Posts from the “Hong Kong” 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.

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.

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.

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.

Eddie’s – Still Clinging On…

Update  21.5.10:…or not.

A post was seen on a Lantau community page with a lot of kitchen equipment for sale very recently from Eddie’s. Maybe it’s all over.  I think a case of decent food, wrong venue, wrong location. If anyone knows get in touch.

Review:

Well, Eddie’s is still hanging on there in Tong Fuk.  My original review way back when I started blogging last summer provoked a tornado (i.e. windy but brief) of localised reaction, including some unrepeatable opinions which even made me blush – unfortunately for you my dear readers, I have some kind of moral conscience and so decided not to publish the comments as it would have started an even bigger s**tstorm.

Anyhew, I found myself deciding to give Eddie’s another go a few weeks back and we had a very good meal of fish and chips. Admittedly both were under-seasoned, but that’s easily corrected at table, so not a biggy.  The fish was really very good.  Big, luscious slabs of meaty, perfectly flaky fish, and although I’m a breaded rather than battered fan, the batter was nicely crispy and not doughy and cloying at all.

The portions were a very generous size as was the side-salad accompaniment.

The service was better if still a little amateur, but this time it was endearing and friendly rather than rude and frustrating, so that’s a step in the right direction.

I still think Eddie’s would do better business out of Tong Fuk.  I think they should have grabbed the Thai restaurant’s space next to The Stoep when that came up for rent renewal a few months back.  The Stoep is a dreadful restaurant and Eddie’s seafood/sustainable theme would be perfect for junk trippers and the quality starved natives of that village.

And one final point – Eddie’s you’ve got to change your website from being Flash based, and take down the notice in the news section that “due to unforeseen circumstances” you can only open on weekends for dinner.  Re-brand poppet!  Call Eddie’s the best Weekend Dining Retreat in Lantau. You could claim that like many Lantau residents you go there at weekends to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and your stressful weekday job… Positives chaps, not negatives, (I don’t know why I feel it necessary to give you advice, but I just think you are still getting this thing wrong).

Your site architecture at the moment means that search engines can’t find you.  If I were you, I’d use WordPress, Joomla or Expression Engine to host your website – free, and so easy to use that you don’t need to pay anyone for design and developing.  That way, my reviews won’t come so close to the top of the searches, which I’m sure would be a great relief!

Location: 17B Tong Fuk Village, South Lantau, Hong Kong. Tel: 2980- 2636

The Grand Stage – Dim Sum in Sheung Wan

Review:

I’ve had lunch at The Grand Stage on the 2nd floor of Western Market twice in the past couple of weeks, and I’m pretty impressed, and only have one quibble.

Photo snatched from their wedding club website

Food: Fairly comprehensive offering of trad Dim Sum. Beef balls, siu mei, wanton, turnip pasties, radish cakes, cha siu bao, sticky rice in lotus leaves – you get the picture.  The execution is also exceedingly good, and I think that it’s some of the tastiest Dim Sum in Hong Kong. It had a certain freshness and crispiness which was very pleasing.

However, and this is just stupidity – it arrived at the table barely warm which really took the edge off for me, and was frustrating – otherwise I’d have been jumping up and down on sofas and declaring a love of Katie Holmes.

The first time I went and experienced this lukewarm fare I put it down to being part of a large group and never being the first to dip into the baskets, but the second time I went we were just a party of four, so the sad fact is their service process must be all screwed up. It just goes to show how good it is though that the taste and freshness shone through the lack of warmth.

Ambience: The Grand Stage must be one of the biggest spaces in Hong Kong. It is fantastic to be under such a soaring ceiling.  It’s all a bit Mainland nightclub what with the red walls and the neon lighting, but it’s a lot of fun and I love the chandeliers. The great thing about the high ceilings is that even when you’re surrounded by 400 other people, the sound gets whipped away into the rafters so you don’t feel that it’s super noisy.

Service: Pretty typical Hong Kong. I’m a gweilo with non-existent Canto skills so I’m used to being misunderstood in Dim Sum restaurants. It was always easy to catch someone’s attention even if it was difficult to convey my meaning, so the fact you got swift service was good enough in my book.

Price: Not much more than $100 per person for a really decent amount of food, so good value.

Location: In Western Market right at the end of Des Voeux Road in Sheung Wan.  Best to book ahead as it seems to always be busy. Tel: (852) 2815 2311.

As I’m often in Sheung Wan I shall return to The Grand Stage again I’m sure. If I had holidaying visitors coming to Hong Kong I would probably take them here over Luk Yu Teahouse and the Dynasty in Wanchai’s Renaissance Harbour View just because it’s a bit more fun in the case of Dynasty and better food and service in the case of Luk Yu. For business lunch though, I would definitely opt for Dynasty.

I was vacillating over the category of The Grand Stage – Mama/Huhu or Candy, but even though the temperature wasn’t spot on, the food was very good and the overall experience has tipped it into the candy category for me – maybe it’s the New Year spirit that is making me feel generous!

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.

Lot 10 – Tiny and Tasty in NoHo

I don’t know about you, but sometimes the inspiration to commit paws to typewriter is difficult to catch – but having looted the wine corner, I’m now armed with a large glass of a rather wonderful Argiano Brunello, and if that doesn’t inspire me – then shoot me now (well when I’ve finished drinking it…)

Right – on to Lot 10.

Review:

Thanks to a couple of comments posted to Caustic Candy, and a scour of Chowhound I decided to give this much ignored (by me, deliberately) little bolt hole a try.

I don’t know why it’s never made me want to give it a go – I’ve seen it for years, and walked by it hundreds of times, but I suppose I’ve been rather tired of “French” restaurants in HK. I know it’s not fashionable, but I just don’t (or didn’t in the case of Plats) think places like La Bouteille, Plats or Le Blanc were really any good (too much dodgy foie gras and low quali steaks), so when I saw Lot 10 open during that gold rush of private kitchen styley establishments I just wasn’t interested (Lot 10 has apparently changed hands since those early 2005 days but who’d have known?)

*Of course the shining example of private kitchen’s for me used to be Frank Ching’s Tribute when it was on Cochrane Street, but that may have been something to do with the wonderful evenings I spent there with some friends of his, where we used to ransack his kitchen after-hours and he’d let us taste all his latest creations. The sooner he’s up and running again the better – Go Frank!

And so to supper:

Food:  French inspired, locally sourced fish where possible, local produce used where possible – yes, yes, yes.  This is what we want Hong Kong.

Companion had French onion soup to start – very good, tasty stock base.

For mains, I had the crispy pork shoulder on a bed of lentils.  For those of you who like bbq pork neck at Thai restaurants, this pork shoulder had a similar texture – incredibly tender with slightly crispy edges. And Oh My Lord the Lentils!  If you think lentils are for hippies, too Robert Carrier 70′s or only fit for dal, then you are very wrong – Lot 10′s lentils were a revelation. They were so subtly seasoned and spiced, they were wonderful (how geeky is that?!).

My wonderful (and in no way erstwhile) dining companion had a steak with a macaroni gratin  - steak was good quality: a well cooked slab of flesh. Macaroni gratin added a very light accompaniment, but was a bit too oot of the ordinary and not a winning combo for either of us – but hey, worth a try.

We did though have lettuce with peas and bacon (grrr, yum, yum) and duck fat roasted potatoes (almost…almost…as good as my own), so overall the food was very well received.

Drinks: Reasonable and well thought out wine list.  We had a very decent Torbreck for around $400.

Ambience: A bolt hole. There are only 3-4 tables downstairs (and it’s a push past the kitchen to sidle into the washrooms). A couple of tables outside on Shing Hing Terrace, and another larger room good for private parties hidden upstairs. Clean lines, white linen, white walls (slightly small tables and chairs, but then it’s a slightly small restaurant).

Service: Quiet and competent service.

Price: We paid around $1200 for a meal for 2.  Mains were around $250 on average. Food was quality, and wine a good price, so I think good value for the experience. Will return.

Location: On corner of Gough St and Shin Hing Terrace, so nice and quiet.  34 Gough Street (NoHo), Central, Hong Kong. Tel 2155 9210.

UPDATE:

Went for lunch last week and had a lovely meal.

Just $98 for two courses + tea or coffee – fantastic value.

I had home cured gravlax and a local caught snapper, grilled which were both very good, and my companion had a good sized, tasty Caesar salad and a very decent steak.  We sat outside on the street terrace and were thoroughly entertained by the guys playing shuttlecock (Jianzi in Mando, not sure what the Canto is), one of whom must have been about 80 and was the very definition of spry.

A perfect break from the office in the middle of the day, and such good value for money (we even succumbed to sharing a chocolate pot for desert for $30 extra – delish). Will become a regular haunt.

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.

Thai Farmers’ Restaurant – Wanchai

Reivew:

There were four of us for supper last night in Wanchai, and we fancied showing our new friends the delights of Thai Hut.

As previously explained, there are only a tiny number of seats there since the Po-leece stopped them from setting up tables outside, so you do take your chances.  Unfortunately, last night  we were unlucky, as there was an old gweilo dude slumped on a stool taking up 3 precious seats, chin on chest, snoring drunkenly away (it was only 11pm), so we had to find an alternative.

That’s how we ended up at Thai Farmers’ restaurant across the way on Lockhart Road, sandwiched between The Bell Inn (which seems to have become the pub of the moment for all the International School kids) and some low dive strip-joint.

Food: All the usual Thai staples. Large menu, pretty much as home-style as Thai Hut. Everything we had was very tasty, although not quite as punch-your-lights-out hot as Thai’s usually like for themselves.  Portions were very generous, and the dips they provided with the pork neck and spring rolls were really good, as were those items themselves.

Drinks:  Standard drinks list for Wanchai – beer, canned softs, a few juices. Cheap and cheerful.

Ambience:  Very simple. Love the bold tablecloths. It’s a little shoebox of a place with seating for not more than 30, clean and simple, if a little rough around the edges.  The only others in the restaurant were a Thai couple, one of whom was a decidedly pre-op lady-boy, in desperate need of a stylist.

Service:  The food came quick, and the staff were friendly and attentive.

Price: We spent just over $400 for four of us, and we were only drinking soft drinks.  We had 6 dishes plus rice. So, really rather good value!

Location: G/F King Tao Building 98 Lockhart Road Wanchai Hong Kong. Tel 2520 6607. Almost opposite Agave.

I hadn’t been to this restaurant for years, and was really wondering why after this meal. Chili Club, which is actually almost upstairs from this place, and  seems to be so popular still after all these years, despite having zero ambience and mass produced tasting fare is a poor second to Thai Farmers’. This little restaurant has more authentic food, a more intimate atmosphere and is great value for money.

“The Turkish” – homestyling in Mui Wo, Lantau.

Review:

Went to The Turkish a couple of nights ago (real name Bahce Turkish).  No idea why I don’t go there more often, as it serves seriously good food.

Food:  Well….it’s Turkish.  Very home cooking feel, well presented. Fresh ingredients, with the impression  that everything is lovingly prepared.  All the dips and sauces are fresh made, and they roll dolmas neater than Cheech rolls joints.

Very tasty marinated lamb and chicken, and the special eggplant dip is so smoky and sweet you won’t want to eat normal baba ghanoush ever again. The haloumi was great as well.  Not squeaky and hard, but served with gerkins and dill, it was really good.

Drinks: wide selection of fresh teas, coffee and soft drinks. Couple of beers on tap and the rest in bottles.

Ambience: Simple, sturdy, and has tables outside which is a boon.  Emphasis is on food not decor, and you’d be nuts to spend a bunch of cash on that kind of thing in Lantau, as you will never make your money back.

Service:  lovely service. Humble, friendly, efficient and thoughtful (shame they don’t take over the Stoep!)

Price: Dinner  was $350 for two, and they don’t charge service, so it was a pleasure to leave a big tip.  We shared a mixed mezze, a separate halloumi dish and a lamb kebab, and it that was far and away enough between two of us.  Good value for the quality of the food and the service.

Location: Mui Wo Centre, Lantau Island. Tel: +852 2984 0221, very close to the 7/11 opposite the bus station.

By far the best restaurant in Mui Wo.  There are a couple of tasty canto places, but they don’t show as much care and attention to their food as this.

Mrs Jones, Central – a bit mama/huhu

Review:

Popped along for lunch at the new Mrs Jones restaurant at the top of Pottinger St a few days ago.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Concept Creations venues so far as their service has generally been really good and friendly. However, I have to say that lunch was a bit horsey horsey tiger tiger and that’s forced me to invent a new category on my blog, (hit and miss to the those not in on the Mando reference).

Food: Italian. My companion and I opted for a 3 course set lunch.

We both had salads to begin with, which were let down by the overcooked mush of carrots, and an indifferent mix of leaves and Parma ham.

My pasta main was disappointing, primarily because it was bog-standard bought pasta – literally the farfalle I buy down at the supermarket.

Now, I think that’s a bit of a cop out. Fresh pasta using organic flour would be cheaper to make than buying mass produced dried stuff, and definitely less expensive than some of the very good quality dried pastas, and is super easy to make – so why serve your customers the boring bought stuff, when you can make a selling point out of having fresh, organic pasta instead?

My companion’s main course on the other hand was very tasty – Chicken with olive mash and a creamy mushroom sauce.

What absolutely saved my meal though was the stunning lime curd tart for dessert.  Fresh from the oven. This was a stroke of genius.

Perfect light pastry, a warm delicately textured and flavoured lime filling and a really good vanilla custard creme on the side that was a great accompaniment. No holding back here – it was superb.

Drinks: Didn’t have a look at the wine list, so can’t comment on that.

Ambience: This venue has always been a nice space, the decor is warm and inviting, and the seats comfortable.  It is however a bit rough around the edges.

There is paint peeling off the walls at the entrance for example, and that just confuses me – is this a new restaurant, or are they just using the space to see if this concept works before redecorating? I don’t know, but again this makes me think they have a bit of a lackadaisical attitude to this venture.

Service: The service was very friendly and attentive, although the restaurant was not busy – if it had been, then the one waiter may have been overstretched.

Cost: $98 for a three course set lunch in Central is good value.

Location: Entrance is at the top of Pottinger Street just down from Wyndham St, where Soda used to be. Upper Basement, Harilela House, 79 Wyndham Street, Central, Hong Kong. Tel: 25228118

Overall, I consider the glitches I encountered as teething problems and would definitely go back for lunch in a few weeks time.

Between the two of us, exactly half the dishes were definite misses and half were definite hits, so it would be churlish to not give them another go.

However, at the moment my vote of Caustic or Candy is to be withheld, and instead I must create a new category – mama/huhu.

马马虎虎 – ma ma hu hu; (Horsey Horsey Tiger Tiger) definition is so-so, hit and miss, passable, careless.


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.