Posts tagged “Sichuan

Hotel Lancaster, Paris – sublime.

Review:

This post is part of the same Parisian story that saw my partner and I leaving Hotel Costes rather earlier than expected after a run in with some particulary obnoxious staff.

Having either been bumped from our room, or just downright lied to by that hotel, our lifestyle manager, who was distraught that we’d been screwed about, got us booked into a suite at the truly 5* Hotel Lancaster just off the Champs Elyseés instead.

As soon as we entered the serene lobby and the receptionist smiled winningly at us, I fell in love with Hotel Lancaster.

lobby_lancaster_paris

When I stepped into Suite 75, I knew I was home. It was the most perfect, elegant Belle Epoque apartment for a romantic stay in Paris. It was everything Hotel Costes wanted to be, but would never, ever achieve.

It’s full of carefully chosen antiques and artwork, has all the modern facilities you could want, from iPod docks to wifi, and is the ultimate in quiet sophistication.

The bedroom of suite 75 opened up onto a lovely long balcony overlooking Paris and the Zen garden below.

lancaster_75_bedroom_parisWe had a lounge where we would be served an enormous breakfast every day, and was so cosy and sumptuous in the middle of winter I hardly wanted to leave it.

salon_lancaster_paris_75And the suite had one of my all time favourite bathrooms.  Just look at that art-deco dressing table. Absolutely gorgeous, and so much light. I was also introduced to a wonderful range of Greek beauty products - Korres – their citrus body milk is my particular favourite.

bathroom_75_lancaster_paris

outside_lancaster-parisThe service at Hotel Lancaster is as good as it gets. They are on the Mandarin Oriental level of excellence in my books. The concierge introduced us to a really good modern Sichuan restaurant, and helped us find out about particular shops etc. The housekeeping and room service staff were efficient, friendly and discreet – what more do you need?

The hotel has lots of facilities and a 2* Michelin restaurant, but we really didn’t take advantage of all that because we were so cosy and wrapped up in our suite. Having spent weeks on the move traveling around Europe, being able just to lounge around in this gorgeous set of rooms and having Paris outside the windows was blissful. I have to admit I got rather too used to it.

Location: 7 rue de Berri, Champs Elyseés, 75008, Paris. Tel: +33 1 40 76 40 76. Pretty close to the George V Metro, close to the Place d’Etoile end of the Champs Elyseés.

Boys – if you ever want to take a loved one to Paris, I promise you that if you book into either the Dietrich, 75 or 76 suites at the Lancaster they will be yours forever. It is captivating, exhilarating, elegant and utterly sophisticated – and some of that is bound to rub off on you…

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.

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…

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.

Double Happiness – One of the good restaurants in SoHo…

Review:

Double Happiness is tiny.  Many an evening has ended in frustration when it’s full, I’m starving, and I’m left wracking my brains about where else I can get tasty East Asian food in SoHo that’s not going to set me back a packet and where I don’t have to traipse up and down the hill in my Botega Venettas (I sometimes live in in Sai Ying Pun, so Soho is on the way home from work otherwise I would rarely go for dinner – I have a love/hate relationship with Soho, I think it’s filled with braying, short-term-expat-swill for the most part, and the bulk of restaurants are over-priced, but there are a few really decent bars and restaurants – for example my other favourite pub 1911 is on on Staunton Street. But enough! that’s a whole other post).

This cafe serves super tasty home-style, mainland rather than Canto Chinese, and does so at reasonable prices.

Food: Mainland Chinese with a few Italian/French additions, which I must admit I haven’t been drawn to myself. They make a mean Sichuan prawns, delicious green jade bamboo shoots, awesome chicken with black beans, and rocking soups made with stocks that have been lovingly tended for days by the taste.

Drinks: Inneresting list of teas and other hot and cold juices, basic range of beers.

Ambience: Red, red, more red. Stuffed with all sorts of nicknacks with the Double Happiness character on them, I’m always tempted to grab the old-school oversize matchbox and run away – it would look perfick on my kitchen shelving.  It’s cute, it’s tiny. It’s got small, hard wooden chairs and narrow tables, so it’s always a bit of balancing act not least for my arse, but also to keep all the dishes on the table as we tend to order a lot.

Service: Family feel, very swift and pleasant.  Unfortunately for buffoons like myself who speak almost no Canto I’ve got no insight into the background of the restaurant/the eclectic mix on the menu as the guys don’t speak a massive amount of English either.

Cost: Reasonable. It’s not cheapest of cheap, but definitely good value for money in Soho. Dinner for 2 comes in at between $170 to $250 per head, my advice is to get a crew together and go gangbusters as the portions are big and there are so many items on the menu you will want to try.

Location: 48 Staunton Street, Central, on the part of the street that’s further on from where Elgin Street veers steeply off to the left. 2549 1862

Open: Monday to Saturday lunch through dinner. Sunday dinner only. Jesus Hongkees work hard.

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.