With my customary slowness with uploading, as I am prone to being when work and play get in the way, I have finally gotten round to posting about a fun evening last month with fellow foodies at Kin’s Kitchen in Wan Chai. This evening was particularly interesting and special because the menu was dedicated to the recipes created by the legendary HK food authority Ms. Pearl Kong Chen (江獻珠), whose cookbooks and instruction have long captured the hearts and stomachs of many the Cantonese food aficionado. Having never heard of her until the dinner was arranged by the lovely Little Meg and Janice of e-ting, I was quite fascinated to learn about her history and how her dishes showcase the evolution of Cantonese cooking and the techniques, some quite laborious, needed to master some of these dishes.
Our menu had 9 courses which presented classic Chinese banquet and homey dishes following Ms. Kong’s recipes and techniques. These traditional recipes, long abandoned over the years, were just amazing and I’m not going to even attempt to explain her background, except to say that Ms. Pearl Kong is the granddaughter of a Qing dynasty archivist and the legacy of her grandfather’s recipes was passed down to her. Instead I am going to directly quote Janice, which I stole off FB from when she posted on another friend’s pic of the night haha- thanks love!
“Kong (Jiang in Mandarin pinyin) Kong-dian was Mrs. Chen’s grandfather’s full name, although he was known by his position in the court (Taishi, ie. official court archivist/historian). He had cooks in his (supposedly grand) household and was fond of working out new dishes with them, and hosting other bigwigs at his house. As the Qing Dynasty crumbled, the family gradually had to supplement their income and it is said he ran his house as a bit of a private kitchen. He’s the one who invented snake soup as we know of today (often called Taishi snake soup as a result). Another random bit I read – he loved food so much he bought his own orchard and kept bees and stuff. And another random bit – the reason why Tim’s Kitchen is so well known is because chef Tim was trained by one of Kong Taishi’s chefs, and learned these crazy techniques and recipes.”
All in all, it was a beautiful evening with beautiful people, remembering and honouring the past and emphasizing how important it is to preserve tradition. For it is remembering our history that we can learn and move into the future. Enjoy the photos! 🙂
Stir-fry imitated shark-fin with eggs
Soup of Fish Head- expertly done. An impeccable dish.
Deep fried custard of chicken broth- this was pretty sensational, having never seen anything like this before. Firm chicken broth in a light batter, pretty addictive.
Steamed Chicken Stuffed with Shrimp Paste- a dish of hot discussion! How on earth do they do it? I loved this. Silky, rich chicken skin and chicken meat replaced with a smooth shrimp paste.
Stir-fried finely sliced pigeon
Braised Mustard Green with Ham sauce
Stir-fried noodles with assorted mushrooms
Smoked Chicken with rose stems and sugar cane- a Kin’s Kitchen signature. We ordered a plate as an extra! Fantastic and aromatic.
Steamed grouper fillet with fermented soy bean
Sweet pumpkin and almond soup with glutinous rice
Kin’s Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, HK. Tel: (852) 2571 0913
It has taken a while to sample a taste at Catalunya, but now I understand why this restaurant took Hong Kong by storm at its opening early last year. Serving contemporary Spanish cuisine and headed by an impressive team of culinary experts from restaurants such as el Bulli, El Celler de Can Roca and Arzak, Catalunya has garnered high praise from many a foodie and celebs flock there to dine on Catalan inspired dishes in the confines of the private dining room (via the VIP back entrance of course).
Tree-lined Oi Kwan Road with its schools, hospital and swimming pool is an unlikely location for such a restaurant, but the quiet environment is appealing and adds charm to Catalunya. The grand interior is decorated with Spanish-inspired elements and decked out in mahogany and warm red hues and sits 140, the private dining room 16.
Rach and I were nestled in a booth in the main dining room and had a good view of the comings and goings, including the dishes that were heading our way.
The menu is varied, with a large selection of seafood and meat, but everyone’s eye is on the tapas. We began with the excellent Travelling Oysters, so called because the oysters feature flavours from a different country every week. We had Gillardeau oysters dressed with a Japanese sauce of ponzu and ikura.
The thinly sliced 48-month Jamón Ibérico was not too salty and had a lovely nutty flavour. This was a great accompaniment to the Pa Amb Tomàquet, a traditional Catalan toasted bread topped with a tomato ‘’De Penjar” spread and a dash of olive oil, which salt lovers will also enjoy with the moreish Cantabrian Anchovies.
48-month Jamón Ibérico
Pa Amb Tomàquet
The Catalunya Tomato Tartar, an elBulli dish, is unusual as it is completely made out of tomatoes but resembles a steak tartar in appearance. The ‘tartar’ had layers of rich tomato flavours and I was impressed by the meatiness of the texture.
Catalunya Tomato Tartar
The most enticing dish had to be The Bikini, a downright sinful and luxurious sandwich filled with Iberian ham, mozzarella cheese and truffle. The truffle smell hits you first and breathing and tasting it at once can be a little heady, or perhaps it was just the sheer delight of scoffing it.
My litmus test at any Spanish restaurant is their Tortilla, and Catalunya’s Tortilla De Trampo got my seal of approval. Their Catalan version made from potato, onions, eggs and red sausage was slightly wetter than others I have had before but was thick and velvety especially smothered with their allioli sauce.
Tortilla de Trampo
Other favourite dishes were the Bombas De La Barceloneta- pork and beef meatballs covered in potato puree then breaded and deep fried, and the Octopus A Feira, a creamy combination of potato foam, octopus and grilled pork belly. The Green Peas with Blood Sausage may be slightly less palatable for some depending on your penchant for both ingredients, but the green peas were fresh and the sausage had an intense earthy taste.
Bombas De La Barceloneta
Octopus A Feira
Peas with Blood Sausage
Of the desserts we sampled, I enjoyed the Torrija the most. This simple pudding of brioche bread soaked in vanilla milk and then pan-fried was decadent and I was intrigued by the smoked ice-cream. The Chocolate in Different Textures with Passion Fruit felt short of my expectations and was too sweet for me to have more than a couple of bites. The Catalunya Fruit Salad was definitely an interesting finish, with fruits infused with different flavours, such as Watermelon infused with Sangria.
Chocolate in Different Textures with Passion Fruit
Catalunya Fruit Salad
Catalunya is by no means cheap, (to eat well costs around $500-600 a head), but if you are seeking a near authentic Catalan gastronomic experience without funding the air ticket to go to Spain, then it is worth it for the high quality ingredients and careful execution.
Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5
Catalunya, G/F Guardian House, 32 Oi Kwan Road, Wan Chai +852 2866 7900
Wan Chai market is not a location that springs to mind for a French restaurant, but Serge et le Phoque is like a chic tourist quietly taking in the local culture. Strange as the setting may seem at first, interior designer turned restaurateur Charles Pelletier did make a good point when he remarked to me that it was like having a giant TV in their restaurant- all day entertainment and people watching. Their floor-to-ceiling windows give the space a lot of light and coupled with the muted blend of wood, white walls and pistachio green leather booths create an airy, relaxed atmosphere.
Together with Mr. Pelletier, the other powerhouses behind Serge et le Phoque are Chef Frédéric Peneau, former co-owner of famed Le Chateaubriand with Iñaki Aizpitarte and Café Burq and Chef Christophe Pelé, formerly of La Bigarrade. Serge et le Phoque (Serge and the Seal) may be a random appellation, but it was named after and by Peneau’s son Serge, who thought it made sense as another of Peneau’s ventures is Le Dauphin (the Dolphin).
The kitchen produces beautifully plated contemporary French cuisine and Mr. Pelletier explained that they did not want the portions to be too big as their vision is for diners to enjoy their food “with their mouths not their stomachs”. Don’t worry about going hungry though, their 3 course set lunch menu ($250pp) allows you to feel utterly satisfied without being stuffed to the rafters. You may even avoid the dreaded food coma.
Their menu is seasonal and changes once a month, with all ingredients flown in from Japan or Europe, but all their meat is from Hugo Desnoyer, the famous Parisian butcher.
The eventual presentation of each dish belies the actual complexity of technique that has gone into it which makes the meal even more of a gastronomic enjoyment. We started with a lovely amuse bouche, a sensational mouthful of toro with raspberry and shiso dressing. For starters the Asparagus with Mizuna and Orange was a heady blast of citrus which could be a little overpowering for some, but the asparagus was crisp-tender.
Amuse bouche- toro with raspberry and shiso dressing
Asparagus with mizuna and orange
We loved the thickly sliced Red snapper ceviche which was fresh and bouncy in texture but the real star was the hen egg with squid ink, grilled corn kernels and fried fish. It was one wonderful, gooey mess of deliciousness.
Red snapper ceviche
Hen egg with squid ink, girlled corn kernels
Fried fish- too addictive!
Our surprise middle course had me longing for more. Two pieces of chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe were spot on tender and slightly caramelized.
Chargrilled octopus on Japanese mustard sauce topped with Tobika roe
For mains, the choice is simple but vague- Meat or Fish. As there were two of us, it was only sensible to have one of each. The fish main course was a Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt. For Meat it was Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring. Both dishes had to be admired for their aesthetics but Rach and I felt the pork belly had the edge in terms of a complete taste. The pork was fantastic, its crackling prepared to crunchy perfection and I liked the kick of the Harissa paste. The Red snapper was lovely too but its flavours were less punchy.
Red snapper served with grated cauliflower, Nori, clams, a watercress emulsion and yoghurt
Pork Belly on an eggplant and squid ink blend with Harissa paste and smoked Herring
To end we had the chocolate lover’s Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts and the Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine which I was most excited about. I love Dacquoise which is traditionally a dessert cake with almond and hazelnut meringue and cream. In their amazing mini bite-sized version, the Vanilla cream and Nougatine made it irresistible and we tried our best to convince them that opening a little shop selling these would be met with much enthusiasm. We also had a taste of their Brie from Alléosse, Paris which was creamy and rich and served with a plum and lemon compote.
Chocolate Cream with Caramelized Nuts
Dacquoise with Vanilla Cream and Nougatine
Brie from Alléosse
It has been a while since I was truly excited about a French restaurant in Hong Kong, and now that it has been open a few months, I think most of the initial hiccups some may have encountered with service have been ironed out. They are sticking to a set menu for both lunch and dinner, where a 4-course dinner set is $550pp or you can have the 3-course Hugo’s menu for 2 which gives you the option of sharing a 1kg Cote de Boeuf ($1450) or a 700g of Quasi d’Agneau ($1250). Lunch is definitely great value and I do think the food and attention to detail, the hospitality of Pelletier and the Wan Chai market entertainment, will make Serge et le Phoque anyone’s regular hangout.
Chopstixfix rating: 4/5
Serge et le Phoque, B2, G/F, Tower 1, The Zenith, 3 Wanchai Rd, Wan Chai, 5465 2000.
It is still early enough in the year for people to be stalwartly sticking with their usual New Year’s Resolution to be fitter, leaner and healthier. Come April, that resolve slowly dies, replaced by a longing for hot cross buns, chocolate Easter bunnies and basically anything slathered with butter. Yay for Easter hols! If you are the type to give up something for Lent- you have strong willpower my friend.
So, before your resolve begins to waver, let me tell you about Maya Cafe on Moon Street in Wan Chai, that is stocked with rather delicious looking and tasting vegetarian dishes. I was impressed by the substantial number of dishes which caters to all types of health-conscious beings. Vegetarian, gluten-free and raw dishes grace their menu and they even have organic wine.
Tina Barat and Mina Mahtani are the two creative friends who decided that in light of a lack of healthy options in HK, would open their own establishment offering what they themselves sought. Tina Barat, in quite a career change from jewellery designer to chef, has taken inspiration from her French-Moroccan background, to create a lovely Mediterranean menu. Tina has been mindful in producing dishes that are nutritious and healthy but without compromising on flavour and both cooked and raw foods are 100% organic. It’s clear when you chat to her (both her and Mina take the time to serve and speak to their customers), that Tina is extremely passionate about healthy living and she informed me that this lifestyle is ingrained in her as her mother herself only cooked such dishes when she was a child.
The cafe has Mediterranean elements in its decoration with Turkish lamps hanging peacefully from the ceiling, white walls and an outdoor terrace that I imagine will be lovely to sit on in the summer.
When I visited, they were just promoting their special Chinese New Year menu and I got a chance to sample a couple of dishes from this menu as well as dishes from the a la carte. Their dishes will change seasonally, so I look forward to visiting again soon to see what’s new.
I was off to a good start with their CNY Amuse Bouche ‘Joy & Beauty’ which was a duo of Yellow and Red Bell Peppers on a crostini. The bread was nice and fresh and the bell peppers sweet. Following that, I had their Life & Peace Salad, made up of kale and avocado in a lime and hemp seed dressing. This was surprisingly yummy, despite its ‘greenness’ and the hemp seeds added texture and bulk.
Kale and Avocado Salad
Duo of Red and Yellow Pepper
I then sampled their Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup which was rich, wholesome and quite filling. During this time I noticed a group of four well-dressed young men had come in on their lunch break, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that these guys had chosen Maya instead of Pizza Express, or TED’s Lookout or even Oolaa. Just goes to show that men are increasingly becoming health conscious. I wonder when my group of male friends will start to willingly go into a vegetarian restaurant instead of having to be dragged there like petulant children!
Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup
I thoroughly enjoyed the next two dishes which can be found on the a la carte. Meatless Balls in a Rich Tomato Sauce is one of their customer favourites and I could definitely understand why. Made of mushrooms, oatmeal and Parmesan, the texture and the feeling of satisfaction is akin to eating real meatballs and I really enjoyed them on the bed of red and brown rice.
Meatless Balls in Tomato Sauce
Up next was the Raw Vegan pasta which was fettuccine shaped courgette (Zucchini) with a creamy cashew-truffle sauce. I have to say I thought this was quite delicious and I allowed myself a moment of smugness that I had joined a well-being and goodness foodie club albeit temporarily. Obviously there is no substitute for the mouth-watering, decadent, full-fat, carb-loaded version of this pasta, but I could get used to eating courgette fettuccine as a guilt-free option.
Fettuccine shaped courgette with creamy cashew-truffle sauce
For dessert, I chose the the Chia Cream with Berries. This was interesting to me as I didn’t realise that soaking chia seeds would bloat to that extent and these were soaked in coconut cream then blended with berries and raw brown sugar. A delicious little treat.
Chia Cream with Berries
If, like me, you are someone who doesn’t normally frequent vegetarian outlets, Maya Cafe definitely presents a lovely option if you want to eat out but cut back on the rich and calorific foods of normal establishments. It certainly doesn’t feel like you are force feeding yourself vegetables and I thought all the dishes I tried were well thought out and satisfying. If you are a vegetarian or need gluten-free dishes, then Maya Cafe may well be your new haven.
Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5
Maya Cafe, G/F, 5 Moon Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2529 3319. Open Mon-Sun 0800-2200
This was by kind invitation- many thanks to Tina for having me!
There have been a few places that have popped up in recent months (think Restoration, Catalunya, Mayta), but I haven’t really been following the new restaurant scene avidly, as frankly, my wallet needs a rest and the turnover is making my head hurt a little! I mention my wallet as it seems to be somewhat of a trend for these newest establishments to be a tad pricey (something that friends and I have been discussing of late) and the food isn’t necessarily completely worth the moolah though I can commend their efforts and in most cases innovation.
One such place is Stone Nullah Tavern, a liquor bar and eatery which specialises in ‘New American’ cuisine which essentially means taking classic American dishes and adding a modern pizzazz to them. Positives first- the desserts are the winners on the menu (more on that later) and the location is great. So named after Stone Nullah Lane in Wan Chai, it was opened by IHM, the same group that brought as Linguini Fini and Posto Pubblico. It is in an area of Wanch that is fast-becoming an alternative hip hangout: opposite the Zenith and near the Hopewell Centre and round the corner from a little eatery that sells excellent dumplings. Eclectic collection of places, but somehow it works. The open glass-fronted entrance greets patrons and the liquor bar entices the weary. The casual dining area lies behind the bar and with the timber panelling, framed old maps and low lighting, I felt as if I was at sea on a ship, minus the watery surroundings, (and the swaying).
When friends and I visited Stone Nullah it happened to be an amber rainstorm which did add to the ‘ship at sea’ ambience and it was loud inside. Wooden panelling is not conducive to good conversation, so we found ourselves taking twice as long to complete dialogue. The menu has a layout of 7 sections of íncreasingly biological terminology: ‘vegetation, fungi and tubers’, ‘legumes, grains & pulses’, ‘crustaceans, cephalopods and bivalves’, ‘swine’, ‘bovine & fowl’, ‘pickled’ and ‘confectionary’. Whilst this is quite quaint to those who understand the terms cephalopods, bivalves (octopus, squid and shellfish respectively) and tubers (potatoes), this may be quite puzzling for others or just a tad pretentious?
Complicated names aside, the dishes we sampled that night were all quite rich and salty, which was a shame, as the menu does offer some interesting combinations.
First up, the Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing with sage, sausage and foie gras gravy, sounded irresistible and the initial few bites were enjoyable and savoury, with a hint of the foie gras coming through. One too many bites though and you will fill yourself up!
Quinoa Thanksgiving Stuffing
The Mac & Cheese with egg yolk and sharp cheddar, as yummy as it seems was underwhelming. The egg yolk did nothing to combat the runniness of the dish and the sharp taste of the cheese gave it an almost sour taste with none of the melted, creamy deliciousness.
Mac & Cheese
The meat dishes fared better, with the scrumptious, finger-licking Chicken Wings with chili, honey, garlic and ranch disappearing as quickly as they arrived. Stone Nullah’s version of the Filipino Pork Sisig- the Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig, was crunchy , the calamansi lending it flavour with its delicate, sour edge.
Pig’s Foot and Ear Sizzling Sisig
The Crispy Pig’s Head with lobster salad and chili citronette was rather lovely with a textural contrast between the battered, succulent pig’s head and the salad. Too much citronette was added but our group approved of the dish overall. The ‘Chicken-Fried’ Tenderloin which is in fact tender rare beef within the batter, was comforting and evoked noises of approval.
Crispy Pig’s Head
To end we had the desserts which were the highlights of the night. Their famed Fat Kid Cake confused us at first as it is served with a lit candle, and we thought they had mistakenly brought a birthday slice. Unfortunately, the candle kept blowing out (amber rainstorm + candle do not mix!) despite the valiant efforts of the waitress to relight it. Four cakes in one is rather dangerous and I certainly felt my stomach heave in protest against the sinful combination of red velvet, cheesecake, creme brulee and chocolate mousse.
Fat Kid Cake
However, the Ovaltine Ice Cream with bruleed banana, chocolate cremoso, peanut butter fudge and cereal crunch was a piece of artwork and textures played an important part in keeping our palates amused. The ice-cream was divine, the bruleed banana perfectly done and the fudge added a sweeter note to the dessert.
Ovaltine Ice cream
Service and puddings are the two aspects that Stone Nullah should be proud of, but overall, at nearly $400 per person for 6 dishes (of not overly huge proportions), between four people, it seems a little steep. The menu, dominated by fried, rich dishes, will induce thirst, so make sure you have a glass of water handy.
Chopstixfix rating: 3/5
Stone Nullah Tavern, G/F, 69 Stone Nullah Ln, Wan Chai; 3182 0128
Wan Chai is choc-a-bloc with a variety of tasty eateries lately, from the swanky to the modest and cool.
Piccolo Pizzeria and Bar is one of the latter, and after successful branches in Kennedy Town and Tai Hang, a third restaurant has now opened at Tai Wong East Street. If you enjoy their Roman-style pizzas and satisfying pastas, but found Tai Hang and Kennedy Town just that little bit too far to get to, then the Wan Chai is nicely in the middle to sort out your needs.
Homey and family-friendly were the two things that sprung to mind when I stepped foot inside one Saturday evening. The premises are thankfully larger than their Tai Hang branch which, despite my best efforts, I could never get a seat at. The word ‘friendly’ persists, with happy, helpful staff who showed me to my table and were just on the right end of chatty to talk me through the menu and their specials.
I had a good view of the restaurant, gazing up at their muted tin lights with different shaped tungsten filaments lining the centre of the ceiling and their open bar. 70s and 80s music washed over me, and I had to stop myself from showing my age and busting out some karaoke warblings to The Police and Spandau Ballet.
The menu does not try too hard with too many dishes or anything overly fancy. The focus is on the freshly-made pizzas and pastas with the addition of a daily special.
I started off with a basic Beetroot and Rocket salad, which was nicely dressed but could have done with a slightly more generous helping of beetroot to what was a forest of rocket on my plate.
Beetroot and Rocket salad
I tried a small portion of the special that day which was an Italian seafood soup called Cioppino, with Red Snapper, squid, shrimp, clams and lobster. The shrimp were sweet, the broth full of flavour and quite clearly the result of a good amount of reduction with half the sea in it.
The staff recommended I have the Nduja de Calabria pasta with live prawns tossed with chilli. This was by far, the most delicious pasta I have had for a long time. The Nduja, which is the Calabrian version of salami, is spicy and typically used as a spread on breads or served with cheese. In this pasta dish, the chorizo-like piquant sausage lovingly coated the pasta and the prawns were so fresh and sweet, that I clean forgot I had pizzas to look forward to and tucked into this dish with gusto.
Nduja de Calabria pasta
I was able to sample two of their pizzas- the signature Pizza Pancetta with bacon, tomato sauce and a soft egg and the bestselling Prosciutto di Parma with Parma ham and rocket. Both were excellent though I especially loved the Pizza Pancetta. The pizza bases were crispy and thin and the cheeses melted and bubbled to perfection. I stopped at two slices from each and excitedly asked to have the leftovers to take-away, a brilliant decision on my part as my lunch at home the next day was amazing. The Pizza Pancetta was, I think, even tastier and I had it cold. Not that I would encourage this, but I am definitely ordering this pizza again and saving some for leftovers.
Prosciutto di Parma
Although I was on the verge of bursting, no meal would be complete without some dessert. I had to try the Tiramisu which was lovely and light and child-friendly. The portion is just enough to satisfy anyone’s craving for a sweet ending without being too cloying. The Panna cotta was smooth and full of vanilla pods which I love and I was pleased to note that it was not overly rich or sweet and the fruits were a refreshing complement.
I can see exactly why Piccolo Pizzeria is able to open a third branch. With reasonable prices (around $120-180 for mains) for hearty, unpretentious but well-executed food, it is somewhere that I know I will be finding my way back to for a tasty meal with solid service and a friendly atmosphere.
Chopstixfix rating: 4/5
Piccolo Pizzeria & Bar – Wan Chai, 22 Tai Wong East Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong. Reservations: 2824 3002
Opening Hours: Monday to Thursday: 12pm to 10pm; Friday to Sunday & Public Holidays: 12pm to 10:30pm
This review was done on behalf of Sassy HK and can be read here.
Funky Brim 28 in Wan Chai, the recently renovated behemoth of alfresco space, is home to several bars and eateries including the new California Vintage (see the review here), Frites and Chez Patrick Deli. One restaurant that is doing relatively well is the DiVino Group’s DiVino Patio, (I tried really hard to come up with a pun-tastic title but could not think of anything to rhyme with ‘patio’- will do better next time!), a rustic rotisserie and pizzeria restaurant that serves up traditional Italian fare and lures customers with its comfortable outdoor dining area and the promise of capturing the ambiance of rural Italy. I initially paid a visit when it had newly opened its doors and I have been back since to re-sample some of the dishes I tried the first time round as well as trying a couple of other dishes, and I am quite pleased to report that their food has remained consistent, (an oddly difficult level to attain at most restaurants!) even if the service is a little patchy.
There is something about red brick walls and chalkboards that I find very appealing to the eye and although DiVino Patio’s attempt to create provincial Italy is a little on the pristine side, it does the trick. Meat slicers and exposed shelves lined with wine bottles add to the setting and booths and tables get a good view of the outside as well as the rotisserie that takes centre-stage.
Wine bottles as decoration are very useful!
The menu is fairly extensive with platters, antipasti, main courses from the grill and skillet, pastas and pizzas. Their sharing plates are particularly good, especially their monstrous 500 Grams Buffalo Burrata cheese- absolutely delish and the Salumeria of 5 types of cold cuts.
Salumeria of cold cuts
The Eggplant Parmigiana looked a little forlorn on the plate, and seemed as though it had been a tad overdone, but, the presentation was all that was lacking in this dish as the flavours were fantastic. The thickly cut eggplant, melt-in-your-mouth mozzarella and the lovely, rich tomato sauce all came together to make a highly satisfying antipasti dish.
The main that followed- the Braised Wagyu Beef cheek with with beefsteak tomato risotto, was my favourite of the meal. The fun presentation of beef-jus and tomato infused risotto nestled in a beefsteak tomato meant that I was only too eager to tuck in and somewhat childishly destroy the carefully assembled dish. I loved the bite of the risotto; DiVino Patio successfully not over-cooking it to a soggy mess and the rich, succulent wagyu beef chunks dissolved divinely in the mouth.
Braised beef cheek with beefsteak tomato risotto
The second main course was the Spit roasted Italian piglet “Porchetta” style served with potatoes and artichokes. While I love Porchetta, ESPECIALLY the crispy skin, (when its done right of course), this particular version fell flat, as I was mostly consuming fat. Obviously I have no real problem with eating fat. Fat tastes good. But a lot of fat, can be rather distracting and greasy when the meat should be prize. Perhaps our little piggy was a porker, but this dish would have been so much better if there was more meat to be had and the skin had a better crunch to it. The potatoes were ace though.
Another dish that I have tried is the large pappardelle with Tuscan wild boar ragout which was very good. The ragout may be a bit on the saltier side for some, but I felt the flavours came through well with the meatiness of the wild boar complementing the eggy homemade pappardelle. Definitely a go-to dish if indecision strikes.
A dessert that I sampled was the Trio of Chocolate- chocolate pudding in three ways, though I confess, I have absolutely no recollection of what exactly each way is, except for the melting chocolate pudding which, as it stands out in my memory, must have been the yummy one. In any case, I did not think that it was a stellar dessert offering, but it was still executed competently. Their chocolate biscotti however, was wonderfully crunchy and if I had a hot chocolate to hand I would have loved to have dunked it in.
Trio of Chocolate
DiVino Patio is a fab place to go if you want the alfresco dining and fairly traditional Italian cuisine. But, with prices for all their dishes, including starters and antipasti, (salads discounted) hovering between $108 to $288, I find it on the steep side. For a decent meal of two courses plus drinks, you are looking at $400 per person minimum. Be that as it may, there are some solid dishes on the menu that I would eat again.
Chopstixfix rating: 3/5
Shop 11, 1/F, Causeway Centre, No. 28 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong Tel:
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
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Wine wine wine
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 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.
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.
The Tonno is an intriguing structure in a slightly awkward location. This all-in-one mega entertainment complex (club-cum-restaurant-cum-karaoke block) aims to inject a bit of sophistication into the Wan Chai nightlife as a more upscale alternative to the likes of Carnegie’s. However, its stark, black and shiny red Perspex glory is rather at odds with the rest of its surroundings and I felt a little out of place to be stepping inside in the middle of the day for a spot of lunch!
While the restaurant inside, Shanghai Lo (sister restaurant of the popular ‘upmarket’ cha chaan teng, Loyal Dining on Wellington Street) does provide very reasonably priced set lunch menus, its decor and atmosphere is definitely more suitable as a dinner venue. Dim lighting swathes the traditional-looking Oriental dark-wooden screens and black cloths drape the dining tables, all of which are secured in place by a red Chinese dragon paperweight.
Rach and I were ushered into a cosy side-booth where we were presented with an extensive traditional Shanghainese menu. As lounge music played in the background, both of us felt shut away from the outside world of blazing sun and traffic, lulled by the moody confines of the establishment. We had a feast in store for us, which only served to make us even more lethargic and relaxed!
We dove into the Shanghai Lo Platter for four, (of course, we ate the whole thing between the two of us!), which comprised of sliced pork terrine, sweet and crispy river shrimps, crispy bean curd rolls, beef shin and the Shanghai Lo lantern. Most outstanding were the bean curd rolls, the addictive crispy shrimps and beef shin in an excellent five spice marinade.
The Huadiao wine marinated ‘Drunken’ Chicken was succulent and not too strongly alcoholic, whilst my favourite of the starters were the tea leaf smoked eggs; the yolk was deliciously soft and a lovely bright orange – perfectly cooked and seasoned.
After demolishing the above, we unfortunately didn’t realise we should’ve saved our stomachs… we had a further seven dishes to devour, excluding dessert!
The hot and sour seafood bisque and the deep-fried dumplings were both standard, the soup thick and hearty but too filling to be finished. We loved the soupy xiao long bao in their nicely firm and thin skins and the crispy rice cones with diced beef and black truffle earned my nod of approval. The beef was succulent and flavoursome, a hint of black truffle just diffusing through without overwhelming. The rice cones themselves were a wonderful contrasting crunch.
Next were the sautéed minced chicken with pine nuts served with sesame pastry pockets which, had I not tried the crispy rice cones, would have been far more enjoyable. However, the sesame pastry pockets were too flaky, stodgy and dry in comparison and so we ate the well-seasoned minced chicken on its own.
We also enjoyed the wonderfully tender braised pork with preserved vegetables with Shanghainese buns, a favourite dish of mine and a definite thumbs-up to order, although if you do pay Shanghai Lo a visit, I recommend that you only have one of these three bun, crispy cone or sesame pastry pocket dishes, otherwise you will be completely stuffed to the rafters!
Sadly, due to our earlier greed and hunger, neither Rach nor myself could manage all the pork as we still had the main dish to come – the signature deep-fried Mandarin fish in sweet and sour sauce. This monstrosity of a fish (it really was too huge for two girls to consume) was impressively served, a whole fish frozen gulping in mid-air and encased in a sweet and sour batter, sprinkled with pineapple chunks and pine nuts. Whilst the flakes of fish inside were beautifully cooked, the batter was too thick and the sauce slightly too sweet and sticky for my taste. Nevertheless, it did make for a great entrance and would be fantastic way to wow any visiting friends to Hong Kong!
I always say there’s a separate stomach for pudding, but on this occasion, my skirt was not giving my ‘second stomach’ any room to expand and so I struggled with the desserts. Not to be outdone, I rebelliously rammed a fluffy egg white custard filled ball into my mouth and ended with a mournful nibble on an osmanthus jelly.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Shanghai Lo. I wasn’t expecting it be anything above average, but some of its offerings were really very good and certainly the more traditional dishes were solidly prepared. I’m still unsure if The Tonno is the best place to go for lunch, but if you’re after a pleasant quiet meal or a place to discuss matters over a long lunch without having to strain your vocal cords to be heard, this is a great venue.
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.