Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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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!

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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.

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A Tonno of Food

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.

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

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Shanghai Lo, 1/F, The Tonno, 5 Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, 3125 3232 www.shanghailo.com.hk

This review can also be read on Sassy.


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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.


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Spice up your Life

If Yu Chuan were a song, it would be “Spice up your life” by the Spice Girls, and its mascot would be the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Off the beaten (tram) track and hidden away down a side street in Wan Chai, this unpretentious, cheerful private kitchen is dedicated to serving up delicious classic Sichuan dishes. It’s fun, it’s cool and it’s a haven for those chilli junkies out there. Rumour has it the friendly proprietor is the sister of the lady who runs SiJie, the other famous private Sichuan kitchen in Wan Chai. If true, then competition was never this “heated” (get it?). This family style kitchen is run smoothly and service is polite and efficient. The decor is also a bit more “up-market” compared to SiJie.

The doorway is marked by a bunch of Sichuan chilli peppers and when you step into the establishment the spicy aroma hits you immediately. It’s small but cosy inside and great for groups of friends who really appreciate this cuisine and enjoy sweating and “spicing up their lives” together! Booking is a must as there are only 6 tables.

The quality of the food is excellent (essential ingredients are imported from Sichuan), and there are some outstanding dishes.

Making a quick buck is clearly not on the agenda and this is reflected in the price. At $168 per person (excluding service charge), you really do get your money’s worth and it’s evident the owner and chef pride themselves on providing their customers with a traditional Sichuan dining experience. The menu is well organised (identical to Sijie) and there is a clever system: 2-3 people can choose 2 cold dishes and 3 hot dishes, 4-5 people: 3 cold, 4-5 hot, 5-6 people: 4 cold and 5-6 hot etc.

What is fantastic about Yu Chuan is the balance of spice and chilli. As much fun as it is to burn your tongue off, you want to be able to taste the flavours and the chef achieves this brilliantly while still giving your tastebuds a good kick!

There are lots of fantastic dishes to try including the “fish slices in fiery broth” and the chilli prawns but out of those we ordered, the standout cold dishes were:

Sichuan cold noodles: a wonderful, delicate play of flavours from the garlic, chilli oil, vinegar and peppercorns tossed together with wheat noodles.

Spicy and sour eggplants: firm yet soft, perfectly prepared slices of eggplants coated in a mildly spicy sauce.

Best hot dishes of the night:

Ma Po Tofu: beautifully spicy and addictive, one could happily eat the entire dish. Could have done with a bit more pork but than that- excellent!

Chongxing deep fried hot chicken: love the presentation, small nuggets hidden in a gigantic heap of dried Sichuan chillies and peppercorns.

Poached beef in hot chilli oil: tender slices of beef bobbing gently in a huge vat of chilli oil broth. Amazing to look at, even better to eat!

Other good dishes were the Cucumber in garlic sauce, the Chongxing steamed chicken meat in hot pepper sauce and the Fish in broth with preserved vegetables. The most interesting dish was the Duck and purple yam in beer, which took several bites for me to decide if I liked it or not.. turns out I liked it, but it is a bit of a strange taste.

Chopstixfix rating: 4.5/5

1/F, B, Hundred City Centre, 7-17 Amoy Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2838 5233 Opening times: 11am-11pm

$$$$$$$$$$ ($168 per person excluding drinks)


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A taste of Italy

I feel that I’ve been voraciously eating Japanese food for the last few months and disregarding one of my all time favourite cuisines- Italian.

How I adore Italy and its dishes. Spaghetti vongole on the Amalfi Coast, lemon sorbet in Milan, spaghetti arrabiata in Rome, pesto alla genovese, gelato in Florence…ahhh I could go on.

So it occurred to me recently that since coming to HK, I’d only been to a miserable total of 2 Italian restaurants, Amaroni’s in Festival Walk, which was average and Al Dente on Staunton which was actually pretty good, but before the days of the blogging (will have to go there again soon). Then again, most of us mere mortals can whip up a decent pasta dish or three (I can do a mean spag bol and a pea risotto) but nothing quite beats getting the authentic taste of the land of the Romans without having to slog at the stove yourself.

Much excitement was abound when I heard about the new Northern Italian place, La Baita aka “alpine stone cottage” on Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai.

To me, “Alpine stone cottage” conjures up images of yodelling and singing Sound of Music on a mountain, which contrasts with passionate, boisterous Italy, and made me wonder what the ambience and decor would be like. I imagine they were trying to give a rustic, cosy feel to the restaurant but as the interior is enormous, and can easily seat several large groups of people, the effect instead, is a rather souless, cold atmosphere. The management have tried to compensate by the use of soft lights and candles which does help create a more intimate feel when you’re dining.La Baita has an extensive selection of wines from Italy and are displayed in a gigantic and impressive looking wine fridge next to the bar, which serves as a decoration in itself!

The menu is concise and showcases a fine array of Northern Italian food. To start, we ordered the Sauteed baby squid with tomato sauce and the Cherry Mozzarella wrapped with Parma ham and wild mushrooms. The squid was excellent- lovingly prepared and nicely chewy  with all the flavours complimenting each other delicately across the palate. The cherry mozzarella was fantastic, but the presentation made me think of 5 snails hibernating (not to put you off). I adore cheese and adore parma ham and you can’t really go wrong with this combination can you?For mains, all of us went for one of their homemade pastas. I love that they offer half or full sized portions which I think is important especially when ordering heavy dishes like risotto and gnocchi.

KL went for the linguine with clams and zucchini which was lovely, light and very fresh.Chiaphuati had the homemade black ink tagliolini with shrimp, scallops and fava beans. I snaffled a bit and felt that the combination of the ingredients could’ve been smoother and I wasn’t sure if it was due to the strong flavour of the black ink or the fava beans. The tagliolini was a bit too al dente for my liking but overall this was an interesting dish.I had the handmade gnocchi with black truffle and asparagus which was gorgeous. The truffle flavour was punchy and strong but not overpowering and as I had the half portion, I was able to chow down the whole lot and still have room for dessert.Being the greedy pigs that we were/are, each of us ordered a dessert. Chiaphuati and I were amused by the sound of the “wrap up gianduia icecream with nuts, socked in coffee. Obviously, they meant soaked but we’re also juvenile so that made us laugh for a good 5 minutes. We also ordered the frozen amaretto sabayon with toffee sauce (an Italian dessert made from egg yolks, sugar and a sweet wine) and the tiramisu with coffee and caramel sauce.The tiramisu was outstanding and also HUGE. The coffee flavour wasn’t too bitter or overwhelming, which can sometimes be the case. The sabayon was smooth and rich; eating it was like eating a slab of frozen cream, very decadent. The gianduia was a delicious but substantial pudding and they were a little heavy-handed with the coffee. If you’re sensitive to caffeine I would avoid this dessert!

The service was excellent, the waiters were helpful and exuberant about the food and the prices were very reasonable. Definitely my new go-to place for my Italian cravings- I’ll be trying the veal milanese next time, which I hear is delicious!

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5

La Baita, 248 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, Tel: 2572 8872

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Would you like some Lovin’?

Friends will tell you that I’m a big time carnivore. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate my veggies, I love my greens but a good hunk of meat usually hits the spot.

But, one fine Sunday, my friend MZ decided that we should go down the healthy route and try Loving Hut, an international vegan/vegetarian restaurant.

I was sceptical. My idea of a vegan restaurant is one of those gross establishments on Tottenham Court Road in London which lure you with a £5 all you can eat buffet and then serve up thick gloopy heavily soya-sauced lumps of cold tofu parading as black bean beef/ chilli pork/ lemon chicken/ curry chicken / sweet and sour pork, (you get the idea), only they ALL taste the same i.e. gross and inedible.

So, it was with some trepidation that I walked into The Loving Hut (kudos to the name) in Wan Chai and perused the menu. If you do check this place out, you will notice that it’s not so much a restaurant as a workplace canteen, without the workplace. There is a helpful towering free-standing menu at the entrance with a massive list of mock meat dishes, with soya being the numero uno ingredient.

Although curious, I wasn’t all that enthused about the fake BBQ pork/ char siew, “New York cutlet” or “veg steak” but in the end we opted for the noodles with char siew “formosan style”, the soya tenderloin with preserved vegetables and cabbage and the deep fried veg scallops tossed in spicy rock salt to share. We shuffled along to the cashier, collected our ticket and found ourselves a seat. As I waited for the lady in the showercap behind the food counter to shout out our orders, I glanced around the spartan canteen and noticed a wall covered in pictures of all these Hollywood vegans and veggies: Richard Gere, Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet to name a few. Next to their faces there was a sign saying something along the lines of “These people are beautiful, smart and all vegetarians. Why aren’t you?” Hmmm what are they trying to insinuate…

I have to say the presentation was not too bad. The imitation char siew looked rather like the real deal and the soya tenderloin looked actually quite appetising. Perhaps I need to go with a vegetarian next time to get their expert opinion, but I thought that they did alright. They weren’t heavy-handed with soya sauce and other flavourings and the soy char siew and tenderloin were not soggy or bland. I’m not sure whether the freshness of our dishes that day was due to the fact that it was a Sunday and not that busy but I do wonder if the quality diminishes at peak times. I enjoyed the deep fried veg scallops- but then again I love anything deep fried covered in salt, so perhaps I was just enjoying the saltiness!

But my favourite thing about this place was in fact, my drink. I ordered the Buddha Hand Lemon Pomelo Special Drink (hot) and it was delicious!

Verdict? If you want to psychologically convince yourself that you’ve been healthy at least once in your working week, then trot along to this place. Otherwise, I think there are much better vegetarian places to go to. Or, just make yourself a salad at home. And I don’t mean the Caesar salad kind with 3 cheese dressings or whatever calorific dressings you like to drench your salads in.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

Loving Hut Vegan Cuisine, G/F, The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Rd, Wan Chai. Tel: 2574 3248. Open daily 11am- 10pm.

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