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Archive for June, 2011

Last week, P was craving udon and a quick search brought us to the Causeway Bay Branch of Butagumi Tonkatsu. It’s actually a restaurant which specializes in pork cutlets deep-fried in Japanese breading, panko, and that was fine with us. Udon and katsu? Yummy. A little research after our visit revealed there is a Butagumi in Tokyo which serves haute tonkatsu, including Spanish Iberico ham tonkatsu (ohhhhhhh) but I haven’t figured out if they’re related (for more information on that restaurant and tonkatsu, check out this excellent write-up from food blogger Tomostyle). My guess is perhaps not, since the photos of that place look very different from the restaurant we went to.

In any case, our experience at Butagumi Tonkatsu was very positive, starting from when we first walked in and were seated in one of their many semi-private dining areas.

The menu was as informative as it was functional, as the first two pages were devoted to the ingredients essential to tonkatsu. It was all in Chinese, so I definitely missed out on the full explanations, but it definitely made me feel like this was a restaurant that took its food seriously. A good sign. And actually, hearty kudos go to our waiter, who seemed like a student in his mid-twenties, who had great English and patiently explained each portion of our meal, and all the acoutrements.

P ordered a A + B set, in which you choose a tonkatsu selection and a deep-fried seafood dish, along with a side of udon and salad. I got the stewed pork udon, which came highly recommended, as the adorable tonkatsu men on the menu indicated.

Our waiter first brought out a bowl of toasted sesame seeds and a pestle. He explained that once the tonkatsu comes out, we simply had to crush the seeds to release the flavors and pour in some of the thick, brown tonkatsu sauce for a dipping sauce.

Then our orders came out. Mine was first, a giant, piping-hot stone pot of udon. There were bits of seaweed, corn, bamboo shoots, and gorgeous marbled pork. The broth was a bit fishy, but overwhelmingly porky, having soaked up all the flavors of the slowly stewed pork. Lip-smackingly good. The udon was a bit softer than I’d like, so that’d be a point for improvement. The pork was the highlight: It fairly dissolved in my mouth, alternate chews of lean meat and the slippery sensation of fatty pork belly. Mmmm. We also got the gyoza, which were surprisingly crunchy on the outside. I’d definitely order those again.

P’s set was served with the requisite shredded lettuce, which was a wonderful antidote to the fried cutlet. The lettuce came with bottomless refills. I loved the citrus dressing (the bottle with the red top) that had a hint of orange and lemon. The pork cutlet itself was moist on the inside, crunchy on the outside. Panko is great for keeping the texture, and they must have had a high-quality fryer (the machine or a technically skilled person) to achieve this consistency. I didn’t have any of the shrimp, but P assured me they were delicious as well.

All in all, we had a great experience at Butagumi Tonkatsu. The service was friendly, the cutlet was crisp, and the pork belly was delightful. I would highly recommend this place for anyone looking for tonkatsu in Hong Kong. There were also katsu sandos on display outside the restaurant, so I’ll definitely have to come back for lunch and get one as well…

Butagumi Tonkatsu
7/F, The Goldmark, 502 Hennessy Road
3428 2862
Cost: ~ $100-120/person 

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Last Friday a bunch of my friends and I headed to an interestingly-named Shanghainese eatery in Jordan. The Chinese name has nothing to do with its English name, Osama Tony. Cryptic, I know…is this the name of a new hipster band? I recall reading somewhere, though, that its meats are halal (or something like that) so maybe that’s where the “Osama” comes from? It’s also the sister restaurant of another Osama Tony in Kowloon City which, inexplicably, serves Japanese food. Ahh, the mysteries of Hong Kong.

In any case, Osama Tony caught my eye because on Openrice there were a bajillion photos of their wonderful “dim sum” selections, especially my favorites: xiao long bao (小籠包) and sheng jian bao (生煎包). They also have a variety of traditional northern and Shanghainese dishes such as stir-fried green beans with pork (乾煸四季豆) and stir-fried nian gao (炒上海年糕).

The reader’s digest version of this place is that the dishes are decent, but they’re a bit salty on their own. That being said, you must, must, MUST come here for their stellar selection of scrumptious baos and dumplings.

I went with a group of five friends and when we arrived around 7:30, the place was packed. They kind of have a front “VIP”-ish room with roomy booth seating all around the edge, but alas! I did not book. Anyways, the staff were quite accommodating and helped us cobble together a makeshift table after only about 10 minutes of waiting. We promptly ordered a variety of dishes and waited eagerly. (Side note: There is also an English menu!)

The first things to arrive were our dishes, including kung pao chicken (宮保雞丁), the aforementioned green beans, and hui guo ruo (回鍋肉), or twice-cooked pork.

The kung pao chicken impressed me because they gave us cashews instead of the traditional peanuts. I felt like that was really zhi, or good-value-for-money (it’s the Chinese in me coming out, I guess!). The green beans were pretty typical, though I wish they were a bit more burnt and crispy on the edges. The twice-cooked pork was quite salty (a problem that kept recurring, which I’ll discuss later), but the red peppers in the dish added some much-needed sweetness and tang.

Later on the ma po tofu came out, which was definitely not spicy. It was still good, but the flavor profile was basically the same as the others. In fact, my main concern with all of these dishes is that even though the portions were great given the prices, they were sal-TY! It’s what my parents would call xia fan cai, which literally means “dishes that help make the rice go down”! I think they’d have been better if we had ordered white rice. But, on their own, I definitely got the impression the taste was one-dimensional – all kind of the same soy-sauce-salt-garlic flavor.

So that was the not-so-good.

Here’s the GREAT: the dim sum selections! Order as many of these as you can, especially the xiao long bao! We got one for each of us and these little gems came out steaming hot, cutely dimpled, and oh-so-soupy. The thicker wrap perfectly cradles the abundance of soup, which comes crashing into your mouth at first bite. Heaven.

Another must-order is the sheng jian bao, or pan-friend buns. The wrap is fluffy and full, and the inside also has a little bit of the xiao long bao soup, making the filling moist. The bottoms of the bao were crispy and crunchy, and the toasted sesame seeds on top were a nice touch.

The gwok-tip (生煎鍋貼), or potstickers, were also a hit, pan-fried to the same crispiness. They were plump and pillowy, with the wrap a little bit thicker than many dumplings/potstickers I’ve had in Hong Kong.

Lastly, we got the spring onion cake (葱油餅). Even though it’s still called a bing, the difference from normal Beijing bing is obvious at first glance – I call this a 3D bing, a veritable ring of flaky crust and plentiful green onions. J told me this may be how the Shanghainese make their bing, as she’d seen it this way many times before. The onions were a bit salty when you got a mouthful but they seemed to be spread far enough to keep this dish balanced. I really loved the way the bing softly melted in my mouth.

So the conclusion is, if you’re a huge fan of xiao long bao or sheng jian bao, you need to visit Osama Tony. Their soup dumplings are on par with many in the city, including IMHO, those of Crystal Jade and – yes – even Din Tai Fung. Another added bonus is that each order of these dim sum selections comes in two, so it’s easy to eat on your own. Of course, who’s to say you shouldn’t get two orders on your own? With bao this good, eating four by yourself is a given.

Osama Tony
122 Woosung St.
2755 5090
Cost: ~ $60-80/person 

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My last mention of my UK eating adventures is a brief description of Olive’s, a small deli and eatery in Oxford. I was visiting the town for the afternoon to catch up with A, who used to be an eating legend herself while we were all in Hong Kong (Make sure to check out her fun food blog, Endless Potluck, for a joyous collection of recipes, reviews, and ruminations, all written with equal measures wit and lit(erary flair) – way more than what I just came up with right there!). I left my food needs in her very capable hands.

As we walked through town towards her college, she steered me towards this little shopfront, tempting me with promises of hearty sandwiches with all-natural ingredients.

Its location on the high street across from Oxford’s Exam Schools means it’s a popular student destination; indeed, A said we were lucky that afternoon because usually there’s a line stretching down the sidewalk. There’s actually not an eating area in the deli, but plenty of green space in town means an abundance of picnic areas.

In addition to selling deli goods (include many types of olives – surprise! – and cheeses), I have also read they stock ice cream in the summer and champagne during exam time! Their big draws are the gourmet baguette sandwiches written on a chalkboard menu just behind the deli counter. You can pick any of the sandwiches on offer (or any of their tasty, though slightly spendier, specials) and get it stuffed with complimentary additions of rocket, cornichons, tomatoes, roasted vegetables, and a handful of other things. I chose one with parma ham (!) and paired it with rocket, roasted veg, and black pepper. It was massive, and massively delicious as well.

For a wholesome and flavorful meal, this place is a no-brainer.

Olives
42 High Street
Oxford
018 6524 5700
Cost: £ 3-5 per sandwich (the pricier ones are the daily specials; others are more in the £3-4 range) 

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After I showed my students photos of Bea’s of Bloomsbury’s succulent offerings of sweets, there was a long line of interested eating partners. Fortunately, I was able to secure a booking for six at the new Bea’s of Bloomsbury branch conveniently located a minute’s walk from St. Paul’s station (and the Cathedral of the same name). We were lucky enough to book the Blue Monday Special where you can buy one afternoon tea at regular price and get another set half off, just to help you perk up those malevolent Mondays. Unfortunately, it’s no longer offered, but at £15 a person, this is one of the more affordable afternoon teas in London, with a great location to boot!

When we got there, they already had our three tiers of treats ready, plus an wide plate of sandwiches – and these weren’t your ordinary, prim three-slices-of-cucumbers-on-white; they were baguettes stuffed with premium ingredients including feta cheese, sundried-tomatoes, rocket, and salami.

There was also an embarrassment of cupcakes – six different selections, from Nutella to fruity varieties to pistachio – arranged beautifully atop the white tiered trays. The fruity cakes had the most wonderful light, fluffy whipped frosting.

My favorite was the double chocolate, which was a fudgy, dense chocoholic dream. It seemed gussied up for a ball, too, with its sparkly pink glitter, the fanciest cupcake I’ve ever seen.

Of course there were scones with fresh jam and clotted cream, and also meringues and raspberry marshmallows. All of this was washed down with a wide variety of Jing teas served in traditional silver teapots. You can see my lemon verbena, which was not as citrusy as I expected, in the photo below.

The whole afternoon was lovely and relaxed. Bea’s says they’re a casual patisserie both in dress and service; indeed, sometimes we had to track down our waitress ourselves as we were seated upstairs and the main bakery and checkout was downstairs. Still, it didn’t feel tedious at all; it was rather like having tea at a friend’s house, lounging away the afternoon in a bright sunroom.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury – St. Paul’s
One New Change
83 Watling St.
Cost: £15/person 

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Last time when I traveled to London, I missed out on trying traditional British bangers and mash. This was nothing short of tragic, as mashed potatoes (well, potatoes in general) is one of my favorite dishes. Ever. (I know, it’s a bit weird, eh?) What better place to sample my lovely potatoes than a place that describes mash as “a great big hug”? Sounds like we’re on the same wavelength. In any case, this time I was determined to make a stop at Mother Mash, a cute, sliver-of-a-bangers-and-mash joint in trendy Soho. For less than a tenner, you can get a terrific plate of comfort food, made all the more easy with their step-by-step menu.

As you can see there are a plethora of options – I never knew the humble mashed potato could be so sophisticated! There are so many choices for the bangers as well, which, despite the funny name, are aptly named: Before departing on this trip, I learned from M, whom I affectionately refer to as “a real Englishman”, that bangers got their nickname from World War II. During the time, food rationing was in effect, and the quality of sausages severely declined. Specifically, they were short on meat content but high on water content. This made them explode once they got amply hot – hence, they would explode with a “bang”, earning them the title “bangers”.

Anyways, history lesson aside, most of our group got bangers and mash, with a couple of students ordering the pie and mash. I personally recommend my dish, the Champ Mash (Irish mash with milk, butter, cheddar cheese, and green onions) and two sausages, one of which was the Pork and Chili, and the other of which was the Cumberland.

Out of the two sausages, the Cumberland was my favorite as it had more of a meaty, substantial taste. The Pork and Chili wasn’t as thick as I expected, nor as spicy, unfortunately. The mash stole the show for me! You can actually specify if you want your potatoes “mashed”, meaning as a full-on creamy puree, or “bashed”, with a little bit of texture left. I opted for the latter, which made it chunky and hearty. The addition of the spring onions kept the mash from getting too heavy, and the Farmer’s Gravy with smoked bacon and mushrooms was savory and divine!

Out of my two students who ordered the pies, both liked the filling (minced beef and chicken, leek, and ham respectively), but curiously, the flaky crust of the chicken was not on the minced beef, as my student with that pie struggled to saw through her pastry. It looked quite tough, though both said the fillings were delicious (once they got through to them).

Some of my students got the Cheesy Mustard Mash as well, which I first thought was strange. But, I sampled a mouthful and realized it wasn’t so weird after all, though if you’re not a mustard fan, having half a plateful may be a bit overkill.

Service was great, as the waitress helping us was so patient! It can be tough for the uninitiated to choose from all the mouth-watering options, but she answered all of our questions, and never looked exasperated as we asked her for “just five more minutes” three times.

All in all, I would highly recommend Mother Mash for a good plate of yummy comfort food. With so many options to mix-and-match, this is one place that definitely warrants repeat visits.

Mother Mash
26 Ganton St.
020 7494 9644
Nearest Tube: Oxford Circus
Cost: ~ £10/person (approx. $125 HKD)

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This is the first of my eating entries from London, where I spent 1o days in May as the tour guide/co-teacher/all-around problem-solver on a study tour with another colleague and 12 of my students. During the day, we visited all the requisite sites such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and The British Museum. But at night, we had a few hours of free time, which I promptly planned within an inch of their lives with – what else – food. Fortunately for me, my students were as receptive to good eats as I’d hoped, and I always had some adventurous eating buddies for all of my desired destinations, including Tayyabs, a Pakistani favorite in Whitechapel.

The place is known for their Punjabi Pakistani cuisine, an area in eastern Pakistan that borders with northern India. Admittedly, my knowledge of the food culture there is limited, though I have heard the food is especially tailored to replace calories lost by the agriculturally-working local people. Good thing we did plenty of walking on our trip!

We made a booking for 6:30 but actually showed up around 6:15. The place was relatively empty at the time, and we were promptly seated; we took to scouring the menu. They asked if we would like poppadums, which I thought was a strange question (the answer is obviously “Yes!”), until I looked at the menu and realized they charge 60p per poppadum. Not outrageous, but a bit of a “hidden charge.” Anyways, they were delicious, as were the yogurt sauce, red chili, and green chili that came with.

We ordered the lamb gosht, which had ample gamey flavor. It was also the least spicy of all the dishes. Normally, I don’t pay too much attention to the least spicy dish, but as we had one in our party who didn’t eat too much heat, this was perfect. Therefore, if you’ve got a semi-spice-averse friend, there’s at least one dish for them!


Of course, we also had to order a chicken tikka masala, England’s national dish! It was a classic. The curry itself had an after-kick and lovely sautéed/slightly burnt onions on top, adding a smoky flavor to all that heat! Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

The saag aloo was a bit skimpy on the potatoes, but the curry on this dish was perfect for soaking up the deliciously buttery and soft tandoori roti; they looked like beautiful pillows of bread when they brought them out piping hot. I also ordered a mango lassi which was smooth and creamy, the perfect antidote for a mouthful of spicy food!


Service was perfunctory, with waiters asking once or twice how the food was, but we got the idea that once we finished, we should vacate the table. Though pushy wait staff anxious to turn tables is a small pet peeve of mine, I suppose they were justified, as a line had grown shortly after we sat down around 6:30. Here’s what it looked like around 7:15:

I’ve read about people lining up even for booked tables, so I think the key is, book for an earlier seating to minimize wait time. Don’t worry, though, with food this good – and did I mention the reasonable prices?! – it’s totally worth it.

(New) Tayyabs
83-89 Fieldgate St.
Nearest Tube: Whitechapel
020 7247 9543
Cost: ~ £12/person (or approximately $150 HKD)
Note: Tayyabs is BYO 

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