Posts from the “Eating” Category

Bo Innovation – lost its mojo.

Bo Innovation: Review Update

I was greatly looking forward to my dinner at Bo Innovation last Saturday. Unfortunately it disappointed on every level apart from the tea I drank throughout which was lovely.

For a start, I was avoiding booze for the weekend, but there was no chance of that here because the tasting menu had some form of liquor in almost every course. The dinner started with a ridiculous Bai Jiu frothy cocktail, (from the introduction we were given we thought it was a frothy cappuccino style consommé with some Bai Jiu in it, not a frikking hard alcohol cocktail) that did nothing to settle my stomach and then went downhill from there.

Not that the meal was particularly unpleasant, just uninspiring, gimmicky and unbalanced – plus the service was patchy.

Given Bo’s reputation, my past experience and the high price, I expected much more. Needless to say I will not be going back.

I should have known better. It’s par for the course when the head chef starts expanding their empire overseas.

Best avoided.

Le Kou’Gny, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia: lobster restaurant nonpareil

Review:

Eating a lobster lunch at Le Kou’Gny on Boxing Day 2012 was simply one of  the best meals of my life.

As you will know by now I abhor Trip Advisor, but when it comes to New Caledonia, because there are so few people who visit, there aren’t that many websites where you can find a list of potential eateries.

So, when I was researching NC I did end up reading Trip Advisor reviews out of morbid curiosity rather than for any intention of listening to their advice.

What I read there and what I experienced at the restaurant show what a useless tool such rating and review sites are. Find a critic (or dare I say a flogger) whose opinions you trust and go with that where you can.

This wasn’t going to be a post about the perils of Trip Advisor, but now I’m all riled up again, it’s going to have to be an illustrative case study.

Now, bear in mind that the vast majority of the few thousand tourists who go to New Cal each year are Aussies or cruise ship passengers or both. Aussies as a bunch of people are completely spoiled. We get it. You have fabulous beaches, great weather, amazing landscapes and great food, so whenever you go on holiday you compare it to what you have back home. Unfortunately this can make some of you very small-minded, and this is doubly true of the cruising classes.

To read many of the English language reviews about Le Kou’Gny you’d think that it was a horrendous, overpriced beach shack whose staff were lazy, ignorant Pacific Islanders who choose the size of the lobster they serve you based on your ability to speak French. Honestly, I kid you not. Check out the reviews.

The reality is this:

The restaurant is a simple, rustic family business. Picnic tables are set out on the sand underneath the shady pines in what is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful bays in the world. The restaurant is unreachable by road, and is a 15 minute trek along a jungle path. The Kanak guys who run it speak very little English, but are friendly and polite even if you are obviously struggling to make yourself understood in poor French. If you don’t speak French, bring a bloody phrasebook. It’s not that difficult.

Strangely enough, it’s not possible to catch 30 lobsters all the same size each day and so there is going to be variety of size between portions. However, whilst our lobsters were absolutely smaller than the table’s next to us, we were given an extra one and half slipper lobsters each, which were different and delicious. It’s obvious that the restaurant aims to serve each party with a uniform size of portion, but between tables the size might vary. Get over it.

That anyone should expect to pay buttons for a meal because they think that the overheads of the restaurant, the cost of ingredients and the material needs of the owners are limited, is frankly disgusting. I’d have paid double the US$70 per person price tag and been just as happy. They have every right to charge whatever they like.

Now the rant is over, here’s the nitty-gritty.

lobster_kougny

Food:

When you make a reservation you have to tell them whether you want lobster or fish as they will catch or buy the produce they need for their clients every morning. This is why you cannot turn up to Le Kou’Gny on spec and hope to eat lunch.

You absolutely must book in advance (I’ve been advised that you can ring as late as 6am the morning of your hoped for reservation and they will accommodate you if they have room).

Lunch is three courses of utter simplicity. A salad to start, followed by the seafood of your choice and rounding out with a fruit platter.

The salad was fresh with a really tasty dressing, a perfect starter on a hot day.

The lobster and slipper lobsters were superb. Lightly grilled, they were succulent and sweet. I’ve never had slipper lobster before and it was actually sweeter than the big lobster. I cleaned those shells, and sucked those joints and legs of every morsel, and pretty much drank the juice out of the shells too. Bliss.

The fruit was delicious. Local bananas, papayas, passion fruit etc, all sun ripened and perfectly set off with lime juice.

Simple. Delicious. Sweetly presented.

Drinks:

Ice cold beer and soft drinks on hand. Jugs of water brought to your table as a matter of course, and a small wine list. There’s also a dude selling coconuts at the restaurant which completes the tropical tableau.

Service:

We found the service perfectly friendly. We muddled through with our limited French. The food service was languid. There was no rush to get you finished and move you on. A Korean couple turned up without a booking and asked for a table (in English) for that day and were told that was not possible but they could book for the next day. All of this was in English. All perfectly friendly, if not verbose.

Ambience:

Perfect beach restaurant. An amazing view. Soft sand underfoot. Shady trees overhead.

kougny_food

Location:

Kou’Gny is up in Baie D’Oro in the north-east of the Isle of Pines. Road access is close to The Meridien Hotel and the drop-off point for the Piscine Naturelle. I would skip the piscine and head straight for Oro as it’s just as sheltered and beautiful and massive compared to the slightly crowded piscine (although there’s not as much to see snorkeling).

Our journey to Kou’Gny was organised through the Kou Bugny Hotel who were very helpful with tours even though we weren’t staying there. It involved an early start to grab a pirogue (traditional boat) at Baie St Joseph for a trip through the beautiful Baie Upi and then an hour’s easy trek through the forest to the restaurant. Such a lovely way to get there.

On the way back we just had a 15 minute walk back to the road where we were picked up in a minibus and taken back to the Baie Kuto where we were moored.

Mobile: +687 91 17 94 Landline: +687 46 10 65. I’ve read on some sites that you can leave it up to 9am on the day you want to eat to book, but if it’s a busy time of year, then don’t leave it that late.

Price:

The three course lunch was US$70 per person and then there were drinks and coconuts on top. Bear in mind that they are only open for lunch.

Summary:

Idyllic and charming. One of my favourite ever meals because of the mix of awesome location, great food and laid back atmosphere.

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb: charms the socks off you

ZinfandelI have a new favourite restaurant in Europe. It happens to have one of the most beautiful original Belle Époque dining rooms in existence, amazing service, and importantly awesome food and wine.

It’s in the Croatian capital Zagreb and it’s called Zinfandel’s.

Food:

Ana Grgic is 31 and the Executive Chef. She started her apprenticeship at Zinfandel’s at the ludicrously young age of 17. She called up the executive chef at the time and asked to work for free so she could learn.  She has since worked with a couple of 2* Michelin chefs to hone her skills, holds the highest qualifications as a Master Chef, and worked under the previous exec chef James Vella for a number of years who is himself well-regarded.

Anyway, enough of that. All I need to tell you is that the food was exquisite.

Every morsel was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. There was not one flavour combination that you noticed being slightly out-of-place. Make sure you check out the tasting menu we had.

We did have a rather amusing moment with the food. Because the tasting menu was long and Mr H and I aren’t big eaters of white carbs, we asked if we could swap the frog’s leg risotto for a delicious sounding rabbit dish, which they were very happy to do.

After the rabbit dish, we were brought the risotto anyway, but we had so much food to go we sent it back assuming that it had been a mistake. A minute later the restaurant manager (Stjepan Okun, a charming silver fox) came back with the dish and told us that there had been no mistake and that the chef insisted we must eat the dish because it was very good.  Who were we to argue with that?!  So, eat it we did, and enjoy it we did. She was absolutely right: chef knows best…

Drinks:

I fell in love with the avuncular sommelier who was also our waiter for the evening. Ivan Šneler is Croatia’s first Sommelier and the star turn.

There was no specific option on the menu for pairing wine with food but Ivan offered to do one for us. The wine list was long and reasonably priced, so we had full confidence in asking him to bring us all his best Croatian wines.

Holy smokes Croatia has some amazing vino! We’ve spent a couple of holidays in the country and have had some very passable wines, but nothing extraordinary.  Ivan knocked our socks off, with a raft of wines made from Croatian grape varieties that you don’t find elsewhere.

Service:

Service was brilliant. I’ve never had this much fun with the staff at a fine dinning establishment. Ivan doubles as ‘Comedy Waiter’.

Every time he comes near the table with a dish you think it’s going to end up in your lap, or he’ll manage to sweep everything on the table to the floor.

He must do it deliberately because somehow he avoids impending disaster, finishes with an elegant flourish and your food or wine perfectly placed. It was a roller-coaster of muscle-clenching terror followed by delighted, hand-clapping relief every time he approached. He’s incredibly proud of Ana as well, which was very touching.

Because Ivan knew we were rather full, instead of the dessert intended, he brought us a champagne sherbet he prepared instead. What a sweetie.

The staff handled risotto-gate with real charm too, and seemed genuinely pleased that we’d enjoyed our meal at the end of the night.

The Ambience/The Space:

You can get a bit of a sense of the decor from the photo. The restaurant is intimately sized and very elegant.

The restaurant was very quiet that night, and we were surprised at how late guests were showing up. Once party of four arrived at getting on for 11pm and they were seated and served in a leisurely manner. No clock watching from the staff.

The Price:

The seven course tasting menu was US$123 (Kn695) which was great value considering the quality of the food and the overall experience. I can’t find the exact cost of the wine, but it was less than US$100 for the pair of us.

Location:

Zinfandel’s is on the ground floor of  the Esplanade Hotel, which itself is a very pleasant place to stay. Mihanovićeva ulica 1,  10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Tel: +385 1 4566 666. www.esplanade.hr

Summary:

If you are looking for somewhere a bit different in Europe for a weekend break, I would highly recommend bouncing into Zagreb and staying at the Esplanade to eat at Zinfandel’s. The city is interesting, and the people friendly. It feels like a real undiscovered destination.

Zinfandel’s, Zagreb: Tasting Menu

Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb – 6.10.2012

Adriatic langoustines, bloody Mary Granitte, coconut rolls.

Fois gras terrine, wild berry semifreddo, Istrian summer truffle brioche.

Langoustine consommé, fresh Adriatic shrimps and coriander.

Risotto, asparagus disc, frog legs and truffle juice.

Sole fillet, truffle, roasted asparagus pie, brown nut caper butter.

Veal, ox tail croquettes, horseradish foam.

Lemongrass panna cotta, tangerine sorbet and orange bisquit.

Extra course:

Rabbit roulade, artichokes confit, broad bean paste.

Quay, Sydney: Well worth the reputation

Review:

Mr H and I spent the first few days of the new year in Australia, staying on the Hawkesbury River at Berowra Waters for some quality relaxation time, and then we spent 36 hours in Sydney which included just one night.

It was my first time to visit the city and we’re not sure when the next opportunity to go will present itself, so we only had one option for dinner, and that was Quay (don’t worry, lunch was at Harry’s Cafe de Wheels at Woolloomooloo the next day, so we did feast on Aussie pie too).

When I was reliving the meal at Berowra Waters Inn for an earlier post I was inclined to think that the food was pretty close to that at Quay, but once I went through the menu again for Quay I realised what a special meal it was, and what a talented chef Peter Gilmore is.

Food:

Just beautiful food. The execution of the dishes is very impressive. There’s that 3* delicacy of flavour and precision of presentation that’s really delightful, (think flowers and micro herbs arranged using tweezers).

However. I had to ponder why I thought that the food at Berowra was close to Quay, and realised that the last three courses at Berowra were absolutely amazing and the whole meal reached a crescendo at the cheese course so it sits firmly in my mind as a great meal.

Whereas, Peter Gilmore’s menu was (to my palette at least) extraordinary for the first few courses, but once we’d scaled the giddy gastronomic heights of the smoked and confit pig cheek with scallops (literally cannot ever be topped), the rest of the meal wasn’t quite as good, and the whole ‘signature’ snow egg extravaganza just completely passed me by. And, whilst we are on the subject of desserts, why does anyone need two? Plus petit fours at the end. I do wish chefs would reel themselves in. Sugar overload at the end of a big meal doesn’t do anyone’s digestion any good.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome food, and worth every penny when you can spend the same amount of money in Hong Kong for food not one smidgen as good. Make sure you check out the menu.

Drink:

We chose the Classic Wine Match menu to pair with the meal and it was almost exclusively Aussie wines. The premium wine matching is Old World wines, and we had no inclination to drink those in our host country. I think that would have been rather rude.

The wines were great, but I think that the sommelier at Berowra Waters actually did a better job. The wines she chose (apart from the Topaque) really made the dishes pop and they were actually enhanced by the wine, whereas at Quay you didn’t notice that so much. You just noticed that they were really nice wines.  Again, I’m nit picking, it’s just that because I ate at these two restaurants on consecutive nights, I can’t help but compare.

The Space/The Ambience

We were warned when the reservation was made that there was a cruise ship in so there would be a very limited view from the restaurant. This didn’t bother us. All we wanted was a quiet corner to enjoy our food, which we got.

It was quite hilarious watching all the cruise passengers watching us right back, especially as we kept a running tally of the ratio of normal sized people to the utterly obese, (about 1:10). If that Royal Caribbean liner had gone down like the Costa Concordia, there is no way in hell that everyone would have been able to move fast enough to get off, let alone would there have been enough room in the lifeboats for all those fatties. I suppose at least they’d survive longer if rescue was delayed…

I digress. Without the view, the restaurant itself is nothing special.It’s tastefully Hyatt bland if you know what I mean. I presume they keep the lighting down so low to enable guests to get the full effect of the view across the harbour at night, but I would prefer to be able to see my food properly, and not have to worry about falling over steps that are impossible to see in the dark. Although going back to the cruise passengers, maybe they turn the lights down so that the restaurant isn’t such a goldfish bowl for people to stare into.

Service:

Can’t fault the service. It was efficient and friendly. Our sommelier was an American lady who was very informative and relaxed.

Price:

The set menu is AUS$220, and the Classic Wine matching option was another AU$95. All this is ++

Location:

The Quay is on the top floor of  the International cruise terminal on the western edge of Circular Quay.

Upper Level, Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks, Sydney 2000. Tel: +61 2 9251 5600.  www.quay.com.au

Summary:

It’s nice to have the luxury of being able to go to restaurants like this. The food was great with platefuls of genius early on, but I still can’t quite shake the slight disappointment of everything post pork and scallops. The wine was good, the service was good, but now I feel like I’ve been-there-done-that, and I’m raring to try some other restaurants the next time I’m in Sydney.

Quay, Sydney Tasting Menu

Quay Tasting Menu – 6 January 2013

Sashimi of local lobster, bergamot, green almonds, grapefruit,   elderflowers

Salad of preserved wild cherries, albino and chioggia beetroots, radish, crème fraiche, violets

Line caught iki jime Tasmanian squid, squid ink custard, society garlic, pink turnips

Smoked and confit pig cheek, shiitake, shaved scallops, Jerusalem artichoke leaves

Hawkesbury free range chicken cooked in Vin Jaune and cream, steamed brioche, egg yolk confit, truffle

Poached Rangers Valley beef, bitter chocolate, black pudding, morel, ezekiel drubs, shaved mushrooms

Andalucia citrus and almonds

White nectarine snow egg

A Good Thai in Kowloon City: Saeb-E-Hleelub Ped

Review:

There are so many Thai restaurants in Kowloon City (hence its epithet Little Thailand), that it’s a bit pot luck which one you end up at. Faced with so many, you wander around and end up just plumping for one that catches your eye, most of the time. Open Rice is not much help as there are about a gazillion reviews for hundreds of restaurants, and no handful of restaurants stands out.

After a couple of disappointments using the zen navigation-technique of choosing restaurants, I finally struck gold in the form of Saeb-E-Hleelub Ped (?!).


Food:

thai_kc

First off, the restaurant serves Thai sour sausage which immediately puts it in the top 10% of Thai restaurants in Hong Kong.  If you’ve never had these slightly fermented, coarse and garlicy pork sausages, trust me, you are missing out.

Secondly, all the food we had was really tasty and authentically hot. It’s standard Thai food, nothing fancy, just well executed.

A solid menu that’s not too long, but includes all the staples and favourites.

Drinks:

What you’d expect in a simple Thai restaurant; lots of juices and sodas on offer plus Thai and international beers. Loved the preserved lemon and honey hot tea that I had, and Mr H had the same but iced.

Service:

Reasonably quick service, with each dish brought out separately. Very friendly female staff – Canto and Thai – sporting some flamboyant sartorial choices that added a certain panache to the proceedings. Ordering using English was not a problem, and the menus are bilingual.

The Space/Ambience:

It’s a Hong Kong canteen style restaurant: plastic stools, laminated tables and melamine crockery. Loud and jovial.

Price:

Mr H and I had four dishes between us with a couple of drinks each. The bill without service came to a ludicrously reasonable HK$222.

Location:

You’ll find the restaurant at 27 Nam Kok Road, Kowloon City. Tel: +852 2716 2938

Summary:

I’ll happily go back here until I’ve exhausted the menu before going out and searching for an alternative Thai in Kowloon City. Fabulous value, friendly atmosphere and most importantly good food.

Berowra Waters Inn, Sydney

Review:

After our sailing trip in New Caledonia over Christmas we spent a few days staying on the river at Berowra Waters. Awesome spot, and just perfect for total relaxation. I found the location when I was looking for places to go for lunch by seaplane from Sydney and saw that Berowra Waters Inn was a recommended trip.

Long story short, the inn has a rather convoluted past with a few dramas and changes of fortunes (this is maybe why the Short History section of their website is currently disabled). But it’s a new year in 2013 and, fingers crossed, the restaurant in now entering a more stable phase of existence.

berowra_waters_inn1

Food:

We thoroughly enjoyed the food. It was beautifully presented, intricate and very tasty. You can see the full menu in the previous post to see what we were able to savour.

The slow cooked beef rib was superb, and topped the beef at the Quay the next night, and the cheese course was inspired. I never realized that Australia had such fantastic cheeses. As good as anything you’ll find in France or the UK.

Drink:

We opted for the wine pairing with the dinner and weren’t disappointed. All really good Aussie wines that we would never have known about otherwise.

The wines really set some of the dishes alight in fact, so full marks to the sommelier, a fiercely enthusiastic Aussie chick.  The only one that didn’t catch my fancy was the Topaque – sorry, but the Hungarians can’t be beaten when it comes to Tokaji.

Service:

The service was very good, friendly etc etc. The sommelier forgot to bring us one of the wines for the second course and was mortified. They slowed down service so we could enjoy the glass, and gave us the cheese course in recompense which was worth AU$70. A very sweet thing to do and certainly an overcompensation that was much appreciated as the course was delicious.

The ONLY thing I would say about the service is that the evening felt rather serious. Food was introduced with reverence and hushed tones, and felt a bit like a performance that wasn’t suitable for this bushland restaurant.  This is Australia after all, and I was expecting a little more camaraderie with the wait staff. You don’t need to have such formal service in order to be taken seriously as a fine dinning establishment, which is what I felt might be behind this.

The Space/Ambiance:

The restaurant faces the creek and floor to ceiling windows overlook the Hawkesbury River and cliffs opposite. It’s a lovely space and not at all cluttered with tables. Light, airy and modern.

Price:

There is one six course set menu on offer with optional cheese course and wine matching. The menu is AU$165 and with the wine pairing it rises to $240.

If you have any allergies or special requirements then let them know when you book, although they asked us as a matter of course when we made the reservation.

Location/Opening:

The restaurant is only open at weekends.  Friday night, and then Saturday and Sunday lunch and dinner. Diners generally arrive by car and park at the Berowra Waters Marina before being brought by the restaurant’s boat downriver to the site. It is not accessible by car.

You can also take a seaplane from Sydney for lunch, or be picked up by the restaurant’s boat if you are staying in Berowra Waters like we were (remember to leave a light on in the porch, else you’ll be struggling to find your house. You live and learn…)

Summary:

Comparing the meal to The Quay in Sydney the next night, I think the AU$240 including wine matching was worth every penny. It was a great meal and if only they’d have lightened up a little then it would also have been a fun meal.

Berowra Waters Inn Menu

Berowra Waters Inn Menu – 5 January 2013

Sydney Rock Oysters, Cucumber, Ginger & Dill

Confit of Ocean Trout, Smoked Milk, Dashi & Wild Rice

Vegetable Garden, Pumpkin & Licorice

Roasted Duck, Peach, Lavender & Fennel

Slow Cooked Rib of Beef, Potato Terrine & Braised Cos

Gippsland Triple Cream, Caramelised Red Onion Sorbet, Celery & Walnut Crumb

Tropicana

Monachyle Mhor Hotel: A little slice of Scottish heaven

 

Review :

Chances are that when you rock up at an unassuming boutique hotel on the edge of a Scottish loch far from civilization and there’s a helicopter sat on the lawn, you’ve probably found somewhere worth the journey.

Loch Voil is just an hour away from both Glasgow and Edinburgh airports in the less visited part of the Trossachs National Park. It’s a stunning landscape of glens, babbling rivers and forests, and is steeped in the history of Rob Roy McGregor, made famous by Daniel Dafoe and Sir Walter Scott, who lived, fought and died here.

Far down a single track road, which is barely marked on the map, the Monachyle Mohr estate has been owned by the Lewis family since 1983. It’s a real family run business that has been built up with hard graft over the intervening years to bring it to where it is today – a lovely boutique hotel, a working farm producing quality meat and veg, an award winning restaurant, and owner of a host of other business in the area including Mohr Bread (a bakery), Mohr Fish (a fishmongers and restaurant), and Mohr Tea (a tearoom).

 

Monochyle Mohr

On our visit, we stayed in one of the feature rooms in the old granary on the ground floor across the courtyard from the main, rather startlingly pink house. It was a spacious and warm, wooden-floored bedroom with a homely gas fire, a steam-room, and a very comfortable bed. It didn’t have much of a view, but that was hardly a deal breaker as it was the only bedroom available when we booked just the day before.

When we arrived, lunch had already finished but we were offered door-step sandwiches and huge mugs of tea in the cosy lounge in the main house instead. Just what we needed after a long, wet drive from Grantown-on-Spey way up north in The Highlands.

What we had really come for though was the promise of a great evening meal, as it was the award winning restaurant that attracted us in the first place when it had appeared in Mr H’s internet search for “best Scottish restaurant”. The subsequent discoveries that the hotel itself was rather wonderful and the location so stunning were purely bonuses.

Using local game, the farm’s own grass-fed, dry-aged angus beef and lamb, and vegetables grown in the garden, Tom Lewis prepares wonderful food from the ingredients available on the estate, and from the best fish and seafood Scotland has to offer.

 

Mhor CourtyardI can understand why people fly in from the city by seaplane or helicopter for lunch to enjoy the likes of Perthshire spring lamb, mustard celeriac remoulade, chantenay carrots with juniper jus, or crispy hen’s egg, new season’s white and green asparagus, with lemon sorrel – we certainly weren’t disappointed with what we were fed.

As ours was a bit of a whirlwind tour around Scotland we only had one night to stay in the Mohr, so we left wanting more. You could spend days wandering the countryside, fishing the loch or birdwatching, and the estate manager Alan will take you on safari to tell you the history of Rob Roy and to spot the local wildlife – well worth the money for a morning of exploring.

Sent on our way at noon the next day we were given a hearty packed lunch of sandwiches, fruit, local cheese with homemade oatcakes, and even a butter knife each from the restaurant. As we drove away and came to the end of the loch we spied a for-sale sign on a piece of land, so promptly took down the details for further investigation. One way or another we’ll definitely be back to Loch Voil and The Mohr to experience this little slice of Scottish heaven again.

Price: Rooms start from US$312 per night.

Location: Balquhidder, Lochearnhead, Perthshire, FK19 8PQ. Tel: 01877 384622.

Website: http://mhor.net

A handful of Hanoi Restaurants

Review:

So, we went to Hanoi for a quick getaway with some guests last weekend. Apart from the irritation of having to fly out of the ridiculous Gate 500 hub in the middle of what feels like Hong Kong Airport’s runway, the Dragonair flights leaving at 18:00 on a Friday and returning at 19:50 on Sunday were perfectly timed.

We arrived at our hotel in Hoan Kiem just after 20:00; well in time for dinner and a night out. We therefore were able to fit in two dinners and two lunches before jumping back on the plane to Hong Kong on Sunday evening.

Hanoi

Here were our meals:

The Spices Garden, Sofitel Metropole

Rapacious prices, mediocre food, dreadful service.

I don’t understand how the best and most expensive hotel in Hanoi is happy to run a restaurant this dismal.

I usually get my restaurant advice from the boards on Chowhound, but there is precious little on the Vietnamese capital, so I relied on a website called Rusty Compass that described the joint as “for those wanting to gently ease into local cuisine off the street in a 5 star space…a very nice upscale Vietnamese cuisine experience.”

Sounded perfect for our guests who weren’t yet comfortable to sit on plastic stools on a pavement to eat food delivered from a hole in the wall, or a bunsen burner in the gutter. How wrong that decision turned out to be.

Beef was tough as boots, everything that was fried was oily, the waiter kept jabbing his fingers into the food to tell us what to dip into what, and completely failed  to mention that many of the items in the traditional platter were repeated in some of the other starters we ordered.

Green Tangerine - Caustic Candy

Green Tangerine - a quiet courtyard oasis

Please don’t waste your money on dinner here. Have a drink at the lovely Bamboo Bar, but sidestep the monstrous Spices Garden. We spent US$240 for four people eating only starters and mains with one reasonably priced bottle of wine.

Ngon (Quan An Ngon), 18 Phan Boi Chau, Tel: +84 4 3942 8162

Fun, great service, good food. The safe-bet.

It’s loud, it’s packed, but at least it’s packed with tourists and Hanoians alike. Service was very good. It was efficient despite there being about 300 diners there at any one time. They suggested dishes when they thought you’d made the meal unbalanced, and no one has offered to peel my prawns at the table for a very long time. The food was good and the cost very reasonable.

Green Tangerine, 48 Hang Be, Tel: +84 4 3825 1286

I’m a bit sentimental about the Green Tangerine. I’ve been going since it opened in 2003. Its quirky French/Vietnamese fusion works pretty well, the presentation is interesting and I’ve never taken anyone there who hasn’t enjoyed their food and the styling of the restaurant. It’s expensive for a restaurant in Hanoi, but nowhere near Metropole pricing. Sitting inside or out, it’s a great little oasis, especially at lunch time.

Thanh Chuong Palace

One of the houses in Thanh Chuong Palace

Thanh Chuong Palace, Hien Ninh Commune, Day Dieu, Keo Ca Dam, Soc Son Town, Tel: +84 043 793 0667

We had lunch in the restaurant here after looking around the palace. It’s a quirky oddity of a place, and you wouldn’t expect the restaurant of a tourist attraction to serve great food, but our lunch was very tasty, with really generous portions. We enjoyed it sitting out on the terrace overlooking one of the many ponds.

I highly recommend visiting the palace as part of a half-day trip out of town. Exotissimo teamed it with a visit to the Giong Temple which was also beautiful. I rate these guys highly having had their guides in Thailand a couple of weeks ago during a trip on the Anantara Dream in Bangkok, and had friends use them to great success in Laos.

It’s safe to say that we ate well within our comfort zone in Hanoi. We were considering the sensitivities of our guests so were eating only upscale and super-safe.

That said though, apart from The Spices Garden we really did enjoy our food, and I’m looking forward to going back to Hanoi again soon and getting lowdown and local on the pavement.

Nahm Bangkok – food to get on a plane for

Review:

I don’t need much of an excuse to bob down to Bangkok for a weekend from Hong Kong. Who does when you have great shopping, awesome food and cheap massages just 2.5 hrs away?

However, the excuse I’ve been using most for the past couple of years, is that when a movie I particularly want to see opens there before Hong Kong it is permissible for me to go to my favourite cinema to watch it – the wonderful Enigma Shadow Lounge in Siam Paragon.

Now though, I have a new excuse: I have to go to Bangkok because I need to satisfy my addiction to David Thompson’s food.

I ate in Nahm at the Halkin in London a few year’s ago and enjoyed it, but wasn’t blown away. However, having found out more about David Thompson since then and on discovering he’d be opening a restaurant in Bangkok, I had an inkling that with access to the full range of fresh indigenous ingredients, he might do wonders.

After an abortive attempt to go to Nahm in early 2011, twice this year I’ve been to Bangkok, and twice I’ve flown earlier in the day so that I can get to Nahm for dinner. Yes, it’s one of the most expensive restaurants in Thailand, and yes it’s in a hotel (the Metropolitan), and yes, the chef is a farang, but by crikey he puts together some mouthwatering food! This guy has really nailed it.

Now, we all know that the delight of eating in Thailand is that you can get the most wonderful food from the most humble of restaurants and food-stalls. But for a long time it’s been exasperating that there hasn’t been a really exciting restaurant in the capital pushing the envelope of Thai cuisine. The only difference between a good cheap restaurant and a good expensive restaurant was the decor, the wine list, and the lighting.

The chef and the magic:

Thompson is an Aussie who first visited Thailand some 20 years ago and moved there a year later after being utterly seduced by the place. He was very lucky to meet a lady called Sombat Janphetchara whose family worked in the palace, and who had somehow been taught the intricacies of palace cuisine.

The basis of Thai cuisine is its pastes – the marrying together of the vast array of herbs, spices and aromatics in ideal proportions to produce the taste you want, is an art not a science. This is why you will see many of the same dishes on the menu in the north of Thailand as down in the south, but the flavours are very different because they use different ingredients in different proportions in their pastes.

David Thompson seems to possess an extraordinary gift for creating wonderfully complex flavour profiles in his dishes that reveal themselves in stages through each mouthful, and it’s all because of Sombat Janphetchara teaching him how to use herbs and aromatics with extreme care, presence of mind and unending patience.

And that’s it really. That’s what makes eating his food a startling pleasure. I don’t think I’ve eaten a meal where I’ve wanted to concentrate on each mouthful as much as I have at Nahm.

The best chefs in the world almost universally place a number of different elements on a plate that together create a balanced flavour profile for the dish. You pick a little of this, with a little of that and a bit of another to put on your fork to eat, or you have to eat the different elements in turn in a suggested order to experience the flavour that the chef wants to impart.

Not so with David Thompson’s food. The most you will have is a dip, the rest of that flavour profile is just sitting there in the bowl or the plate, innate in the curry, the salad or the parcel before you. That’s the clever part. That’s the magic.

The decor and ambience:

There’s not much point in going into details about the restaurant’s styling. You come here for the food not for the very standard, could-be-anywhere-hotel-breakfast-room decoration.  The ambience can often be rowdy. There are many people who dine here for celebrations and it can get rather noisy on weekend nights, so ideally I’d suggest going on a weekday.

Service:

The initial front of house service can be maddening. Once the food starts arriving it’s been absolutely fine, but to begin with you can easily be forgotten. Stay on the waiters if you feel you have been overlooked just once, and persevere as the food is worth it.

Having said that, the service the last time I went was impeccable, but that might be because I noticed the note “Take Care!” by my name in the reservations book. Why that’s there is another story, but one with ultimately a happy ending…

Choosing your food:

There are some intense flavours in the menu and to get the best out of the meal make sure that you choose dishes that will balance each other.

We were so excited the first time we ate at Nahm that we ordered a lot of the more unusual, pungent and rampantly hot items, and ended up a little overwhelmed by the flavour punches, (there is no manipulation of heat here; if a dish should be fierce with chilli, then fierce it shall be). The second time we went we chose more carefully and created a more satisfying overall meal, rather than just opting to try as many new things as possible.

There is one starter that absolutely no one should go without and sets the tone for the rest of the meal, and that’s the grilled mussel skewers.

Drinks:

There’s a good list of interesting cocktails and a very adequate wine list. I’m used to just plumping for beer with most Asian cuisine, but the sommelier was informed and helpful and we ended up with a Thai wine from Monsoon Valley, which was very decent.

Price:

You can eat à la carte or opt for a menu that gives you the option of choosing one dish from each of the sections – a relish, a salad, a soup, a curry and a stir fry along with a taster of every one of the starters. This menu costs 1700THB++ (US$55) per person which is a complete bargain in my book, but drinks prices are up there with every other 5* hotel in Bangkok, so it can add up. Overall I think Nahm is great value given the quality of the food.

Location:

Ground Floor, The Metropolitan Hotel, Sathorn Tai, Bangkok. Tel: 02-625 3333. It’s next to the Banyan Tree, so if it’s your first time in Bangkok go to Vertigo before or after for drinks.

Summary:

Ignore the service and the decor, insist on a table in a quiet corner when booking and concentrate on the food.

I have no hesitation in saying that Nahm, without doubt, serves the best food in Bangkok at this point in time, and it’s because of David Thompson’s intense passion and deep respect for his adopted home’s food and culture.

The Garth Hotel, Grantown, Scotland

The Garth HotelIt’s unusual for me to be in Scotland as a tourist, so the past few days have been an absolute delight. In the Highlands almost every bend in the road reveals another breathtaking vista, and we had the perfect weather for touring – strong winds that produced roiling clouds, localized showers and startling sunshine. We stayed on the edge of the Cairngorms, in the Trossachs and finally in Edinburgh and we received some wonderful hospitality.

The Garth Hotel, Grantown on Spey

Our Coutt’s World concierge suggested this small hotel in Grantown, as it’s recognized as having a rather good little restaurant.  We turned up unannounced and managed to grab the last of the 18 bedrooms, and although we were right above reception meaning a little bit of noise first thing in the morning, we had the strongest wifi signal in the building.

Rooms

The rooms were unexpectedly well appointed if I’m honest. Newly refurbed, they were cosy, nicely styled and had bright bathrooms with heated towel rails (important in somewhere like Scotland). The double beds were just standard double-sized so pretty small, but there were comfortable.

Service

The front of house staff were delightful.

Food

A mix of cuisines at dinner, but a lot of solid Scottish fare with quality local ingredients. The smoked salmon was real good, but it was the melt-in-the-mouth smoked mackerel that was truly delicious. We had beef and game hotpot, steak and some great cheese too.

Breakfast was the star of the show though. Once you’ve started off the day with a full Scottish of that standard you’ll want to do it every morning.

Drink

A good selection of Speyside whiskeys as you would expect, some local beers and a modest wine list.

Price

We paid a very reasonable GBP45 per person for bed and breakfast. It was the last room they had and gave us a bit of a discount, which was a nice and unnecessary touch.

Location

Castle Road, Grantown-on-Spey, Morayshire, Scotland, PH26 3HN. Tel: 01479 872 836, email: reception@garthhotel.com

Summary

If I was ever in Grantown again, I wouldn’t bother looking for another hotel, I’d definitely go straight to the Garth – it’s homely, comfortable and delightfully styled.
We poked our noses in at another couple of hotels and were not tempted. The Craiglynne Hotel was full of coach parties, and whilst I do love old-people, I don’t want to feel like I’m staying in a care home. The other was the Grant Arms, which was rather more outwardly striking than the Garth, but the rooms weren’t up to much.

Ritz Carlton, Tosca: An unholy mess of a restaurant

Review:

Tosca Glass WallThe poor chef at the Ritz Carlton’s Italian eatery Tosca must have been gutted when he first saw his restaurant space.

Usually a chef will at least be able to rely on the decor and ambiance of his restaurant to enhance his diners’ experience, and help balance out any glitches in the food. Here at Tosca, the food was going to have to be unfailingly excellent to keep patrons’ eyes and minds off the shockingly awful interior design.

Unfortunately, the food was not quite able to stand up to the task.

First things first.

The Space: There is no way you will every forget you are in a hotel restaurant here. It’s a giant hall of a place. The one feature I did like was an absolutely enormous silver chandelier. However, once you see the chandelier you then have to look at the ceiling above it, and you realize that whomever the designer was, they forgot about the ceiling and left it looking like the roof of a conference centre. Sloppy.

Interior Design: I am just not eloquent enough to describe the sheer atrociousness of the restaurant interior. The closest I can get to is that it resembles the absolute worst of China’s super-sized sauna lobbies. Everything is an assault on the eyes. There is not one thread of coherence running through the entire space.

There were blue neon lights, red standard lamps, turquoise glass water features, turquoise glass wall panels, brown marble floors, wooden paneled fascias, fret-work ceiling panels, chromed wine-fridges, black banquettes, red and gold striped chairs, purple glass tableware, spangly reflective ornamentation and grey linen table cloths.

The number of different textures, colours and materials used was just mind boggling.

Pet Peeve: The seats. There a number of banquettes running the width of the restaurant serving around six tables each. Because they are not attached to the floor and are lightweight, this means that when any of the other people sitting on it tap their feet or push against it in any way, every other dinner has to endure their seat moving too.  I spent my entire meal lightly vibrating because the woman sitting on the next table was continually tapping her heel on the floor whilst pushing back into the banquette.

Service: Efficient bordering on over-efficient. After ten minutes I had to stop the waiters from topping up our water glasses after every single sip.

Also, even though my companion and I were in the full flow of conversation, every time they put a dish down and we’d thanked them for it, and then re-started our conversation, the waitress would proceed to talk over us to introduce the dish – she showed absolutely no discretion in deciding whether it was an appropriate thing to do.

If I’m having a tasting menu multiple courses long, then this kind of thing can be useful. When I’ve chosen what I’ve ordered and it amounts to two dishes, I don’t need to reminded what it is as though I have the mind of a goldfish. Just back off.

Tosca NeonFood: Modern Italian, there was plenty for us to choose from that sounded good.

Unfortunately, my starter was rubbish. It was meant to be artichoke velouté with a crispy egg and black truffle shavings. Not one element of it had been seasoned and the whole thing was just a cloying gruel. I suspect that the truffle was either not ripe or old as it had no scent and no flavour. Not a good start.

My sea bass main came, and was raw. Don’t get me wrong, I often enjoy fish rare, but literally half the fish was uncooked and stone cold.

The replacement fish arrived after my companion had finished his main course, but was very tasty and beautifully cooked when it finally did come. Served on a spring onion fondant and with buffalo mozzarella, it was an unusual combination that I enjoyed.

My companion was luckier: he had a tasty onion soup to start and a very good piece of steak for his main.

So, unfortunately the food was rather a mixed bag.

Drink: There’s a good selection of wine by the glass, and the Sardinian red that my companion had was very good.

Price: We paid $1688 for two with the only booze being one glass of wine. I expect those prices in a 5-star hotel, but then I also expect the food to be faultless and the decor to not be channeling Katie Price’s subconscious.

Location: The Ritz Carlton, above Elements Mall, part of the ICC building in West Kowloon. 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Tel: (852) 2263 2263

Summary: Wild horses wouldn’t drag me back for dinner.

Note: I’ve realized from looking at photos on the internet what the issue with the interior is. The design is actually fine in daylight (although those water features are still vile),  it’s just at night that everything falls apart. Look at the photo in daylight through the link here and you’ll see what I mean.

Tim’s Kitchen – bothered about the sharks fin

Tim's KitchenReview:

We found ourselves in Sheung Wan last night and in need of a swift bite to eat. There aren’t a whole lot of quality restaurants down and around Morrison Street, but I have been meaning to go to Tim’s Kitchen for a long while and so Cantonese it was.

The original restaurant was set up by Chef Lai in 2000 after retiring from Hang Seng Bank where he’d worked for the past 33 years, most of them as their Executive Chef. The restaurant has two Michelin stars, and is well known for its authentic and precisely executed Cantonese cuisine.

Food: As we were in a rush and it was only the pair of us eating we didn’t have a lot of food, but what we did have was very, very good: stir fried lettuce with soybeans, beef tenderloin with celery, and poached chicken with black mushrooms.

The soybeans on the lettuce were like bullets of umami and salty goodness, perfectly complementing the sweet lettuce. The chicken was succulent and tasty, and the mushrooms very meaty which made the chicken seem even more tender. I’m only just learning about 口感 kougan, or “mouth feel” in Chinese cooking, but this dish struck me as one that had been constructed very much with that principe in mind. The beef was also tasty, many times you can barely taste the meat because its poor quality, no issue with that here.

Drinks: We just had a pot of white peony tea so can’t really go into the drinks menu here.

Service: The service was efficient and we appreciated the waiter telling us that the soup only came in gigantic bowls so would be too big for us to share (why they couldn’t serve it in small portions is beyond me, I wish someone would explain this policy to me as I come across it all the time).

Ambience: The decor is modern and clean, the chairs comfortable, and you don’t feel that the tables are crammed into the space. Not sure why their napkins are made out of curtain material though.

Price: Like a lot of higher-end Cantonese restaurants you can eat cheaply or crazy expensively depending on your menu choices, which is perfect. Those on a lower budget can sample food from a top chef which is simple, and those out to blow a stack of cash can opt for the far more sophisticated fare on offer.

Our meal came to HK$257 for three dishes and a pot of tea which was great value.

Summary: All in all a good meal, apart from the big problem of Shark’s Fin being on the menu, which is why I have to review the restaurant as Caustic at the moment.

Had we had more time to choose our restaurant we would have bypassed Tim’s Kitchen if we’d seen the menu, so unfortunately we won’t be going back until the Shark’s Fin is off it.

My problem with shark’s fin is one of sustainability rather than cruelty, because overfishing is a far bigger issue than the finning in my opinion. I admit to being ill informed about the issue, but I’d prefer to be erring on the side of caution. If it transpires that any restaurant serves shark from a sustainable source, then I will be very happy to eat there.

Location: G/F – 1/F, Shop A, 84-90 Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2543 5919

W1 Wending – Zhejiang comes to iSquare

A great meal, complicated by the fact that the restaurant serves shark’s fin.

Review:

I’m always keen to try new Chinese restaurants, and W1 is definitely very new.  The original restaurant is in Ningbo, one of my favourite Chinese cities – coastal, a tasteful mix of old and new, well-planned, with friendly people and great food. They have only just opened up in iSquare and the management have been transplanted from Ningbo. For once my admittedly poor Mandarin skills were actually of use in this city!

Zhejiang cuisine is probably best encapsulated in Dongpo Pork. The sublime, meltingly soft pork-belly is stewed in wine and soy sauce and it’s that aspect that seems to come through in many dishes. A mellowness that is then accented with vinegars and crunchy vegetables.

Food: As there were only two of us the restaurant manager sized the portions down of those dishes that would more normally be shared in a bigger group. I loved that. I have often asked restaurants to do this as I hate to waste food, to varying degrees of success. What a refreshing change for the restaurant themselves to suggest it. They also don’t use MSG which is a big plus.

So, we started off with the Four Pickles: Delicious Drunken Crab that was ice cold, with sweet, sweet roe, crazy fresh and a wonderful gingerness to the marinade. Sucking the meat out of the joints was very satisfying. Then there were boiled peanuts, some pickled greens and duck tongues which were all very tasty.

Next up was shrimp with beancurd. Buttery, melt in the mouth prawns served with a gentle red vinegar.  Very simple and well balanced.

Then we had crab soup which again was delicate and fresh.

After that the pork belly stewed in wine and soy sauce with turnip. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.

By golly those Chinese knew what they were doing when they came up with this one! There’s been about 1000 years to perfect the dish, and W1 certainly did it justice. The addition of turnip was perfect and the sweet unctuousness of the pork and gravy was balanced by it being served with a fresh, crisp, steamed baby green on top.

They had run out of the mustard greens we ordered, so we had baby cabbage instead. This was served in a super hot stone pot and the cabbage had been stir fried in pork dripping, with shallots and garlic. It was so good that my partner described it as among the tastiest vegetables he’d ever eaten.

Drinks: We didn’t delve too deeply into the drinks menu as I was driving. We had Puer tea, in a pot that was kept full throughout the meal, being refilled from a source in the kitchen rather than the same leaves being left to stew for hours at our table. Again, a service touch that was much appreciated.

Service: Efficient wait staff and the manageress on duty was incredibly helpful and friendly. We muddled through in our mix of English and Mandarin. The menus have good and full descriptions of the food and the restaurant’s ethos in English.

Ambience: The views from the restaurant are fantastic. Straight over the harbour from the 25th floor. The restaurant itself is light, with lots of crystal and Louis XIV influences. The booth tables are a little uncomfortable though as you can’t move the seats, so I had to perch on the edge of the seat to get close enough to my bowl to eat. The food was so good though that I didn’t really notice this slight inconvenience after a while.

Price: Very reasonable for the quality of the food. We paid HK$695 for the meal above.

Summary: I would like to say that  I will definitely go back to W1, towing a whole group of people with me so that I can try more of their dishes and make a proper meal out of it. The food was excellent.

However, because they have shark fin on the menu, I can’t until I know the source of it. Finning disgusts me but apparently the practice is limited and it’s unlikely that fins used in HK restaurants are from sharks butchered in this way. However, my issue is one of sustainability. To my knowledge there are no sustainable fisheries of sharks, and their numbers have been so decimated that many species are on the verge of extinction. So, this is why I have to rate W1 as Caustic even though the meal was excellent.

Location: 2501, iSquare, 63 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Tel: 3153 2188. www.wendingno1.com (this is their Ningbo restaurant website)

New Chef at Liberty Group

Vicky ChengSo, there’s a new chef taken over at LPW and LEX: Vicky Cheng – a Canadian who comes with a good pedigree. He trained under the much decorated and successful Daniel Boulud (for the less gastronomically inclined, that’s Daniel from TV’s “After Hours with Daniel”).

Sadly Chef Makoto Ono has returned to Winnipeg, Canada, to take over the helm at the family restaurant Edohei, as his father is ill. If ever I happen to be in Winnipeg, I shall definitely be visiting.

If you didn’t know how lucky Hong Kong was to have Makoto Ono here for a short while, or if you didn’t ever eat at Liberty Private Works (previous review here), you can read more about him on James Chatto’s website, and Vicky Cheng also get’s the thumbs up.

I haven’t been to Liberty Private Works for a while now, but find myself at Exchange quite often. It’s one of the restaurants in the IFC environs you always seem to  be able to get a table at when you book half an hour before lunch (make of that what you will), and they have a really reasonably priced set menu with pretty solid fare.

I went last week in fact and tried their sous vide dishes. One was a baked egg and the other was a salmon fillet. The flavour of the egg was amazing, but it took a little getting used to the egg-white being the same texture as the yolk, and looking undercooked even though it wasn’t.

The same goes for the salmon really. Great taste, but I didn’t go a bundle on the texture – I now understand why most chefs will quickly fry or grill off meat and fish once cooked this way. I appreciate that technically it was an impressive piece of salmon, but it would have helped if it had looked appetizing too.

Liberty Exchange: Podium level, 2 Exchange Square, Central . Opened from Monday through Sunday for lunch and dinner from 10am – 11pm. Tel: 2810 8400.

Liberty Private Works:

3/F 12 Wellington Street, Central. Tel +852 5186 3282.  Email info@libertpw.com. www.libertypw.com

Liberty Private Works – Hurry before he becomes the next big thing

Update:

I had an email from LPW to confirm that the kitchen will continue to operate after the Exchange Square restaurant/bar opens.  Thank the lord.

Review:

A complete stranger felt compelled to tell me about the fabulous meal he’d had at a new chef’s table back in September 09. I was at a gallery preview of some rather self-indulgent black and white, semi-porno photograhs and this chap was the most interesting thing about the whole affair.

Unfortunately I was about to go deep field for a few months and so have only just had the opportunity to go to Liberty Private Works.  And thank the lord I did!  Renovation work is already underway in a space in Exchange Square and chef Makoto Ono is not sure whether he’s going to be able to keep Liberty operating as well as the new mega-resto.

On to the experience:

Food:  Set menu, which suits me perfectly.  I’m a busy, harassed bee and have to make far to many decisions every day already, so the mental overload that occurs when I have to then tackle the choosing of what I want to shove down my gullet sometimes diminishes the whole experience of enjoying my food.  I’d much prefer to leave it in the capable hands of a trained master, and believe me, Makoto Ono is that.

Unpretentious, well-executed, super-tasty, pleasingly surprising, playful food. He looks proper pleased when you like his food, when you appreciate his taste and texture combos. The guy and his team are genuinely and seriously good.

What did we have? Home-cured gravlax, plumptious scallops, beautiful beef, local sea bass, asparagus, fruit compote, tomato jelly, all sorts, and all beautifully balanced.

Drink:  Doesn’t get better than this. They do have a wine-list and bar, but you can bring your own wine and don’t have to pay corkage!  Bloomin’ marvelous.

As it was gorgeous boy’s birthday, I snaffled a bottle of Ruinart Rose champagne (HK$498 and maybe the best widely available punk out there folks) and a wonderfully good value Torbreck Woodcutters 2006 Shiraz (HK$288) into the restaurant earlier in the day – some of his favourite vinos and perfect choices for an eclectic 6 course meal.

My wonderful Coutt’s concierge had these put by at Rare&Fine Wines on the edge of Queen’s Road West, so I just swooped in, was strong-armed (!@*&?) into a swift tasting of some lovely New Zealand wines and then barreled off down the road to deposit them at LPW pre-meal, with boyf none the wiser. Brilliant party trick that. Many brownie points garnered and lovely to get one over on “He-Who-Usually-Stores-Surprises-Up-His-Sleeve”.

BTW – I do highly recommend Rare&Fine Wines – check em out.

Ambience & Service: Usually I would review these two aspects separately, but because the only people you interact with are the team of Makato Ono and his sidekicks Albert and Claire, I have to consider them together. Liberty Private Works is super small and intimate. The space is maybe 400 sq-ft in total. That’s it: 14 bar stools, bar area/kitchen, team of 3 chefs and a blackboard.

The chefs are respectful, sweet, attentive, easy-going, bloody talented, happy to chat and tell you exactly what you’re getting. Makoto even started doing the washing up whilst waiting for the actual washer-uppers to arrive – and I don’t think he was indicating that it was time for us to leave, I think he just has pride in his kitchen and isn’t worried about getting stuck in.

Just a really chilled, welcoming, happy atmosphere of people making good food and other people enjoying that food. We were a real mixed bunched that evening. Me and the boy, another HK couple, a gweilo/HK business foursome, and an HK/mainland business six-some. Nice.

Hope I’m not boring you with the gushing praise…Anyhow, more good news to come.

Cost: $620 per person. Jeez, you could go to most outlets in So-Lo and spend that on three courses. I would have paid double. Couple that with the $0 corkage and it’s worth the 3 storey climb.

Location: 3F, 12 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong. (Opp California Fitness). Tel +852 5186 3282. email: info@libertypw.com

Liberty’s future is uncertain my dear readers.  The night we went Ono-sama told us that they’d swung the first sledgehammer of the renovation of Aria.  Yes, this chef who left Beijing because our Northern Friends still aren’t quite able to let go of historical umbrage and shunned his Japanese restaurant (woop woop HK’s gain), has the backing to take over a large, prime piece of banker/lawyer territory in Exchange Square.  And, whilst I agree that this town could do with a restaurant that crafts its French onion soup over an 8 hour period, and that knows how to produce a decent Caesar salad (both stated aims), I can’t help crying into my bubbly and raising my hands and eyes to the sky in exhortation that this surely isn’t the only ambition of the man? In Hong Kong. At the moment. Ono is one seriously hot property.

Readers: Dine with him before he hits the big time and you potentially lose him to soup and salad.

Makato Ono: Do not sit back and drown in a vat of HK mediocrity: let the 5* hotels concentrate on comfort food. You sir, need to keep pushing the envelope.