It has been slightly more than two years since I moved out from Sheung Wan, and it is increasingly evident that the moment I move out of a place, restaurants and cafes will start to pop up all over my ex-neighbourhood, like mushrooms after a rainy season. While it certainly heartens me that so many hip places are opening in Sheung Wan, it maddens me somewhat that the trend did not happen while I was living there.
That was a long preamble.
I was trying to tell you about a new cafe in the neighbourhood which I visited earlier this year. A touch of New York City has arrived in the form of the Big Apple’s comfort food and authentic Italian dishes, all at very reasonable prices.
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(Note: This review was originally published in the autumn edition of Good Eating, the quarterly food magazine by South China Morning Post)
It’s hard to imagine this place would be packed with suits on a normal weekday night, but on the Sunday when we sampled their famous champagne brunch, LUPA was positively laid-back in a casual, rustic way. Still packing some understated elegance with their dark wooden furniture and an impressive terrace for alfresco dining, they have recently added a 3-piece live jazz band – a classy yet cosy touch brunch time.
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To say that the House of Krug are modest people will be an understatement.
But then again, they have every right to be proud of their bold heritage. I love champagne very much like any other person, but it wasn’t until a night of Krug tasting at Otto e Mezzo got my lips smacking in deep, new found appreciation for this liquid gold.
The champagnes of Krug is decidedly elitist; but in an elegant, tasteful way. The lineage is curated from some 250 plots of vine in France’s Champagne region (hence the name); a mere 0.1% of what is available.
Selection of the finest? Nose-up to the mediocre? If you had as much Krug as I did in one dinner, your guess will be as informed as mine.
My very first glass was a Krug Clos du Mesnil of the 1998 vintage. Conversations were rife with speculations of what makes this glass different. The others may taste wonderfully complex with full aroma, but a glass of Krug Clos du Mesnil possesses a singular intensity crafted to attack the senses. As I took a deep sip, I was pleasantly stunned on how sharp it played on my palate, rising above a sea of other tastes with a distinct freshness.
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It was a yet another sizzling summer night in Hong Kong. As I made my way up the never ending escalator in Central, it was hard to be excited about an Italian meal which was on the card for dinner. I mean, isn’t Italian all about dishes of which its name you can’t pronounce, of food too complicated to even describe, and of chefs too snobbish for their own good?
So imagine my surprise when I stepped into Nico’s Spuntino Bar + Restaurant. It was located right where the old Fat Angelo’s was. Although it was only 7 p.m., the restaurant was filling up fast.
To my eyes, Nico’s was anything but pretentious. The first spuntino (which means “snack”) bar in town, even the name itself was a breathe of fresh air. Why give yourself complicated Italian name no one would remember nor understand? True, the menu itself was still a puzzle to read, but the best of food is not in its name but, of course, the food itself.
And on that philosophical note, here’s my top six pick from Nico’s.
Caciocavallo Silano in Carroza (HK$98)
Crispy-fried, fresh cow’s milk cheese, on a bed of fried leeks. It was possibly my first time having fried cheese, and it was oh-so-good. I was led to believe that it’s possible the best way to eat cheese is by having it deep fried. There’s something almost hypnotic as the contrasting rich flavor of cheese and crispy texture of the batter seem to battle it out in your mouth.
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So you have heard much about Doppio Zero being the next big thing in the local Italian food scene. That their chef-in-residence Jake Addeo adores experimenting with food, combining the best of Italian cooking with a local twist. That they have recently launched a brunch menu, and opens on Sunday to help you cure that mother-of-a-hangover. That despite the excellent food quality and impeccable service, Doppio Zero is still a little known gem.
Ladies and gentlemen, all that you heard is true.
Just lest than a year old, this Italian restaurant is already Michelin-endorsed and can be best described as a trattoria. At night the restaurant goes up the scale, more like a ristorante, with dimmed light and a more romantic menu. But if you decide to drop in on a weekend afternoon, come in your comfortable sandals, favorite magazines in hand.
For the brunch menu is a wonderful collection of original recipes at reasonable prices. Food portion is hearty and particularly comforting if you had a late night out and want uncomplicated but interesting food.
Ready to order? Here are some of my recommendations:
Signature Truffled Fried Oyster
I love deep fried oysters, as much as I love fresh oysters. The problem with deep fried oysters is that you tend to overcoat your morsels with too much batter, making the whole chunk one oily mess. This one was perfectly done, with a sprinkling of black truffle and a bed of creamed spinach (which was finger-licking-good when eaten with toast).
Try not to order two if you are watching your calories!
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Not too long ago, I blogged my virgin experience dining at Goccia; one of those true Italian gems located right in the smack of Lan Kwai Fong. The delectable dinner I had was still lingering in my mind (and on my tongue, obviously) when I found myself at Goccia again one weekday night.
My second visit was to try out their tasting menu for Alba white truffle.
Known as the white diamond of the gourmet world, white truffle can be found from northern Italy, more famously from around the city of Alba. While the black variety is more hearty and can be used rather generously, white truffle is much more pungent; so much so that only shavings of it should be used with food. That, and also because white truffle is notoriously expensive. One gram of it can set you back by as much as HK$120.
How do you best describe having white truffles with your food? It is like… having sugar with your coffee. It can only make food taste better. With that in mind, my palate was all set to see how Alba white truffle will set my dinner on fire.
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I first came across Linguini Fini on Twitter. I am an advocate on the use of social media to build a loyal fan base to one’s brand, and the best example I could quote would be The Garden Slug in Singapore. Linguini Fini comes a close second in being very responsive on Twitter without being overly promotional.
Of course, it also helps that many of my foodie friends loved it. Just ask Jason, Rita or JJ. I have heard of many good things about the place, but the fate was sealed when my buddy, who is one tough master to please when it comes to food even at the best of time, sang praises of Linguini Fini and even returned for a second meal within the month.
I had to pay a visit.
The first thing you should know about Linguini Fini is that it does not take reservation. True to its NYC-root, you can only walk in, and even so you will be seated only when everyone in your group has arrived. This might come across as strange in Hong Kong food scene, when some places put too much importance on their waiting lists and think you owe them for food.
But for me, I was delighted. No more coming to an empty restaurant only to be told it was fully booked for the night; the vacant tables almost mocking you.
Linguini Fini has a very laid back feel to it. With its pastel-coloured barn-like furniture, barrel seats and tables, low and warm lighting, playful music playing in the air… I was happy to be waiting for my friend (yes, that friend, returning for the third time) just to soak in the atmosphere.
Am I bias? Perhaps. But you can’t deny truly good food.
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After the disappointing debacle that was The Fat Angelo’s, I was all but given up hope for Italian food in Hong Kong. Now before you bash me on the head saying that, hey that’s very narrow minded of you, let me remind you that you are talking to a guy who can’t tell the difference between baguette and foccacia, and have an aversion to any tomato-based pasta.
But that is all about to change.
Goccia is a charming restaurant located right at the heart of Lan Kwai Fong. Occupying two floors, the ground floor was a dimmed cavern of cosy seats for those who would like to kick back after a long day at work with some drinks and friends. On the upper floor is a welcoming wide space (it’s a wonder what great interior design can do to prime real estate) for discerning diners looking for good Italian food.
It was the latter to which I ascended to one weekday night for a spot of food and wine pairing meal. Now I won’t pretend to be a wine expert. Certainly I am a total noob when it comes to pairing your wine with food.
And that is also about to change.
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It was a moment of madness.
Imagine this – it was traffic peak hours on Hong Kong Island on a Friday night. The road was packed bumper-to-bumper with weekend traffic, full of rat racers rushing to dinner, spa, movie and what-have-you appointments all over the city. The frantic activities as observed from the upper deck of a double decker bus almost nauseated me.
Yes, that’s where I was, that humid night, on my way into Stanley, where I am to have my seafood dinner at Rocksalt. Oh, the things you would do when you give in to the temptations of Groupons! The trick of doing all these dining deals is to book at least two weeks in advance, even for some place like Stanley.
So was the an hour peak traffic journey into the never never land worth it?
Situated along the main Stanley promenade on the southside of Hong Kong, Rocksalt’s large floor-to-ceiling windows provide magnificent unobstructed views of Stanley Bay and a welcomed escape from the bustle of Stanley Market. As we were shown to our seats, I can’t help but marvel at the sense of calm that came over me despite the hustle and bustle of the growing dinner crowd that evening.
For this Groupon deal, a set dinner for two, the selection was kinda set so we settled right in with additional drinks (a pint of Erdinger for me, yum).
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