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

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

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

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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.


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Fuelling the Appetite at AMMO

It’s not often that a new restaurant finds a unique setting in Hong Kong. But new kid on the block AMMO has found a fiery site at the Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, formerly an explosives magazine compound created by the British Army in the mid-19th century.
Nestled against a bountiful backdrop of greenery and foliage, AMMO’s floor-to-ceiling glass construction looks like a very classy greenhouse with copper embellishments: spiral staircases cleverly suspended as chandeliers, a huge copper mural on the wall and a bunker-like ceiling. Overall, the modern sleek design beautifully represents the site’s former use.

Given the location, look and feel of the place, one would expect the cuisine to be on the steep side, but Chefs Tony Cheng and Roland Schuller (the man behind The Drawing Room in Causeway Bay) have created a focused menu for diners that is elegant but affordable. One can enjoy all the trappings of a fine dining restaurant but without the pretension. The a la carte menu has a lovely selection of starters and scrumptious pastas, some of which have Asian flavours and elements infused, thus reflecting Chef Tony Cheng’s aim of a cross-cultural offering (there is a tapas bar menu too).

A big attraction is the delicious 3-course set lunch menu, which has an attractive price ($188 +10% per person) and is changed on a weekly basis. Our lovely host Lauren thankfully chose a selection of dishes both a la carte and set menu for Food4Media.com’s Resham, Rach and I to feast on, which saved us from the agony of trying to pick dishes as frankly, we wanted to eat everything!

We sampled the light and refreshing sweet Japanese prawn with cherry gazpacho from the set menu, swiftly followed by some excellent grilled scallops with ginger, chives and Japanese pumpkin (an a la carte appetiser). The scallops were plump, delicately seasoned and perfected cooked and were complimented by the pumpkin puree.

A standout starter and an AMMO favourite is the slow cooked egg with toro, sea urchin and zucchini sauce. It was extremely satisfying breaking the egg and seeing the gorgeous runny yolk ooze and mix in with the rest of the ingredients on the plate. The freshness of the toro and the urchin plus the egg was like a party in my mouth!

We gleefully tucked into four pasta dishes for mains. Rach commented that sometimes pasta portions are so huge that you can’t fully appreciate the flavours, instead spending time wrestling with a mound of carbs; however at AMMO, the portions were well controlled, the homemade pasta (made with chicken eggs) nicely al dente and the sauce allowed to do the talking.

The tuna tartar taglioni had a piquant yoghurt sauce that added a wonderful depth to the pasta. For a pasta dish, it’s relatively light and I would recommend it (should it appear again in the future), if you are seeking something a little less heavy going at lunch.

The angel hair with uni, tomatoes and garlic chips was a solid dish and again, perfectly seasoned. If you’re a fan of uni, you’ll enjoy mixing the creamy sea urchin into the angel hair and tasting that rich, slightly sweet flavour of the sea.

I loved the pappardelle with veal and pork meatballs; I could’ve eaten a whole plate of the meatballs alone, they were that tasty. I enjoyed the egginess of the pappardelle, which soaked up the superb tomato sauce and makes you hanker for more.

But the real triumph of the pasta mains was the Burrata cheese ravioli with Peking duck ragout. It was hard work sharing this dish, and if you’re as much of a cheese fanatic as I am, this is the piece de resistance! Everything about this dish was sublime, from the creaminess of the cheese, to the soft yet firm and chewy bounce of the ravioli, down to the salty meatiness of the duck ragout. I was in pasta heaven.

Last, but definitely not least, were the desserts. We had the mochi with fresh berry from the set menu and the pan-fried brioche and vanilla panna cotta from the a la carte. I love it when panna cotta has lots of visible vanilla seeds, and AMMO’s was delectable and surprisingly light. 

The brioche was fabulous and very reminiscent of the kind of French toast you’d make for yourself as a naughty treat – beautiful and crisp on the outside, soft and rich on the inside. The mochi were bite-sized fruity delights and made for a great palate cleanser.

Asia Society Hong Kong Centre has hit the right note by establishing AMMO and bridging the gap between casual affordable cuisine and fine dining. The location is fantastic, though a little out of the way, and on the two occasions I’ve been, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the food, the decor and the ambience. Service is smooth and friendly, and it feels as if you’re dining somewhere quite swish. And the best part is that your wallet doesn’t tremble at the sight of the bill when it arrives.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

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AMMO, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre, 9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2537 9888
www.ammo.com.hk

You can also read the review on Sassy.


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In case you were missing Spanish food already…

People in HK must be having some serious tapas withdrawal symptoms because the Spanish invasion just won’t stop. If BCN, 22 Ships and Vi Cool weren’t enough, Boqueria is now up and running in Lan Kwai Fong.

LKF Tower already draws quite the crowd due to Lily & Bloom and Gold by Harlan Goldstein, as well as favourite drinking holes Azure and Tazmanian Ballroom, so Boqueria is in a good location to offer Spanish nibbles before a night out.

I’ve not been to the original Boqueria in New York, so can’t comment on whether its standard is equal to that of the flagship, but I have travelled to Spain enough times and eaten enough Spanish food to know what I enjoy and to rack up probably 10 years’ worth of food- induced siestas. When I received a kind invitation to sample what Boqueria has to offer, I was interested, as the chef, David Izquierdo, hails from Valencia and promises to bring the traditional taste of Spain to our tables in HK.

Before you enter Boqueria, the entrance opposite the lifts has a pantry-style display which gave me the urge to raid it for its bottled pimiento and olives. Whether this set up is designed to catch the eye or whet the appetite, I don’t know, but it certainly worked! The interior is set up rather nicely with Moorish tiles, an open kitchen and a compact tapas bar with bar stool seating near the front of the restaurant, opening up into a larger dining space. I like that there are hanging legs of jamón for all to see, but this display became rather a tease as the hunger pangs grew.

I was running late and by the time I joined the fellow foodies, starters were being demolished, the first being a platter of slightly too thickly sliced Iberico ham, (aged for 36 months) and nutty Rosemary Manchego. 

As with most new restaurants within a month of opening, there are bound to be a few hiccups along the way and Boqueria was no exception. For me, the best dishes of the night were the Bombas de la Barceloneta, which I was quite obsessed with, the Carne a la Plancha and the Albondigas.

The Bombas de la Barceloneta (beef and potato croquettes with salsa brava and garlic allioli) were so deliciously moreish that I was pretty sad when I could only have one. I don’t know how this came to be as I thought I was mumbling under my breath, but after talking to the others about how lovely it would be to have another plate, all of a sudden, a fresh plate of croquettes appeared in front of me. It was a miracle! Many thanks to the mysterious waiter or perhaps it was the manager that overheard, but I was pleased as pie I got to stuff my face with another one. The beauty of these bombas was the golden crispy coat that wasn’t overly greasy and the creamy mincemeat and potato filling that made this more than just a mere potato croquette. The allioli was excellent and the dish was quite close to the ones I had in Madrid.

The Carne a la Plancha, or Hanger steak, was surprisingly well prepared; tender and flavoursome, the slices were decently charred around the edges and made tastier by dunking them generously in the mojo verde.

I was also quite taken by the Albondigas or lamb meatballs which were gratifyingly meaty and happily buried under a tangy tomato sauce. The small dollop of sheep’s milk cheese did not necessarily add to the taste but it made for good decoration.

Other dishes of the night were the Pintxos Morunos- seared Australian lamb skewers which were grilled competently but let down by the overwhelming amount of salsa verde and the Salteado de Setas- sauteed wild mushrooms and manchego cheese, which were nice but didn’t really wow my palate. In addition, they served Spanish tortilla, which I’m very fussy about, having had some incredible tortillas on my travels around Spain. I do rate Spanish restaurants on their tortilla, as despite its relative simplicity, isn’t the easiest to perfect. Boqueria’s was a bit of a disappointment as it was too dense and I felt it would also have been better served warm rather cold.

No Spanish restaurant is complete without a paella dish on their menu, and Boqueria has their own Paella de Mariscos with Bomba rice and half the ocean’s creatures in it- monkfish, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, as well as saffron and salsa verde. The squid and shrimp were perfectly charred, scrumptious and plump and the rice was a good consistency and texture with the all important burnt bits at the bottom, but I couldn’t really detect any saffron. Consistency was a little off and we felt that our half of the table had the better paella versus the other half, whose paella was on the wetter side and tasted less well seasoned. It is of course the case that in Spain there are variations on the preparation of the classic paella; some are served drier and lighter in some regions, so it boils down to personal preference but with whichever preparation, Boqueria would need to be more consistent with this main dish. 

Two desserts brought our evening to a close with the first being the Pina Inopia: slices of pineapple with lime and molasses. Pineapple is a great way of refreshing the taste-buds and the molasses added a sticky sweet contrast to the sharpness of the lime.

Then there were the fat, short churros; gorgeous stumps of fried dough coated with cinnamon sugar and served with a melted thick, hot chocolate. I really enjoyed Boqueria’s version of the churros and overall it was a finger-licking, tasty end to the meal. 

Boqueria has some solid dishes on offer and I think in time, the inconsistencies will iron themselves out. It’s a fun spot and the atmosphere, coupled with their sangria and beer, will certainly help get one in the mood for a night on the town.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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Boqueria, 7/F, LKF Tower, 33 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2321 8681 www.boqueria.com.hk


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Raise the mast, it’s 22 Ships

Get out your fans because it’s Español Fever in Hong Kong right now. We’re experiencing an influx of Spanish eateries and some will be muchos excited to learn that the most hotly anticipated in recent weeks is Brit celebrity chef, Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships. Chef Atherton, of Pollen Street Social Fame, protégé of Ferran Adrià and Gordon Ramsay has brought to the streets of Wan Chai, not only the culinary kudos, but also a refreshing, modern spin on Spanish tapas classics.

22 Ships is a hip, laid-back establishment. Due to its compact size (35 seats), black and white minimalistic décor and an open layout lessen the feeling of confinement. The exposed front with counter seating and the capacity to spill out on to the street for nibbles and casual drinks gives an air of Spanish al fresco dining. Best seats are at the bar around an open kitchen for diners to observe and be entertained by the food preparations.

The no reservation policy seems to be de rigour at the moment and I can certainly recommend going as early as possibly to avoid disappointment and possible starvation, as 22 Ships has yet to establish a table time-limit. Our party of four were determined to not be kept waiting so we arrived promptly at opening time and snagged ourselves a kitchen view at the bar. The only splurge of colour in the restaurant comes from the vivid red font on our menus which display a concise array of para picar, meat, vegetables, eggs and desserts. As the four of us were ravenous, we chose something from each category, including four meat dishes, before settling into our bar stools with a sangria in hand. Interestingly, the sangrias looked a little like raspberry smoothies topped with foam, but it was then explained that the sangria is concocted as normal but injected with air to create this effect.

We were curious about the Manchengo cheese and Iberico ham toastie and were delighted to find four perfect toastie triangles with a comforting, beautiful, creamy filling of cheese, bechamel sauce and ham topped with a fried quail’s egg. Having got off to a good start, our meal continued with the arrival of the Spanish breakfast with chorizo and potato. Whilst the flavours in unison were excellent- the tomato puree’s tanginess meshing well with the chorizo’s picante kick and the poached egg, there was little of this explosive flavour and the potato was overly smooth, leaving the dish under-textured for my liking.

Moving onto seafood, and we treated ourselves to the marinated hamachi with gazpacho dressing and the miso grilled mackerel with wasabi avocado and cucumber chutney. The hamachi was a fine but small dish. The slices were of a good thickness and the gazpacho had a refreshing tang which, coupled with the sliced black olives and the red onion gave the hamachi an added dimension. We loved the mackerel with its perfectly charred edges and crisp skin. The flesh peeled away beautifully and hints of miso enveloped the fish while the mild wasabi avocado puree made for a pleasant but not entirely impactful accompaniment.

Meat was definitely on the agenda that night, but I felt that we needed to try at least one vegetable dish. My eyes fell upon the peas, broad beans, goats curd, Iberico ham and mint dressing on the menu and when it arrived I was impressed by this seemingly simple dish. I loved the wafer thin Iberico ham and the cool, clean taste of the mint against the sweetness of the peas and the tartness of the goats curd was wonderful.

But the real stars of the menu are the meat dishes. The baked smoked bone marrow with onion jam and sourdough and gentleman’s relish butter was a truly masterful dish. The aromatic bone marrow, scraped out and breadcrumbed before being nestled back into the bone was divinely soft and rich. I gleefully spread a heap onto my sourdough crouton and relished the rich taste of the marrow with the sweet, caramelised onion.

Who can resist the pull of mini-burgers, especially when they’re Char-grilled Iberico pork and Foie gras ones? Another first-rate dish, this was foodie heaven for me. The patty was juicy, thick and full of flavour, with the gherkin creating a great crunch. I especially liked the way the creamy avocado dip balanced out the richness of the burger. I later used up the rest of the avocado dip with the garlic fries which were extremely moreish!

The roasted lamb cutlets and the suckling pig were the mostly generously sized dishes of the night and went down a treat with our party of four. The lamb was amazingly succulent and the spiced olive marinade paired splendidly with it, curbing the fattiness of the lamb. The suckling pig’s skin was to die-for. So crisp and full of sinful, fatty goodness, I would have happily eaten a whole plate of the skin alone. The meat mustn’t be disregarded though; it fell off the bone and was mouthwateringly tender. Definitely a dish to be savoured.

At this point, we were starting to get meat sweats, but the desserts were too tempting so we had three. The ‘PBJ’ peanut ice cream with salted pea-nut caramel was a medley of sweet, sour and salty flavours, which can be a little overwhelming for the palate at first. The cherry sorbet was a very refreshing counter balance to the peanut ice cream and we all enjoyed the pop of salt at the end of the mouthful.

The Olive oil brioche with chocolate ganache and sea salt was an interesting combination. The nuttiness from the brioche was overpowered slightly by the bitter edge of the chocolate and there was too much sea salt to really even out the flavours on the taste-buds.

The last was the intriguing goats cheese sorbet with honeycomb and sweet walnuts. This was a little too adventurous for two of my dining companions, and I have to admit, even as a goats cheese lover, this packed quite a goaty, tangy punch. While I commend the effort and the exciting dry-ice effect on presentation, the honeycomb and the sweet walnuts were not enough to combat the sharpness of the sorbet.

22 Ships is sailing in the right direction with efficient, knowledgeable staff and some outstanding dishes. The no reservation policy may be problematic for large groups and I’m concerned that with the kitchen’s attention to detail (which is of course, fantastic and a must), and the lack of a table time-limit, turnover could be slow. We also found that the portions, for the most part, were on  the small side for their prices, with our meal setting us back $500 per head. Despite this, Atherton has brought to Hong Kong a fresh take on Spanish tapas and whilst I wouldn’t peg it as budget-friendly, I would encourage diners to have 22 Ships on their list for this month.

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Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

22 Ships, 22 Ship Street, Wan Chai. +852 2555 0722 www.22ships.hk

You can also see this review on Sassy.