Posts from the “Caustic” 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.

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)

Mau Kee: Would you like some insanity with your soup madam?

Review:

Crikey Moses! I didn’t sleep for two nights after I ate at Mau Kee in Pui O, South Lantau. As you can probably tell, I finally had a weekend in Lantau last week, and it was after my visit to Dai Long Wan, and discovered the Island Club that my hiking partner and I finally found ourselves in Pui O just in time for an early dinner last Sunday.  It had been a beautiful day, one of those that makes you wonder in amazement (but praying it stays that way) why you’d only seen 4 other groups of people out on the trails of this wonderful island.

Food: A mind boggling menu. Everything from chicken a la king, steak and chips through chicken and sweetcorn soup, to salt & pepper squid. We opted for Cantonese and had chicken and sweetcorn soup which came with a garnish of diced savaloy (enough for 12 and I was praying it was corn starch that had given it the consistency of snot), beef and celery – (very tasty, but super salty), chicken with chilli and peppers (tasty and hot),  and some Yangchow fried rice (tasty).

Flash forward one hour and I was itching like a mofo, and sweating buckets. Flash forward another 6 hours and I still couldn’t get to sleep properly. Flash forward another 3 hours and I had the most horrendous nightmare I have ever had that actually made me so distraught I couldn’t go back to sleep and made me start shaking when I told my boyfriend about it.

Boyfriend also complained about disturbed sleep. So, me thinks, maybe a soupcon too much MSG…

Ambience: Village restaurant, everything you would expect: noisy, TV’s blaring, people shouting, bamboo chairs, i.e. the usual, (The only slight issue I had was with the dog that they allowed customers to bring in and wander up to diners.  Somehow if it’s an outdoor restaurant I have no issue with this, but indoors?  I just think it’s a bit rough).

Service: Staff were friendly and attentive, no issues there.

Price: Decent price, what you’d expect. Dishes from $20 to $70 ish.

Location: Opposite the first bus stop that you get to when you are properly in the village of Pui O from the direction of Mui Wo, Lantau, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2984 1151

I tell you what, if you are sensitive to MSG, this little restaurant is definitely not a destination for you. Holy Bloody Moly it was a full-on 36 hour trip! I thought the drugs were bad but MSG is a whole different ball game. Mau Kee? Never.Ever.Again.

40 Gough – not quite Lot 10

Review:

I’ve known that 40 Gough in NoHo has been super popular for lunch for years now, but haven’t been for ages.  As I had such a good lunch at Lot 10 across the street a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d do a compare and contrast, so went for lunch at 40 a couple of days ago.

Food: Hmm. Really just a bit crap (gosh I’m all eloquence today!).

To start, I had a papaya salad which was half a ripe papaya with the seeds removed with some slightly over-done dressed prawns within. It was as odd as it sounds:  ripe papaya doesn’t really work in a salad, especially when it’s not dressed in anyway nor cut into morsels you can eat with the other salad ingredients. Clumsy.

My companion had a Caesar salad which consisted of  maybe two ripped up Romaine leaves, a slosh of dressing which had hardly brushed up against an anchovy and a couple of filings of parmesan, all spread out in a single layer on a dinner plate. Clumsy.

For his main, my dining partner had a rack of lamb which was underdone and over-salted, and I had a half-raw, half spring chicken.  So, clumsy and potentially dangerous.

The accompaniment on the side of the plate was a splodge of garlic mash with one broccoli and one cauliflower floret wedged therein, and four whole, cooked, unseasoned cherry tomatoes placed on top, (which just weed juice onto your plate and didn’t go with the rest of the veggies). V strange, and definitely clumsy, and lazy as each main course had the same accompaniment.

(There is also an odd twist that they serve you slices of garlic bread before you begin – bit baffling).

Ambience: You can’t fault the decor, location. It’s clean, white and smart. It’s small but they don’t ram the tables in and there are a few outside.  It’s a great spot.

Service: Service was fine. Friendly and couteous.

Price: Set lunch price varies with the main course you choose, but ranges from $118 to about $140 I think, so it’s not expensive.

Location: Opposite Lot 10 on the corner of Gough St and Shing Hing Terrace.  Lovely location, quiet, off street, and once again you are always entertained by the shuttlecock guys who seem to play every lunch time. Tel 2851 8498. 40 Gough Street, Central, Hong Kong.

I can only imagine that Gough 40 is so busy for lunch because of the location. Lot 10 opposite is (surprisingly) cheaper and the food is streets ahead, (although maybe 40 has to be more expensive at lunchtime because it certainly struggles for dinner custom). I was definitely underwhelmed and although I was impressed with the service and ambience, the food is just too poor for a return trip.

I was going to class this Mama/Huhu but can’t because of the food. The main point of a restaurant is to serve decent food, not to look nice and have good service, so Caustic it is I’m afraid.

Sevva – Rude and Useless

Review:

So far, I haven’t been tempted to eat at Sevva, but I have been there a few times for drinks.

I’ve always been severely disappointed by their service and after my last visit have decided that I really hope no one ever invites me for a drink there again, as I’ll just have to decline.

I know well enough by now to sit at the bar if you actually want to have any kind of consistent access to service staff, but when I was there a few days ago, I was shoulder barged by the floor manager twice when I was sitting on the bar stool. They themselves had placed it next to their till and he managed this even though there was plenty of room around it.

The bar was almost empty, and yet I also had to contend with his loud ordering about of staff which he decided to do when he was standing right next to me. Why he couldn’t have done this even a few steps away I have no idea.  I originally thought he was a customer, considering he didn’t apologise for molesting me, and only later realised he was staff when he was ordering the waiters about.

Next we come to price. Most cocktails are $120, plus service, which is a fairly hefty price, but the cocktails are good and I appreciate the location is plum and they want to attract a certain crowd.  However, that crowd don’t expect to be served smashed up Dorritos with their cocktails, nor have to pay for a glass of water.  The vast majority of bars now in HK have got their head around the idea that as it’s brutally hot here for most of the year, some customers could do with a glass of water to rehydrate before they plunge into the martinis.  It’s common courtesy and a nice touch to give them a glass of without charge. If even the scraggiest Dai Pai can give you a glass water FOC, why the buggery-boo can’t a supposedly refined establishment like Sevva?

The rude and perfunctory way in which my request and subsequent questioning of this situation was handled has made me never want to set foot in there again. Money grabbing a-holes, and that’s all there is to it.

Location: Top Floor Prince’s Building, Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong.

Cul de Sac – One of the best burgers in HK? Bo****ks.

Review:

And whilst I’m on the subject of the pustulating canker on the arse-end of Lan Kwai Fong that is Rat Alley – why, oh why do so many usually sane people keep telling me that Cul de Sac serves one of the best burgers in town? And that their poutine is a revelation?

After so much insistence I did try both once and, in bamboozled exasperation, I had to inform the poor mite who had dragged me there that the burger was quite possibly the worst I’d had to endure since a pit-stop at a burger-van on the A14 outside Kettering nearly 20 years ago.

Thin, grey, mealy and tasteless – both burger and bun.

And well, the poutine was just a flabby, greasy mess.

Next time you throw caution to the wind and indulge in so many jelly shots at Al’s Diner that at 2am you are actually peeing green and finding it difficult to focus, just pop to the 7/11 or the kebab shop for your fix, instead of drunkenly insisting to your cohorts they are about to experience an awesome taste sensation if they will only accompany you round the corner and up the hill instead.

Get a grip. You are wrong.

Rat Alley, LKF – there’s a new reason it’s called that…

Review and an open letter to Uncle Alan:

So when I first arrived in Hong Kong I understood that we called the place of much cheapness that was Wing Wah Lane “Rat Alley”, simply because of the rats – and believe me there were many.

I lived in Lan Kwai Fong for a couple of years on what used to be the wonderfully quiet Wo On Lane (that backs onto Wing Wah), and we used to fight pitched battles with the wily creatures on late night returns home.

More recently, Rat Alley has earned its sobriquet for a wholly different reason – the restauranteurs are the rats now, charging crazy prices for the slop they call food and serve in their establishments.

Yes, I know that the landlords will be blamed for putting up the rent – but Christ – you’re probably in the most lucrative entertainment district in Asia bar Rappongi Hills!

I’m sure there are all sorts of bar owners who would love to pay top dollar for some of that commercial space, and we’d actually have a truly pedestrian friendly piece of LKF Magaluf to hang out in. Sling a roof across that space, add some sort of ventilation and you could have an awesome year-round courtyard.

I used to have a soft spot for the crazy chap who owns Good Luck Thai (and seemed either to be preternaturally cheerful, or just perpetually pissed), but now I understand that he runs most of the establishments on that strip so competition is diminishing, and I’m not quite so enamoured as I was before.

The only reason I went recently was that some poor tourist idiot had heard it was a good place for al fresco dining and was already there by the time I’d arrived to meet him.

It’s time those restaurants went bust, and we got some proper venues in there, or that the LCSD had a moment of inspiration and set up a proper food night-market à la Singapore.

Actually, scrap that. Can you even begin to imagine the monstrosity that would be an LCSD produced “authentic” night market?

Come on Mr Zeman – if you can afford to set up LKF in Chengdu, why don’t you go the whole hog in HK and grab a hold of Wing Wah Lane too and deliver all those poor tourist saps from their misery?

The Red Pepper in one word – Woeful.

Review:

I’ve no idea why this restaurant is still going. One of those that should have died a death years ago.

Opened in the 70s, I presume that Red Pepper in Causeway Bay is one of the oldest Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong and became popular as it was probably one of the only Sichuans around in those days.

Now it seems to survive on gweilo expats who couldn’t even point to Sichuan on a map, and tourists who don’t know any better than to read Trip Advisor. The management are just riding the wave because they can get away with not innovating or even providing a quality experience, (reminding me rather of the Stoep and American Peking).

It’s lazy, lacklustre and hopefully this lack of attention to what the competition are doing will result in their bankruptcy sooner rather than later.

It’s shabby, crowded with tables and the food is just not very good.

It’s also no cheaper than any number of other restaurants serving similar (but much better) cuisine in HK – San Xi Lou, Da Ping Huo, Yellow Door, Mum Chau’s in Lan Kwai Fong, Si Jie in Wanchai or even Hunan Garden, which again makes me wonder why on earth it’s still going.

Don’t really need to go into any more detail.

Avoid it.

Nuff said.

Il Desco, Verona – Michelin guide has this 2* venue all wrong

Review:

Il Desco is meant to be one of the best places to eat in the whole of Italy. I have to disagree 100% with that analysis. It has had 2 Michelin stars since 1997 and I just can’t see why.

Food:  Different menus of either traditional or creative Veronese, specialising in tripe.

Now, I’ve always been a bit wary of tripe – kidneys can so often taste of pee, and I used to hate finding tubes in liver as a child. Couple that with the bubbling cauldrons of the stuff that you see dotted around Asia in food markets, and you do have to be in a brave mood to try it.

I am aware though that many people think it is a great delicacy, so I thought the best place to give it a go would be a 2* Michelin restaurant in Verona.

And it was very tasty. I had sauteed calf’s brain, bull’s testicle soup, tripe sauces and goose liver on my 6 course Tradtional Veneto tasting menu.

The problem was that the portion sizes were enormous. I was presented with about 1/2 pound of brain, and over 1/2 pint of soup and I can tell you that whilst tripe is tasty, it is sooo rich that by the time I was half way through those two dishes I was feeling pretty nauseous. The testicle soup especially was a struggle because it had the texture of rhubarb compote – slightly glutenous and fibrous, and facing a huge bowlful of it was tough.

I think this is where I found Il Desco disappointing. Certain elements of the dishes were very tasty and beautifully cooked, but to me it was unbalanced and inconsistent. There wasn’t enough palette cleansing, balancing elements to all this super rich tripe, and the portions were just overwhelming. By the time I got to the meat course I was stuffed.

Wine list: Good, but very expensive wine list.

Ambience:  It’s an odd place.

You walk in the front door into a large ante-room which seems just to be a storeroom, and is dominated by a staircase going down to the cellar which is just a gaping black void.

You are ushered off to a room on the left which is the dining room, and it’s almost smaller than the lobby/storeroom you have just been in.

The dining room is sweet enough, lovely old oak ceiling and yellow ochre coloured walls, but then the rest of fixtures and fittings give the whole place a bit of a harlequin feel – too many patterns and too many colours.

Service: We had a bit of funny service experience. The waiters were fair enough, but the sommelier was a bit pushy.

Price:  The tasting menu I had was €95 and the tasting menu my other half had was €130, so couple that with wine, water, service and tip, and it was a pretty punchy bill at the end of the evening.

Location: Via Dietro San Sebastiano 7, Verona, Italy. Tel: +39 045 595 358.

All in all, I was pleased that I’d had the opportunity to try some really good tripe but didn’t think it was worth the price. I was left feeling a bit perturbed and completely bloated by the experience and wouldn’t go back.

The other night that we spent around Verona we ate at our hotel  - Villa Amista – and had the most exquisite meal. Left Il Desco in the dust on all fronts, and inexplicably doesn’t have even one Michelin star.

Da Ping Huo – Food is good, but is it Caustic or Candy?

Review:

Now that I have rediscovered my hearty, homely, more informal Sichuan favourite San Xi Lou (I lost it for two years, when it closed as Man Jiang Hong in CWB and became San Xi Lou in Central), I no longer have to brave Madame Wong’s end-of-service party trick quite so often – which is a relief.

dapinghuo_causticcandy

You see, I think Madame Wong’s genuine Sichuan food at Da Ping Huo is really very good. The decor is stylish and I think her husband and front-of-house manager is also very adept at what he does, and is a knowledgeable and friendly man.

However, some of the notes Madame hits when she emerges from the kitchen to sing Sichuan Opera at the end of the evening, hit me like a sonic weapon, making my lips curl back, blood drip from my eyes and the wax melt in my ears.

They pierce my skull and reach deep into the most primitive medullas of my brain, squeezing them in a fist of steel. I have to grip the table edge with all my might so that I don’t appall everyone by stuffing my fingers in my ears and screaming for her to shut up.

Maybe I’m part canine and the notes she hits are to me like a dog whistle is to man’s best friend.

Suffice to say, that I think Da Ping Huo might experience more repeat business if the singing was only on certain nights of the week, and therefore avoidable.  It makes the joint feel a bit themed, and it does put me off going as often as I’d like to, (or maybe this is a ruse so they don’t have to change the menu too often, as they know that most people wouldn’t be able to stand the operatics more than once a month…)

Anyhew, on to the food.

Food: As natives of Sichuan, the owners do put on an authentic meal, (my friend from Chengdu rates the food highly). You are fed what Madame Wong wants to feed you. You have about 8 courses in total. The menu is well balanced, combining some deeply spicy-hot dishes that leave your nose streaming and you drinking beer by the gallon, with more delicate ones, and then some in between.

The food is truly delicious, artistically presented and so far is the most elegantly executed Sichuan cuisine I have found in Hong Kong.

However, I have to say that I’m pretty sure, give or take a couple of dishes, I have had the same menu each time I have visited. I’d love to know what other people’s experiences have been, but I do think they could mix it up a bit more. Let me know…

Drinks: the usual beer, teas and soft drinks etc, but a couple of interesting additions like plum wine (which I’ve been led to believe takes the sting off the chilli a bit).

Service: Service is good, Mr Wang introduces each dish which is helpful, and waiters are efficient and subtle.

Ambience:  Mr Wang is an artist and so the whole restaurant is very stylish. The backdrop is minimalist so that his own works stand out displayed around the walls. It’s a chic, industrial, minimalist vibe. All good, in fact, until Madame Wong comes out to shatter your eardrums.

The first time I heard her, it was fine. I let it go because the concept of the chef coming out to show you their other talents and entertain you is lovely. But by the second or third time, it really is too, too much, especially as, much like the menu not changing, she hasn’t changed her tune once either (how about a spot of Elvis or Doris Day next time?).

Price: Can’t remember the exact price at the moment, and no one’s answering the phone down there. It’s a good value meal – less than HK$300 for the food, so with drinks and service it ends up around $400-$500 depending on how thirsty you are or what you’re thirsty for.

Location: GF, 49 Hollywood Road, Central. (Slightly tricky to find, entrance is on Graham Street which is the little alley shooting down the hill at the junction of Lyndhurst Terrace and Hollywood Road). Tel: 2559-1317. It is always a good idea to book ahead. There are two strict sittings per night.

Da Ping Huo, is great for taking out-of-town guests and tourists, as the food is real good, the decor stylish and the experience out of the ordinary. But I myself can’t go more than 2 or 3 times a year simply because of the singing and the menu not changing.

Thankfully as I’ve found San Xi Lou, my Sichuan experiences now balance in Hong Kong, and so once again I can look forward to going to Da Ping Huo, in the knowledge that I have another really enjoyable Sichuan restaurant to satisfy my chilli lust on a more regular basis.

Hunan Garden, Central: A 60′s Psychedelic Torture Chamber

Review:

Continuing in my quest to find a good Sichuan restaurant in Hong Kong I have widened the scope to also include Hunanese establishments.

I took myself to Hunan Garden in Exchange Square last week, and having made the connection only now that it’s a Maxim’s restaurant, I’m even more baffled by the decor and ambience.

I probably wouldn’t go back to this branch, but would try the outlet in Causeway Bay instead as it looks like it might be a bit gentler on the eyes and ears.

Ambience: On entry, the first thing that strikes you is that the restaurant looks very dated and tired.

On striking out for your table, you are visually assaulted by both the garish, over-patterned carpet that swims before your eyes, and the violent pink table cloths, as well as being aurally assaulted by the piercing piping of a Chinese oboe player.

So eyes squinted, teeth gritted we made our way to the back of the room, enduring this psychedelic torture which was strangely reminiscent of the Ipcress File.

Once seated, we were presented with about 12 different menus of specials, seasonal dishes, signature dishes, michelin guide suggestions, and rather annoyingly a complex menu from HSBC of pick and mix dishes that when ordered in certain combinations, gave you different discounts…

…At least this is what I could gather having been thoroughly cowed and bamboozled. Menu overkill is just plain irritating, I felt like frisbeeing them across the room.

Having spent the next 15 minutes scrutinising the menus (apart from the HSBC one out of principle), we plumped for a good mix – a couple of signature dishes, which were the minced chicken soup and the fish with yellow bean; hot, shredded potato; stir-fried bitter gourd; stir-fried beef with onions; and stupid-gweilo chicken a.k.a chicken with dry chilli, garlic and sichuan pepper.

Now that we had ordered, we were able to take a bit more of a look around, and thankfully the oboe player had swapped his instrument for an erhu which was positively soothing in comparison. The decor is rubbish -

1) Patched carpets using cuttings from a slightly different pattern.

2) Colour scheme – pink, green, red, brown, grey, gold.

3) Materials – marble/granite, varnished wood, lacquer, frosted glass, chromed partition frames, pearlescent wallpaper, crappy cardboardy white/grey ceiling tiles.

All the varnish, polished stone, glass and lacquer throws back so much reflected light that the whole impression is just jarring and awful when coupled with the colour scheme used.

This is why I’m so surprised to find it’s a Maxims.  They have some fantastically designed restaurants, and this one is the pits.  It’s so huge that if they did decide to redecorate they needn’t even close the whole place, they could redo in halves. Anyway. Onward to the food.

Food: We enjoyed the food, all of it was good apart from the fish with yellow bean which was slathered in so much sauce it made me nauseous after a couple of bites.

It is actually a very badly thought out dish, as there is nothing to cut through the cloying sauce. Lovely piece of fish, and the yellow bean paste is tasty enough, but together it’s an unbalanced mess – I would avoid.

The chicken came in large, boneless hunks (not quite enough chilli for me, but as I got a Sichuan pepper berry caught in one of my sinus tubes, this provided enough entertainment, numbness and eye-watering for one night), the shredded potato with peppers and chilli was beautifully cooked and not greasy, the bitter gourd was cold and crisp and super bitter, and the beef was tender and tasty.

Service: Service was fine.  Efficient and discreet.

Price: We spent $550 for two which we thought was verging on expensive for the whole experience. Note that we did only drink tea.

Location: 1F, The Forum, Exchange Square, Central, Hong Kong.  I would definitely suggest trying the Times Square outlet (13th Floor) over this venue though.

I would choose Peking Garden (another Maxim’s restaurant) over Hunan Garden 9 times out of 10, the food is comparable (in fact I would say that Peking Garden is slightly better) and I can just about satisfy my craving for chilli there.  Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’ve been to Times Square.

Oh well, the hunt for the ultimate Sichuan continues…

Update: I have found my old favourite Sichuan restaurant.  It was called Man Jiang Hong in CWB and then moved to Central and changed it’s name and number !*@%. It’s San Xi Lou in Coda Plaza. Review here.

Yun Fu, Wyndham St – Hypothermic and Disappointed of Hong Kong

Review:

I have been to Yun Fu twice now, once as a couple, and more recently as a table of eight.

Both times I have been disappointed with the overall experience, and have now lost interest in going back, which is a shame.

Food: Northern and Western Chinese food (read that as more Sichuan/Yunnan than Xinjiang).  The menu sounds amazing, and there are many dishes you want to try. The food just doesn’t quite hit the mark though for me, which is really annoying. The menu promises so much, but the food doesn’t manage to deliver on that potential.

Drinks: Long, expensive drinks/cocktails/wine list.

Ambience: OK, this is what tips this restaurant into my caustic category:

If you dine in the main restaurant you first of all pass through this long and mysterious tunnel past lots of small private rooms, which frankly look cramped, but I’m sure are better than sitting in the restaurant.  You then emerge into what can only be described as a large, dingy, cold, dungeon.

They keep the lighting so far down and the air-con so nipple-freezing cold that you cannot actually see or concentrate on your food. However, if you get the wrong seat you will have to endure one of their laser focused light bulbs grinding into your retinas like a gestapo interrogation lamp.

The stone slab flooring and the right angle wooden chairs with no padding, means you end up with dining noise being reverberated around the whole place, each scraping chair leg sending a nails-on-blackboard shiver through your skull and aching sitting-bones after just 20 mins (It looks great in the website, but that’s not what it’s like in real life).

All in all it really is like being in a medieval jail.

Service: I haven’t really noticed the service, which must mean it is fine, although I do remember being brought a warm Tsingtao on my first visit which is a big black mark in my book.

Price: Frankly it’s expensive for an experience that leaves you hypothermic and bruised. Expect to spend around $1000 for two people.

Location: Basement, 43-45 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. +852 2116 8855. Just about next door to the LKF Hotel, opp bars like Privé and Wagyu.

If the ambience was different, I might have a different opinion about the food, and maybe if you have one of the private rooms it’s better, but as it is, when you are having to eat just to keep yourself from slipping into a hypothermic coma, there isn’t a lot of functioning brain left to enjoy the meal.

Nobu Hong Kong review: all skirt, no knickers

Review:

I’ve eaten at Nobu in London way back in 2003 when it was the hottest ticket in town, and frankly don’t remember much about the food – notwithstanding the lychee martinis my friend and I were piling down, but we were so busy gossiping about our latest TV-land exploits (or more importantly the exploits of those we’d been working with) that the food completely passed me by. I take this as a sign that it was rather pleasant but not jaw-dropping, and hence haven’t been back since.

photo from Intercon website

photo from Intercon website

We thought we’d give it a go here as we wanted to compare and contrast against the other Japanese restaurants we like. Some people will cry foul now because Nobu is apparently a fusion restaurant. But ultimately it relies on its Japanese-ness to bring the crowds in.

The upshot is that I won’t be going back to this edition of Nobu either.

We went for a special occasion and paid more to book a harbour-view table only to arrive and discover that the harbour-view is limited to the person who isn’t sitting with their back to it. (If you are in a bigger group they do have round tables that are in another part of the restaurant by some very large windows, or if you are a couple make sure you ask for one of the corner tables as then you can sit around the table and both people can look out the window).  Anyway, not a good start…

Food: We had a set menu of 7-8 courses and apart from the wagyu beef (which at the end of the day is their signature dish), there was nothing of note. The marker of quality of Japanese restaurants – the fish – wasn’t any better quality or fresher than any number of other good restaurants in Hong Kong, which was disappointing because Nobu positions itself as something above and beyond, which in our experience, it wasn’t.

Drinks: Good wine and sake list, nice selection of beers, everything you expect.

Ambience: A lot of hype was built around the design of this restaurant, and it is cool. It doesn’t blow me away, but has it’s little quirks and features that makes it an interesting place to look at, but you really know that you are in a hotel restaurant. Also, they do pack you in and there isn’t a lot of room between tables in the section where we sat.

Service: The service was efficient and subtle. What you’d expect in a 5* hotel (although nothing in my opinion surpasses that of the Mandarin Oriental in this town).

Price: The set menu was $2888 per head, and we spent another $500 on 2 carafe’s of sake and a 1/2l bottle of water as they refused to fill our glasses from the tap.

Location: Intercontinental Hotel, 18 Sailsbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong. Tel: 852 2721 1211

I came away thinking that is was an expensive, brand name restaurant that didn’t live up to the hype. I’d go to Kiyotaki or Jun over Nobu every day of the week unless I was desperate for Wagyu beef, and then I think I’d look for somewhere new first before going back here (in fact I’d probably go across the corridor to The Steak House…).

L16 Cafe & Bar – Like dining in a public toilet.

Review:

L16 Hong Kong Park review

L16 has an enviable location bang in the middle of Hong Kong Park.  You’d have thought that if someone could work out how to keep the mozzies at bay, this would be THE prime location in Admiralty/Central for a proper pukka restaurant/bar – sadly not.

I recently went for a late lunch here on a Sunday because I’d been walking through the parks and was hot and bothered. First off I had to move from table to table to find the location that reeked least of toilet (this isn’t a one off, I’ve moved outside before for drinks because of this issue). Really, really unpleasant especially when you realise that the toilets and the kitchen are in one central block in the middle of the room, but I was in need of air-con having to choose between eau de urine or heat-stroke.

Food: Thai.  Bog standard menu, nothing special, nothing bad, middle of the road cheap fare.

Ambience: They rely totally on their location and the surrounding greenery to detract from the fact this place is in massively bad repair.  Sit outside and you are attacked by mozzies, but other than that it’s a pleasant place to be. Sit inside and you are faced with tatty menus, chipped chairs, tables with the laminate peeling off, stained floors and the underlying bouquet of privvies.

Service: We waited a long time for both food and drinks even though there were very few people in the restaurant.  Dishes came at very long intervals so you had almost finished one of your mains before the next one appeared, so not great.

Cost: It’s reasonably priced considering you are in the centre of the park and the quality of food is decidedly average.  You’d be pissed if you had to pay more.

Location: Close to the Pacific Place end of Hong Kong Park in Admiralty.

This is such a shame.  Props that they are making the venue accessible to all pockets in such a popular tourist spot, but come on!  If a place like Nha Trang on Wellington Street in Central and in CC Wu Building on Queen’s Road East, Wanchai can make tasty, interesting, quality food at very reasonable prices, in a smart and clean venue, what is the excuse of these fools in Hong Kong Park?

If you have to go, just go for a glass of vino and sit outside, that way you remain oblivious of its massive failings.

Bloody dreadful – it needs new management and new vision.

Code Sharing Disaster – Worst Airline Meal?

Now I have to make plain from the outset that this post is not about a recent airplane meal.  It was over a year ago that this occurred, but as I was going through some photos this made me howl with laughter again, so thought I’d share.

The pictures were taken on a Cathay Pacific code-share flight with Vietnam Airlines, and this was my and my friend’s lunches:

Worst airline meal?

Worst airline meal?

How do you embed carrots into the flesh of meat?

How do you embed carrots into the flesh of meat?

These appetising hunks of flesh were served to us covered in gravy but fortunately I spotted the strange sight of carrots embedded in one piece of meat and, like archaeologists, we went on to discover artefacts of breathtaking fascination.

Note the masses of congealed blood as well as the multi-various tubing and great insulations of fat and connective tissue – not what you expect on any international airline, and certainly not a partner of CX.

The best thing about this meal was that it kept myself and my friend in almost pant-wetting hilarity throughout the flight, not least when my friend pressed down on a piece of meat with her fork and gravy spurted out one of the tubes, slapping her wetly in the face.

Happy Days.

p.s. If anyone has better photos of a bad airline meal, I would love to see them – please let me know!

Peking Garden – good for non-Canto Chinese food

13 March 2012

Due to a decision to rate any restaurant that serves sharks fin as caustic from now on, Peking Garden changes from SuperCandy to Caustic.

Review:

Since my favourite Sichuan restaurant closed in Causeway Bay -and it took me two years to find that it had just moved to Central (San Xi Lou) – I always struggled to find a suitable alternative when I’m not in the mood for Canto. Peking Garden became an interim venue of choice. Embarrassingly it was a friend from visiting from the UK who first suggested we go!

Peking Garden

It’s a bit more posh that I would usually choose for an everyday supper, but it’s very stylish, well decorated, comfortable and they bring out special chaps to make noodles for entertainment (so thin they can pass through the eye of a darning needle as they like to demonstrate to the oos and ahs of the assembled tourists).

I likey.

Food: Northern Chinese, got some heat and spice in there, serves one of the best Peking ducks in HK (leaves Quanjude spinning in the dust, thank god it’s closed in Wanchai), dan dan noodles, and a great hot and sour soup (in fact all their soups are tip top). Good menu (if you ignore the shark’s fin section). Food is very well executed: clean and crisp.

Drinks: Lots of tea options, beers and a pretty extensive wine list (I still haven’t moved off beer with Chinese food).

Service:  It’s a bit abrupt, but then so it is in most Chinese restaurants.  Food comes pretty swiftly though so no complaints there. Boys usually appreciate the lovely receptionists who wear skirts slashed to the hip joint…

Ambience:  It’s actually quite sumptuous.  Try and get a table in the main room which is on the left as you walk in, it’s got super high ceilings so coupled with the thick carpets it’s less noisy and the tables are much further apart from the room at the back. Resist the temptation to steal the crockery, it’s really pretty stuff.  I like to bring guests to HK here, everyone seems to enjoy it.

Price:  Good value for such surroundings. The thing about this restaurant is that you can spend as little or as much as you like.  We can go in for supper for two and spend $150 a head, or we can go in and spend $400 a head, the price of dishes varies that much – obviously much better with large groups though so you can get loads of dishes. I’ve always wondered why Chinese restaurants don’t serve two different sizes of all dishes so that smaller groups can order more stuff – I’m sure people would end up spending more money.

Location:  Very convenient, in the basement of Alexandra House on Chater Road. The MTR exit spits you out almost straight into it. Shop B1, Basement 1, Alexandra House, Central. Tel. +852 2526 6456.

Open:  Lunch and dinner every day.

Think there is now a branch in Pacific Place as well if I noted correctly as I ran past the other day.  It’s a Maxim’s joint so makes sense for it to be, I think there are 3 or 4 in total around HK.

Lan Na Thai and Face, Bangkok – too farang by far

Review:

Disappointing juxtaposition here.  Great bar, crap restaurant.

The venue that houses Face, Lan Na Thai and Hazara it stunning.  Beautiful teak housing complex, fishponds, palms, soaring ceilings, nooks, crannies and separate buildings.  It’s well hidden behind big gates and a high white wall, so it’s a lovely feeling to discover it and leave bustling Bangkok behind.

Face Bangkok

If you haven’t been to BKK before then you really have to go and have a few drinks at Face, it is really lovely – good cocktails, great surroundings, good service etc.

I haven’t tried their Indian food (Hazara), but the Thai food (Lan Na Thai) is very disappointing and expensive for what it is.  Far too farang friendly, the heat is completely toned down and just dull, dull dull – don’t bother if you like it fiery.

Location: 29 Sukhumvit Road, Soi 38, Bangkok. Tel: 662 713 6048. Very Close to Skytrain station Thong Lo, couple of mins walk.

Eddie’s Tong Fuk – Doomed to fail?

Review

I don’t like to be mean about restaurants that are so obviously struggling to stay afloat  - but Eddie’s is a lesson in eateries doomed to fail.

The litany of mistakes/complaints in no particular order.

1) Not opening when you say you are going to be open.  We have tried to frequent your restaurant for dinner on at least 3 occasions (not Mondays)  but you were closed

2) Naming your restaurant Eddie’s and then there not being a patron/Eddie in sight.  There is a western chef here, we have glimpsed him the couple of times we have been able to enter, but as soon as we come in, he disappears into the darkness beyond.  Is he Eddie we wonder, and why won’t he come and say hi?

3) Staff don’t engage with you.  Both times we have been the wait staff hardly dared say a word and waited silently, table side, with pencil poised until we ordered. It adds to the British-rest-home-in-Worthing-day-room feeling about the whole place.

4) Menu is confused.  Its part fine dining, part gastropub, part seafood.

5) Soho prices and Soho quality food – which frankly is not value for money in Lantau.

6) Never, never start wiping the table around me when I am reading a newspaper and I am the only person in the whole restaurant.  Why the f**k are you bothering me?  Speak up boy?!

7) If you are open at the weekend from breakfast through lunchtime, why do you stop serving breakfast at midday? And even refuse to cook it up for the 1 set of customers in your restaurant at 12:45, who are locals of Lantau and might therefore become regulars?  Are you trying to go bankrupt?  SERVE AN ALL DAY BREAKFAST!!!!

8) If you open at 6pm but there are some people standing outside your restaurant at 5:40 who want to come in after a long day at the beach, don’t leave them standing outside whilst you blithely finish putting the bloody forks out, let them in to order a nice cool beer.  Don’t be rude, and more importantly don’t turn your nose up at custom.

9) Don’t open a restaurant in a village of about 250 people, with a similar cuisine to another restaurant 20yards down the road.  Why split the market when you could have opened a different style of restaurant?

As almost local Lantausters, we feel a responsibility to support a new business in our little community and we have tried, but if you are going to continually get it wrong and not learn from your mistakes then what do you expect but to be regularly empty?

Change or die.

What does work:

1) Your breakfasts at the weekend are very good value for money.  Why not make them available all day but just charge more for them from 12pm?

Not a lot else…

UPDATE:

Just received a mailer from Eddies and now we know who Eddie is and what their concept is which is actually quite interesting not just organic but also sustainable – seems that other people fancied an all-day-breakfast too.  Have to go back and try again!

Welcome to Eddie’s!

Introducing our new menu……

Due to popular demand we now serve all day breakfasts so you no longer
have to wait for the weekends to scare away that hangover!!! In the
twilight zone thanks to jet-lag? No problem – we will serve your Full
English whenever you want. No need to set the alarm!
(This is sounding somewhat as if we are open weekday mornings, which we
aren’t but watch this space…)
Our a la carte menu has been designed to offer a wide variety of choice in
keeping with our ethics, using organic meats and sustainable seafood. For
further information on how we choose our products and why, please check
out our website www.eddies.com.hk or speak to any member of staff.

We trust that you will enjoy your dining experience at Eddie’s.

Many have been wondering whether Eddie is the chef, the owner, or an
imaginary friend…
He is our namesake – our companion and would be our doorman cum maitre d,
if he wasn’t a hairy Jack Russell dog. He is however pleased to be
relieved of this duty, in the interests of hygiene. This enables him to
languish at home with his concubines while we cook.

UPDATE 2:

Had fish and chips at Eddie’s a couple of weeks ago, and the experience was much better. Read an update here.