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Archive for October, 2009

Tequila Tequila!

Yes

Beef: it's what's for (Mexican) dinner

Monday was a double billing for me, as I met up with J for dinner after my high tea adventure. We chose Tequila, which is now competing with SML as my new favorite restaurant in HK. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a good Mexican place here (or maybe you would, given the distance from one country to another), so when I ate at Tequila with M a couple weeks ago, I knew I’d be making return trips again and again…and again.

Just like last time, the service was impeccable – very friendly waitstaff who were there when you needed them, and seemingly invisible when you didn’t. And just like last time, my fellow diner and I had eyes bigger than our stomachs: after J and I polished off our appetizer of chorizo nachos (with arguably the best guacamole in town), we wondered how we’d finish the rest of our dinner. However, the delicious black-peppered beef fajitas with the most fragrant caramelized onions convinced us we had more room, as did the juicy chicken enchiladas. The best part: Mondays are buy-one-entree-get-one-free night, so our bill was basically halved. (There are great deals every weeknight, including all-day Happy Hour on Tuesdays, and a 20% discount for ladies on food and drinks every Wednesday.) We ambled out of there with sizeable food babies, vowing not to over-order again. Somehow, I’m not sure we’ll stick to it…

Tequila
G/F, 11B Old Bailey Street, Central
2524 2002
Cost: ~ $120 HKD/person (not including drinks)

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Finger food

High tastes for high tea

I’d wanted to try tea at the Four Seasons ever since hearing about their complimentary dessert refills – sounded like a dream come true. Mr. B and I went there Monday afternoon, right before he left HK. We were seated in The Lounge, light and airy thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows offering a view of the western Kowloon waterfront. Behind us, a pianist played jazzy, easy-listening-esque renditions of familiar songs (with a penchant for Les Miserables), creating a very pleasant atmosphere. The service only gets an “ok” rating; there were a few times when we had to make eyes at a couple of different waiters before our teapots were actually refilled (boo). Personally, I think the Mandarin Oriental is tops for service; last time I went there, the waitstaff knew what I needed before I even did!

The Vanilla White Peach with Lemon Frozen Yogurt

Peach, lemon, and chocolate - oh my!

In any case, I had a peppermint tea, which was lip-smackingly fresh, and the perfect complement to the three-tiered tray that arrived. The finger sandwiches consisted of the usual cucumber and salmon varieties, but also a bit of egg salad on a harder cracker topped with what looked like black caviar (could it be?) and a toastie with some kind of pate (liver? Sorry, I really wasn’t as discerning as I should have been). The desserts were the real treasures: I especially loved the crispy, glazed wafer garnished with fresh raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries. Also, the Vanilla Poached White Peach with Lemon Frozen Yogurt had a surprisingly thick, sweet peach flavor, but it was nicely balanced by the citrus taste of the yogurt and chocolate cookie crumbles on top (which also provided a excellent contrast in texture). The dessert refill did indeed come, and we chose six new treats, including the most fudgy, straight-out-of-a-stylist’s-hands, must-eat-me-now piece of coffee-flavored dark chocolate (yes, it’s true!) on a crispy cookie. Heaven.

Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance Street, Central
3196 8888 (though I’m pretty sure they don’t take reservations for tea)
Cost: ~ $220 HKD/person (+ 10% service charge)

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What's a restaurant without a bubblegum pink greeter?

What's a restaurant without a bubblegum-pink greeter?

***UPDATE (May 31, 2011): SML has definitely deteriorated since I wrote this post in 2009. Please check out my latest take on this restaurant. In short, I would advise you to stay away.***

Another restaurant Mr. B and I tried was the newly-opened SML. Located on the 11th floor of Times Square in Causeway Bay, SML centers on the belief that size matters: for nearly every dish, you can pick the small, medium, or large portion (hence the name). It’s a concept reflected on the front page of the simply-designed menu, which proclaims “Democracy now comes in 3 sizes”. The theme of customization continues in the following paragraphs declaring “big eaters, medium sizers, small spenders, dainty sippers, mean drinkers, gourmet feeders, and dine-and-dashers” all deserve to have their needs satisfied, without fear of judgement or retribution. Lofty ideals, no?

While tailored food options are fantastic, personally, I just think SML is genius because it soothes my indecisive side. A place with small, tapas-esque options? Great: I can try a little of everything. Perfect for this commitment-phobe.

The lovechild of simplicity and elegance

The lovechild of simplicity and elegance

Anyways, from the moment I stepped into the restaurant, I felt like a good meal was in store. The place is dimly lit, with funky light fixtures – bare incandescent bulbs stuck to the ends of short brass loops, like something out of a Tim Burton movie. An open kitchen lines the back of the restaurant; the floors and tables are wood; the chairs and booths are quite ergonomic and comfy. The diningware is also remarkable: small ceramic plates boast cute sayings, like lime green winks at the diner: “still hungry?” and “scrumptious” were on the plates I had. Additionally, the short, rounded drinking glasses are a joy to hold; their weight and shape in my hand rendered me enchanted. The spartan-yet-sophisticated atmosphere made me think, “If MUJI and the restaurant biz had a baby, this would it.”

But the food – that’s the key! The menu was beautiful; I immediately wanted to order six or seven dishes. There are a large selection of soups, appetizers, pastas, mains, and desserts, under the cheeky heading of “happy endings”. As promised, nearly everything on the menu had a small, medium, or large counterpart. Mr. B and I decided to get small orders of the crostini with tomato, basil and olive, meatballs with spicy tomato sauce, grilled chicken with mojo sauce and mango salsa, and prawns with chili and garlic. We also got a medium-sized carrot salad with chili, citrus, and peanuts. For dessert we picked two small plates: a chocolate pot with mousse and fudge, and a citrus panna cotta with slices of orange and grapefruit.

The chicken that lived up to its serving plate: "scrumptious".

The chicken that lived up to its serving plate: "scrumptious".

My personal favorites were:

  • the meatballs, for the uniquely seasoned meat (perhaps a hint of cumin and/or coriander? slightly reminiscent of kofta). The sauce had some heat too. Delish.
  • the grilled chicken with mango salsa, for the perfect pairing. The chicken had a hint of smokiness, which was tempered by the sweetness of the mango salsa. The salsa itself was fantastic; I thought the sprinkling of cilantro just made it.
  • the two desserts, for a truly “happy ending”. The chocolate pot (which, let’s face it, sounds amazing based on the name alone) had a mousse thick enough without being overwhelmingly rich, and the panna cotta was creamy yet refreshing, probably due to its citrus flavor.

All in all, this is definitely among my favorite restaurants in HK. If I believed in commitment, I’d even select it as a future date locale…or maybe I’ll just suggest it to my lovey-dovey paired-up friends.

SML
11/F, Times Square, Causeway Bay
2577 3444
Cost: ~ $130 HKD/person (not including drinks)

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The greatest aspect of having a visitor is the excuse it gives you to play in your own city. I had that opportunity this past week: Mr. B, father of one of my high school classmates, came to HK for business. He wanted to tour the city and sample local food as well, so I’d decided a little yam cha was in order.

TIM HO WUN

Our first stop was celebrated dim sum restaurant Tim Ho Wun (thanks to C/G for the pronunciation!) in Mongkok, opened by the dim sum chef from the Four Seasons. Finding the place may seem a little tricky, since the storefront is only in Chinese (添好運點心專門店). Just look for the white sign with green characters (or, the window with all the newspaper and magazine clippings).

Fried cha siu bao = The meaning of life

Fried cha siu bao = The meaning of life

Last time I was here, the restaurant just opened and endless fans queued for hours (literally), even in the middle of the afternoon. This time, Mr. B and I arrived around 11:30; we must have been lucky because we were seated right away in an otherwise full dining room. I must confess I’m not a huge fan of dim sum, but I will heartily chow down at this place. The cha siu cheung fan is the perfect combination of sweet and savory, and the ha gao are nice and plump. And here’s a dim sum pop quiz for you: What’s better than cha siu bao? That’s right – FRIED cha siu bao. If you’re here, you’ve gotta order these. I would travel from HK island on a weekly basis to get these for takeaway if I wasn’t afraid of turning into a little bao myself.

I’d recommend coming here earlier in the day to avoid a long wait. Also, while there is now an English menu, sometimes the dishes get “lost in translation”. Therefore, I think it helps to have a Chinese speaker, or at least someone who knows what to order for dim sum (and how to communicate it to the waitstaff). Although, I’m pretty sure everything is good, and for the quality of food, this place is a steal!

LITTLE SHEEP

Another recession-friendly dim sum establishment is Little Sheep, a chain originally from Mainland China, known for its hotpot. However, on weekends from 2-4pm, there’s an all-you-can-eat dim sum special for $45 a person! Judging from the packed dining rooms, word is definitely out among the locals.

"A rose by any other name...": Chicken feet are called "phoenix claws" on most dim sum menus

"A rose by any other name...": Chicken feet are called "phoenix claws" on most dim sum menus

Upon being seated, you get an order slip where you can tick off as many dishes as you like. Mr. B and I came to this place with C/G, and he selected all the classics – cha siu bao, siu mai, ha gao, cheung fan, and chicken feet. In addition to the order sheet, there’s also a buffet table with more northern-style dim sum choices, which pleased my palate. I raided the spread at the first opportunity and came back with some Shanghai-style fried ricecakes, fried tofu cubes, and sesame balls filled with green bean paste.

A handful of bamboo steamers, soy-sauce-drenched plates, and teapots later, we were all in a major food coma. It’s worth mentioning that when the fluffy, steamed cha siu bao appeared, my salivatory glands automatically kicked into overdrive. And I know I deemed fried cha siu baos the best.thing.EVER., but the original version at Little Sheep reminded me there’s definitely space in the dim sum world for both.

Am I a total cheeseball if this made my day?

Am I a total cheeseball if this made my day?

PS: Little Sheep seems to only have a Chinese menu, so brush up on your food characters!

PPS: This restaurants gets major points for having little male and female sheep in Mongolian-wear on their bathroom signs.

Tim Ho Wun Dim Sum Juen Moon Dim (添好運點心專門店)
G/F, 2-20 Kwong Wah Street, Mongkok
2332 2896
Cost: ~ $70 HKD/person

Little Sheep
G/F, 1/F-4/F, Mongkok Commercial Centre, 16, 16A, and 16B Argyle Street, Mongkok
2396 8816
Cost: ~ $45 HKD/person


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Ewwwww, Shrimp Legs!

As you may know, I don’t eat seafood. However, certain circumstances dictate a compromise of values, and last Sunday night was one of them. P came over to help me make chocolate rice krispie balls for my students (I pretend to be nice to them once in a while), but we were waylaid at my door by my middle-aged HK neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. C. They’ve invited me to dine with them several times, but I’ve always been too busy. Sunday night, P and I basically walked into the opportunity – the Cs were hosting a small dinner party with three of their friends on the terrace.

We sat with them, and, in true Chinese fashion, were immediately presented with bowls of fried rice, chicken and – to my horror – plump, pink shrimp. In China, many animals are served to you whole, with heads, eyes, antennae, legs, etc, fully attached. I believe this is to indicate that the cook has not cheated you, that in fact, you have in front of you EVERYTHING the creature has to offer (for those who are in the know, am I right in assuming this?). Also, in some cases, parts of the food attest to its freshness, i.e. the color of a fish’s eyes after it’s been cooked.

Anyways, I didn’t want to be rude, so I looked away and snapped off the shrimp head as everyone directed. When it came time to strip the poor thing of its legs, however, I choked. The shrimp had more limbs than a Rockettes line! After several aborted attempts, P finally had to do it for me. Oh, the trauma!

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Last weekend I sort of had a “friend mixer”/Korean BBQ dinner when I brought together six friends from different corners of my life. The venue was Korea Kam Sing Restaurant in TST. According to HK food bible OpenRice, it’s one of the top-rated Korean restaurants in the district. We made a booking, as we were a party of seven on a Saturday night.

The restaurant itself looks small when you enter, but has a fair number of tables once you climb up a narrow staircase. We settled in and ordered an embarrassment of food: four portions of meat for BBQ (two pork and two beef), kimchi pancakes, soup dumplings, bibimbop (Korean stone pot rice), and fried ricecakes. This was on top of the eight or nine little appetizer plates that came free with our meal (glass noodles, tofu, kimchi, etc). We decided to wash it all down with Hite beer and soju.

Hite beer with some of our complimentary small plates

Taking Korean to new Hite(s)

The kimchi pancakes were a hit, with a just-salty-enough soy sauce. I found the pancakes to be significantly less sour than the ones I’ve tried before, meaning they didn’t incorporate as much kimchi “juice”. Personally, I liked this Kam Sing version better.

The pork was also amazing, smothered in satay-like sauce and wrapped in lettuce leaves. One important lesson I learned from G, who lived in Korea, was to put the pork in your mouth first, then take a sip of soju, as it cuts the grease.

We literally ate non-stop with little chatter. However, at one point, G did pause to say, “Can we eat here every night?”

Korea Kam Sing Restaurant
G/F, 5 Humphreys Ave., Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
2311 8636
Cost: ~ $150 HKD/person (including drinks)

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Love from HK!

The best skyline in the world

The best skyline in the world (IMHO, of course!)

Orson Welles once said, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.”

That’s a question I ask often, along with, “What’s for dinner?” And while we’re at it, “What’s for breakfast?” My queries for food stem from my lack of domestication; specifically, my inability to cook. Among my circle of friends, I am notorious for being the girl who threw spaghetti into a pan of not-yet-boiled water; the one who baked a frozen pizza with the cardboard tray still underneath. I’m the most likely to produce a Bridget-Jones-esque blue soup, poison a loved one (but with good intentions, I swear!), and burn the house down. In a nutshell – I’m a klutz around the kitchen.

But, a girl’s gotta eat! In response to my culinary shortcomings, I’ve ended up dining out frequently (ok, excessively). Thanks to some foodie friends I met last year, I started appreciating (and photographing) my meals a lot more, and I wanted to share my finds. Thus, this blog will be a depository for my food adventures in my current home of Hong Kong. I hope to do justice to all the wonderful eateries in this city that keep my belly full – and my kitchen clean.

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