Posts tagged “delicious

Auberge Rabelais, Lyon – seriously addictive cheese.

Review:

Considering we arrived on a cold Saturday in January, slap bang in the middle of what was meant to be the worldwide economic Apocalypse, finding somewhere to eat in Lyon was a complete nightmare at short notice.

We couldn’t get into any of the restaurants our hotel concierge suggested and having been led to expect a 15minute wait at Brasserie Georges by him, we arrived to find that wait would be an hour and half, and the queuing would be outside.

Being rather hungry and pissed off at this, we decided to return to Vieux Lyon and try one of the other restaurants the concierge had recommended, only to be shown the hand and a nose in the air when we enquired (in French) if they had tables available.  We went through almost the same ritual at 4 other restaurants until we were so hungry and fuming that when we found one that said we could wait 40 mins we decided to take that option.

This restaurant was Auberge Rabelais, and was managed front of house by a firm but friendly proprietress.

Happily, the wait was worth it, but frankly I’d have eaten the crumbs off the floor I was so hungry by that stage.

Auberge_Rabelais_causticcandy

Food: Very trad with lots of Lyonnais staples.  My companion had snails to start and a steak for main, both of which were very good (although the accompanying veggies were overcooked).

I had Pâté de foie gras and Lyonnais sausage (a slightly fermented tasting affair, wonderfully reminiscent of the Laotian variety), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed, and the rice and lentils served with the sausage were, for me (food philistine that I am), a delightful 70s throwback.

The apogee of the meal for both of us though was the St Marcellin cheese we had for dessert.

It is a small (8-10cm), round cow’s milk cheese whose degree of runniness increases with age.

I am a cheese fiend, and frankly the smellier and runnier the happier I am. St Marcellin is not a really smelly cheese, but it has that nutty, fresh, acid complexity that aged, runny cheeses have, and the way it was served – whole, very cold, with some barely dressed lambs leaf and some beautiful, aged, sweet and syrupy balsalmic vinegar – was “a work of pure genius” my dining companion has declared.

After this we ate it at every opportunity during our brief stay in Lyon, and every cheese was very different. This first outing was definitely the best though, by a good long way.

Wine: Typical of Lyon the vast majority of wines were available in carafes or by bottle, we just went with one of the house reds, which was a local Côtes du Rhône. Very reasonably priced.

Ambience: This is a small restaurant, having maybe 10 tables in the main L-shaped restaurant, and then another couple in a small dining room by the kitchen.  We were sat in the corridor leading to the kitchen, but I was happy with that as I got to see the hustle and bustle of what was going on.

There is not a lot of space between tables, and it’s all ageing red velvet, heavy wooden furniture and red tablecloths. Very old fashioned, bit worn round the edges, but on a cold winter nigh it was most cosy and inviting.

The restaurant was packed from when we arrived around 9pm (for our 40min wait) to when we left around 11pm, and people were still coming through the doors.

In fact a table of 10 turned up on a whim as we were leaving and the proprietress was more than happy to serve them.

I have no idea if all Lyon’s restaurants serve this late into the night, but good to know we found one. I can only imagine that they don’t otherwise surely other venues would have told us we could come back later, or maybe they just didn’t like the cut of our jib – who knows?

Service: Once we were seated the service was efficient. Madame took all the orders, the waiters did everything else. She was happy to spend time explaining a couple of dishes whose French names we didn’t know, which was the height of hospitality in Lyon as far as we experienced.

Cost: There were various levels of prix-fixe menu, we had mid-priced one which was about €25.

Location: 39 rue St-Jean, 69005 Lyon. It’s in Vieux Lyon just north of the cathedral. tel: 04 7837 0743.

There are so many restaurants in Lyon so to pick one as a recommend is almost pointless. We ended up at this one after being turned away from so many others, so that in itself is a recommend.

Auberge Rabelais seems to have absolutely no reputation online (like so many other restaurants there), but we had a great meal – simple, high quality ingredients and reasonably priced.

I’d go back, if only because their St Marcellin flicked my addiction switch, and nothing else now can scratch that itch. Grr, delicious…

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.

San Xi Lou, Central. Lip tingling, tongue twanging Sichuan.

Review:

I am a stupid gweimui.

I used to go to a Sichuan restaurant in Causeway Bay, on the first floor of a building on the corner of Hennesey and Percival, but it didn’t have an English name. It was ludicrous hot, very reasonably priced, had monthly beer bucket specials and was just fun, fun, fun.

So, when it closed about two and a half years ago, I was at a bit of a loss. Filled with sadness, I started hunting for a replacement, and have never been totally satisfied with what I have found.

Yesterday, through the holy power of t’internet and Google translate, I discovered that said restaurant had reopened under a different name (and telephone number…*!$%!) in Mid-Levels.  Coda Plaza to be exact.  Two years ago it opened and two bloody years it took me to discover that. What a noddy!

The new restaurant is called San Xi Lou, (and the old one was called Man Jiang Hong), and such is my fondness for their old restaurant, that I went there straight away for supper, and I can tell you my little chickadees – I was not disappointed.

Food: Big menu, lots of quintessential Sichuan dishes, lots of chilli, lots of hot, lots of cold, good collection of soups too.

It starts off well when they bring you pickles (for free: Hunan Garden…) that can blow the top of your head off. Gets you right in da mood.

Stalwart of Sichuan dining, chicken with dry chilli and pepper (or stupid gweilo chicken as it’s more fondly known by me) San Xi Lou style, is a fully interactive experience.

You have to dig for those nuggets of chicken through mounds of dry chilli and sichuan pepper. Oo, the fights that have taken place to try and find the last bits of chicken, the satisfaction of gnawing round the bones, the sweetness of the cashew nuts and the freshness of the coriander. Just delicious. As soon as my lips began to tingle from the hua jiao, my mind was at peace – certain dishes evoke big, happy memories, and for me this is one of my favourite.

lip tingling, tongue twanging stuff
lip tingling, tongue twanging stuff

Let’s not get carried away though. This is not the most elegant Sichuan cuisine you can find in Hong Kong. It’s a bit greasy (well in fact some of the dishes are just huge buckets of produce stewed in oil), but I suppose it’s even more authentic because of this. I certainly haven’t come out of a Sichuan restaurant in Chengdu without a great, red, oily stain around my chops.

What it is though, is solid Sichuan – silly hot, tasty and fresh.

Drink: Decent selection of beer, lots of good teas (we had a very delicate ginseng oolong yesterday), the usual soft drinks and juices (although no drinking yoghurt to calm the stomach), and a selection of wines – still can’t wrap my head around the idea of red and white wine with spicy, super robust flavours. I think the only wine that might possibly go with Sichuan is a good biscuity Champagne (but then I might have to wear my sunglasses at the table just to complete the ludicrous visual of that idea…)

Service: Efficient, friendly – good service. The level of English varies by waiter, so for non-Canto or Mando speakers double check your order.

Ambience: Understated. Brown and earthy shades – lots of carved wooden panels, straight backed, wooden chairs (but with cushions) and booths. Nothing slick or fashionable. Thick carpet, so the noise is dampened.  It was busy and there was a real mix of Hongkees, Mandarin speakers and gweilos.

Price: We paid HK$450 for two, including tea and beer, which we thought was good value. The food was very tasty, the portions large, the service efficient, and the surroundings comfortable.

Location: 7th Floor, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Central. Tel: 2838 8811

Open: 11am-11pm every day (they also do dim sum lunch and hot pot. Last orders at 10pm)

So there you have it – if you need a break from Madame Wong’s operatics at Da Ping Huo (I love the food, but I go less than I want to because a couple of her notes made my ears bleed) then San Xi Lou is a really good option.

And who needs more than two Sichuan restaurants in Hong Kong? One is elegant and sophisticated in both cuisine and decor, the other is robust and unpretentious.

That’s Sichuans sorted then.

UPDATE:

Took some first time visitors to HK to San Xi Lou last week (28th Dec 09)and they loved it.  They really like spicy food but had never had Sichuan before, they were delighted by all the different flavours.  Much brownie points for me…