Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


1 Comment

Five Guys, Two Girls and a Sex Shop

It could be one or the other or a combination of all three- either I’ve gone senile, my lasered eyes are finally failing or London is changing faster than a quick change artist, but I swear that half the restaurants in the city are new since I was last home in February. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but it does make me feel that I am missing out on the smorgasbord of restaurants that has descended upon London. So it’s fortunate that on this three week break that I’ve taken, that my friends have been determined to fat feed me as much as possible.

One fine day last week, my friend S and I had the hilariously un-pc The Book of Mormon to look forward to at the theatre, but before we immersed ourselves in the world of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints, S took me to the artery-clogging Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Long Acre.

While you wait you can munch on monkey nuts at the door, or, like some people I spied, tut tut, take a whole bagful on the way out. You can have a normal hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger and then you can stuff as many free toppings as you like in between the buns. Clearly I went for the bacon cheeseburger and bit off more than I could chew haha as I asked for at least 6 toppings. You can go for the little burgers, but that just seemed like the wimpy option. They also serve hotdogs and sandwiches, but for us, it was burgers all the way. The American diner approach is also to have unlimited refills of your drink, which I can never take full advantage of  but we entertained ourselves by trying squirts of different Fanta flavours.

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web again!

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web!

Word of advice: order small fries. Do not think you can finish the regular fries between two people because you will be eating till the cows come home- ahh the puns. There were chips coming out of my ears by the end of the meal. But how was the burger? Monstrous. I loved the coarse grind of the juicy beef patty and although it was a messy affair, I enjoyed my Five Guys experience. Even if it took us nearly 45 minutes to get through it. The only trouble is the bun does get rather soggy from all the juices, especially if you have one too many toppings. But I would go back again. Perhaps I will share with someone next time- for my arteries’ sake.

Bacon cheeseburger

Bacon cheeseburger

20131016_131257IMG_7455After waddling to see The Book of Mormon, which was side-splittingly entertaining- thoroughly recommend it to everyone, we stopped for a sophisticated tea break and mini Austrian strudels at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Love having tea out of their gorgeous silver teapots.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Mini Austrian Strudel

Mini Austrian Strudel

Tea at The Parlour

Tea at The Parlour

And then we came to the slightly eyebrow raising part of the day- dinner at La Bodega Negra, near Leicester Square. S remarked to me, “This place is quite hard to find….because it doesn’t have a sign and it looks like a sex shop from the outside. So this could be potentially embarrassing.” I didn’t really know what to think. Were we going to end up wandering into some sort of bondage shop and end up eating off tied up patrons? We couldn’t look more clueless or lost when we got to Moor Street and shuffled nervously around the general vicinity of a sex shop- bright neon lights saying “Peep show”. When we realised that we were in fact at the right door- it says, “Private Dance Downstairs” and “COME” in red neon lights, (I confess I sniggered), we walked through and down some stairs, only to be greeted by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit. Cue nervous hand twitching, until the helpful lady at the desk confirmed our booking for 7 people. Phew.

La Bodega Negro Entrance

La Bodega Negro Entrance

Fancy a peep?

Fancy a peep?

It’s dark inside. Very dark. Stone walls and arches evoke images of dungeons and handcuffs, though I suppose that is the point. The atmosphere is vibrant and palpable and there is a dark allure to the whole set-up that I enjoyed. Ushered into our seats, we squinted and nearly lost an eyeball trying to make out the menu until I blinded everyone with my phone torchlight. The food served is Mexican comfort, with tacos, ceviche, tostadita and salads, as well as main dishes such as slow roasted lamb and chicken mole. We decided to share a mixture of everything but skip the mains in favour of cocktails.

The starters were surprisingly good. Their guacamole with sesame tostadas was quite beautiful- rich, creamy and chunky and had the right amount of lime juice to give it a clean taste. The Quesadilla Rustica- a toasted flour tortilla with four cheeses and roasted tomato was delicious and had a lovely crispy edge.

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Quesadilla Rustica

Quesadilla Rustica

We loved their quinoa salad with grilled courgette and the textured roasted corn salad, which had a light piquancy from the Serrano chili. We tried two Ceviche dishes- the mixed seafood (squid, prawn and octopus)- excellent dressing, and the Spicy yellow fin tuna which was gloriously chunky and had a wonderful citrus-fruity tang from the Guajillo chili.

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad

One can’t go to a Mexican without having tacos, so we went full pelt and ordered the pork belly, lamb, soft shell crab and the char roasted mushroom (we had a vegetarian in our group who was immensely happy with the veggie options). The soft shell crab and the pork belly were the winners, though I am still questioning whether two tiny tacos for £8.50- crab and £6.50 for the rest, is strictly worth it.

Soft shell crab taco

Soft shell crab taco

Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.

Churros

Churros

Portions are a bit on the stingy side, the prices too high to make you feel you can be completely satisfied and the salads in no way feed 6 people, despite the waitress’ insistence when we were ordering, but, I don’t think people come here for the food. The cool, underground vibe is the attraction, the cocktails are excellent and the amusement of being next to a shop that sells adult videos and seeing grown men accidentally go to La Bodega Negra on the way out are definite pluses however, but I’m not sure I would go back other than to feel hip whilst sipping a Tijuana Whore. Another negative is that when S phoned to book, she was told that they do not normally allow same sex groups to dine and there usually needs to be a mix of males and females to secure a booking, which is the biggest load of BS that I have ever heard. Thankfully our friend’s husband turned up. Hmmm.

And so we left, walking past the mannequin dressed in PVC and lingered with wild abandon in front of the sex shop before trotting off home.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1-3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH.

$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com

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

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

Apologies for quality of La Bodega Negro photos- massive headache trying to take anything in pitch darkness at a tiny table crammed with dishes.

Advertisements


1 Comment

Californication- wines and small bites at Brim 28

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

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

Image from winetimeshk.blogspot.com

Image from winetimeshk.blogspot.com

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

Wine bottles have multiple uses!

Wine bottles have multiple uses!

IMG_6203

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

Deep-fried calamari

Deep-fried calamari

Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc

Ferrari Carano Sauvignon Blanc

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

Gilroy garlic fries

Gilroy garlic fries

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

San Fran sourdough bread with Camembert cheese and green apple

San Fran sourdough bread with Camembert cheese and green apple

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

California sliders with soft shell crab and chipotle aioli

California sliders with soft shell crab and chipotle aioli

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

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

California tacos with Baja fish

California tacos with Baja fish

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

Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta

Marin Camembert and mushroom bruschetta

Wine wine wine

Wine wine wine

Pork quesadillas

Pork quesadillas

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

California sliders with Angus beef

California sliders with Angus beef

California tacos with grilled flank steak

California tacos with grilled flank steak

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

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

Apple tart!!!

Apple tart!!!

Pot de Creme

Pot de Creme

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

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

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

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

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


2 Comments

Socialito Shimmies onto the Scene

The Mexican wave (of food), continues with hot newcomer Socialito. Taking over Prive’s former location on Wyndham Street, Buzz Concept’s latest and boldest venture is a three-in-one package of ‘taqueira, restaurant and discoteca’. Hoping to embody the essence of the name and replicate a Latin-American social vibe on the streets of Hong Kong, Socialito aims to provide a space for people to mingle, play, eat and drink.

The 50s-style shiny, metallic taqueria (taco-stall) out front is brightly lit and playful and serves up an array of tacos, gorditas, tostadas and tamales. You can stroll in, pull up a stool for a quick bite, quench your thirst with one of their margaritas or just grab a take-away. Don’t be fooled by the laid-back, funky exterior however, as a discreet silver door on the left gives way to a sleek and dark, formal dining area. The softly-lit bar at the back draws you into a sophisticated space of high ceilings, wrought-iron gate features, plush leather seats and dark-wood panelling, evoking images of old Mexico. After dinner, this space transforms into a club from 11.30pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays, complete with DJ booth set up and the tables converting into bar tops.

As I perched at the bar waiting for the rest of my dinner companions to arrive, I got a head start in drinking and tried one of the fun and original Specialty Cocktails created by Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily & Bloom. After three sips of my delicious, refreshing Zumbido (Havana Club 7 and Denizen Rum with passionfruit, honey and lime), and later a Sociarito (Jalapeno infused Alacran Tequila with lavender-honey and peach bitters), I found these cocktails pack a punch too. Beware of drinking one of these on an empty stomach! I loved the Zumbido with its Mojito-like tones and the Sociarito was a perfect blend of sweet balancing out the fiery tequila.

Eric Stephenson, bar manager of Lily and Bloom sipping on one of his signature cocktails!

Soon after, dinner was in full swing and we started with the Lobster and Swordfish ceviche topped with coconut chili sauce, pickled shallot and herbs served with cucumber noodles. Pieces of the seafood combo were fresh and delightfully fleshy, the sauce and shallots adding a lovely zing, while the cucumber noodles gave it a cleansing after-taste. Next up was the Cauliflower Almond Soup. A visual crowd-pleaser, the soup was poured into bowls of pickled cauliflower, caramelized apples, almonds and morita chili at our table, leaving us to clamber for action shots. As soothingly thick and creamy as it was, the soup was a tad oversalted, but had a lovely blend of pickle with a subtle hint of heat. 

Our next two dishes were a triumph though, the Wagyu Tacos presented with a flourish, eyes feasted on the line up of fresh homemade tortillas encasing tender beef slices topped with salsa, guacamole and crispy onions. The Seared Pork Belly surrounded by a sea of green peanut mole was flavoursome and succulent, the outside seared perfectly. The mole itself wasn’t as distinctive in taste as its colour, but I loved the chicharrones (fried pork rind) and the accompanying sautéed onion and jalapeno.

Our mains of Grilled Scottish Salmon and Seared Duck Breast were both competently prepared. The salmon was evenly grilled but still pink and moist inside and we enjoyed the shimeji, queso fresco and potato puree with the green pumpkinseed mole. The Seared Duck Breast had an attractive presentation, with slices on black beans arranged on a long plate separated by little islands of corn tortitas atop corn puree. The duck was moist and wonderfully seasoned but I felt the dish was slightly let down by the black beans which were a little dry and glutinous and the corn tortitas which didn’t really add enough dimension to the dish.

Washing down our mains with a couple of gulps of our cocktails, we eagerly awaited the desserts. No matter how full you are, you must try the King Banana. This ridiculously cool-looking dessert with arrangements of fried milk bananas, sour cream sorbet and King banana chips on cumin crumble was a delight to the taste-buds. The cumin crumble was a great savoury contrast to the sweetness of the bananas and the sour cream added a faint tang to the ensemble.

The Molten Chocolate cake was equally sublime. The sponge gave way to the sexy ooze of warm chocolate and I adored the contrast of the cold coconut semifreddo that it came with. I was also intrigued by the Candied Ancho Chili fried chocolate that added decorative detail. The fried chocolate was achieved through mixing tapioca with molten dark chocolate, then solidifying, dehydrating and deep frying it. Clever stuff.

And so ended the evening; my dining companions and I a touch merry from the cocktails, and stuffed to the rafters with Mexican food. Although I find the three-in-one concept commendable I do feel people may be confused as to what Socialito has to offer, especially as the taqueria is so prominent. Would diners be more interested in the casual or the finer dining side of this establishment, I wonder? Another issue is finding the restaurant! I myself couldn’t find the door to the dining room at first and although the door is marked “Abierto! Pase Usted” (which means “Open! Come on in”), it doesn’t really help the non-Spanish readers!

That aside, the menu and the cocktails are exciting and I think Socialito will be enjoying a steady stream of fans flocking to the taco stall and dancing to La Bamba, drink in hand.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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

Socialito, Shop 2, G/F, The Centrium, 50 Wyndham St, Central, 3167 7380; www.socialito.com.hk. Taquería : Mon-Tue midday-midnight & Wed-Sat midday-2am. Restaurante: Mon-Sat 6pm-11.30pm. Closed Sun. Limited number of tables available for reservation for groups of 6 or more. 

You can also read this review on Sassy.