager informed me that they could only make it for those eating at the bar and they couldn’t make it for those eating in the restaurant. I thought this was ridiculous and completely illogical. If you can make it for downstairs, why can’t you make it for upstairs?! Slightly incensed by this, I ordered, with a huff, the Prosiutto e rucola pizza which, by mine and D’s calculations, had more ingredients and therefore, would be more worth our money. It was also the only pizza that had parma ham.The pizza base was chewy and cheesey and there was a generous topping of parma ham and half a forest of rocket. After consuming most of the crisp bread that came at the start and the fett’unta, I had gone into a carb coma and couldn’t eat the crust.We also ordered the Fazzoletti “Bolognese Blanco”, a braised rabbit, pancetta and mushroom pasta in a cream sauce with a horseradish gremolata (a chopped herb condiment consisting of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest). Despite friends saying that their pastas were drab, I must admit, this pasta was good, good creamy consistency, the rabbit was tender and the horseradish gremolata offset the saltiness of the pancetta well. We did, however, object to the pieces of celery that peppered the dish. While the purpose of the celery is to lighten the pasta and add a more refreshing taste, many people, D included, are not keen on seeing or eating visible slices of celery, so it would have been better to finely chop the celery and incorporate it into the sauce.A typical selection of Italian desserts awaited us and we opted for the vanilla panna cotta with peach “cobbler” and extra vecchio balsamico. This was very disappointing. The panna cotta itself was neither rich nor sweet enough and fell flat with no balance from the peach cobbler which did nothing except merely tickle the palate, rather than add a pleasant sour zing to the creaminess of the panna cotta. I also couldn’t taste the vanilla. The balsamic vinegar was an unnecessary and poor compliment to this pudding let-down.

Sad and unsatisfied, we ended with pots of fresh mint tea, but mine was more like mint water as I had a paltry 3 mint leaves to D’s 6 in hers.

Will I be returning? Not any time soon! You will see me instead at Pizza Express noshing on some dough balls.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

208 Duocento Otto, 208 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan. Tel: 2549 0208.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$    Dinner was very expensive at $370 per person, for one main and one starter/dessert each, without any drinks except our mint tea at the end!