Hong Kong

Liberty private works, Hong Kong

Helmed by chef Vicky Cheng, who has staged at placed like the now closed L2O, Alinea, Momofuku and having worked at Daniel Bouluds main restaurant, the young chef has since brought back an invaluable wealth of culinary experience to Hong Kong, and developed a menu that is largely Asian-inspired using modern techniques. As you will learn at the end of the blog post, the restaurant is run by a very small team, but still manages to put out a lot of dishes for a lot of people. It really does go to show how much more efficient kitchens are able to run using equipment like sous vide and soda canisters, which revolutionizes the workflow of kitchens and allow much more food to be prepped beforehand and fired up for plating very quickly.

Tasting of melon- Compressed melon, yuzu curd, thai chili yogurt

The yuzu curd really tied the whole dish together, the tartness and wonderful citrusy aroma paired well with all the different melons on the plate. The melons were compressed under vacuum, giving it a more intensified flavor, while altering the texture to make it more dense, despite this, it still retained a ‘crunchy’ texture. I really liked the flavor of the olive oil with the mozzarella cheese as well. Refreshing plate of food with very clear individual flavors despite the multiple components. Good


Tuna, Sea Urchin, Espelette pepper, puffed rice

One of their two signature dishes which never ever changes, this was right up my alley. You start on the left of the plate by first eating the frozen grape that has been poached in riesling, this is supposed to lower the temperature of your palate to prep you for the tuna tatare(I really can’t tell if theres a difference). The combination of the oily, soft tuna with the crispy puffed rice was incredibly delicious, the oil from the fish sort of eased the dryness of the rice, the portioning of each component was spot on as well. I liked that they reconstitute the basic ingredients of sushi but the textures are completely different, the tartare itself was perfectly seasoned. The caviar gave the dish a complex briny flavor. The one criticism of the dish is that the flavor of the uni was a little lost amongst the heat coming from the spices in the tuna, I think it could have been chilled colder to contrast some of that heat on the tongue. But the longan, served as a palate cleaner, did just that. Very well thought out dish, doesn’t hurt that it looks amazing as well. Superb

Scallop, Iberico ham, Dashi, egg white

This was a dish strewn with problems. The scallop didn’t taste very fresh to begin with. The individual components just didn’t really taste that good, case in point, the dashi jelly with cubes of iberico. The fishy broth and the iberico didn’t work well together at all, I couldn’t tell if the components were meant to be eaten separately or otherwise, and despite trying to mix them, I couldn’t really find a strong link between each of them, the whole dish was more confusing than that thermodynamics class I failed in college. The best thing on the plate was the daikon which was nicely cooked and had a soft texture while retaining its pleasant root flavor. It was easily the worst dish of the night. Bad



Market fish (Amadei), chanterelle, peas, vanilla

The amadei was seared with its skin on, I thought it was a little dry but the skin was decently crisp. The pea-vanilla purée was the star of the show for me, the aroma of the vanilla tells your brain that you are going to eat something sweet, and the pea purée provides that sweetness, but the sweetness obviously deriving from the peas, and not sugar, very cool. I like the contrast of flavor of the chanterelles with the peas, I do wish that there were more chanterelles on the plate. The pickled onion cut through the sweetness of the pea purée nicely. Good

Egg, truffle, parmesan, caviar

The other of LPW’s speciality dishes, the yolk sealed into the raviolo is meant to be broken and stirred into the sauce, giving it more body and a much richer mouthfeel. The Parmesan foam is made by infusing the the Parmesan rind into heavy cream, then aerating it in a whipping cream canister. I found the combination of all these strong flavors to be a little too overpowering, the truffle oil was very strong as well(I’m not crazy about truffles to be fair), there was nothing to cut the richness apart from the caviar, and there was barely any caviar on the plate to begin with. I can understand why people would like this dish, but it didn’t do all that much for me other than bloat me up. Okay-good

Pigeon, barley, beets, chocolate

The duck breast was expertly cooked, and the flavor paired very nicely with the earthiness of the beet, and bitterness of the chocolate- it seemed to retain its game-y flavor without getting lost in the purée and chocolate sauce. The duck confit was nice as well, soft and unctuous, contrasted in texture with the crispy, buttery brioche tuile(dehydrated maybe?). The duck fillet was smoked in a container using the smoking gun, and it surprisingly retained quite a strong smoky aroma, I think this was my first experience with the smoking gun, according to the chef, only the filet is smoked because he does not want the smokiness to overwhelm the dish. Can’t argue with that. The issue I had with the dish was a disparity in the level of seasoning, the confit was much more heavily seasoned compared to the breast and filet, this would otherwise have been a very good dish. Good-v good

Pork, Cauliflower, rhubarb, macadamia nut

The rhubarb was a genius addition to the dish, I don’t think I’ve ever had rhubarb paired with pork, but it really works well to balance out the rich pork flavor. The curry carrot purée had a wonderful spiced curry aroma, although I’ve had this combination before and it has never disappointed, the cauliflower sauce was very smooth. The letdown of the dish was the protein, the belly had soft, falling apart texture, along with a crisp skin. Not something that is easy to achieve, so I definitely appreciated that, but it was a little on the dry side. The tenderloin, on the other hand, was very dry, strange considering that it was cooked sous vide and then quickly sautéed. An inferior product with low fat content maybe? A real letdown in an otherwise good dish. Okay



Pineapple, coconut, olive oil, black pepper

There were many components on the plate that I’m too lazy to list, but I’ll talk about those that stood out: the best thing on the plate was a mochi with a creamy, cold, sweet coconut mousse embedded within. It was a wonderful little surprise when you but into it and the mousse oozed out. Delightful. The piña colada foam was fizzy(CO2 charge into heavy cream), it was quite an amazing sensation, eating a fizzy foam. Hardly an inspired pairing of flavors but hard to really fault anything in the dessert. Okay-good



Chocolate, Honeycomb, Creme Fraiche, salt

The chocolate ganache was very rich but the tanginess of the creme fraiche ice cream helped to offset that nicely. The honeycomb was a little too big and should probably have been served in two pieces(it was a little too brittle and a little tough to break with a fork), I couldn’t get much vanilla from the crumble but it did provide a nice crunch to the dish. Not particularly impressive, just like the previous dessert, but I did like the creme fraiche ice cream, so this just about edges it. Good

I quite enjoyed my meal at LPW, what impressed me the most was how much value you get for your money. For the amount you’re paying, you’re getting an incredible amount of food, with some surprisingly premium ingredients like uni and osteria caviar(twice!). The place is run by a team of young, motivated, and very talented chefs. You can feel their ambition just from reading dishes on the menu, but I feel that they have made their life needlessly tough. 1, or maybe even 2 dishes could easily be culled from the menu, and the effort/time/money saved could be better spent on refining other dishes, especially those with issues with protein(fish,pork,scallops), regardless of whether the issues stem from improper execution or inferior ingredients.

If memory serves me right, there were 5 chefs serving 20+ covers that night, which made the dinner exceedingly long at 3+ hours(and we were the second group in the restaurant that night), courses started to slowdown drastically when a large group came into the restaurant about halfway through our meal. This is a lot of work for a small group of chefs to handle.

What I did enjoy was the bar type concept of the restaurant, where food is finished and plated in full view of the diner. It seems that many restaurants have now taken on this concept, along with a fixed degustation menu; I have personally always believed that this is the truest way to judge a restaurant and I’m glad the chefs have chosen to put themselves out there. The restaurant phases out and replaces a dish on their menu every month, with the exception of their 2 signature dishes, so steps are in place to make sure that the restaurant remains creative and allows room for it to evolve.

The food at LPW is good, not great, just good, and I don’t think the food is as good as many other blogs make it out to be; be that as it may, I would recommend LPW to anyone visiting Hong Kong without hesitation, it offers incredible value and a glimpse of fine dining in a relatively relaxed setting. The are innovative and I thoroughly look forward to what the kitchen will be able to come up with the next time I visit. Be sure to make reservations early and bring a cushion, because those bar seats get pretty damn uncomfortable after about 2 hours in.

Orange madelines to end the meal

Hong Kong

Bo Innovation, Hong Kong (**)

I first heard about Bo innovation years ago on an episode of No Reservations. When Bourdain visited the restaurant, he referred to head chef Alvin Leung as the ‘Ferran Adria’ of the east. This piqued my interest in the restaurant and I have since been keeping up with news about the restaurant. Chef Alvin has since gone on to be somewhat of a tv personality, appearing and promoting his restaurant on numerous shows, including the most recent segment I saw of him on Bravo’s Around the world in 80 plates. In the show, he lambasts his wait staff with a volley of vulgarities that even Gordon Ramsay would be proud of, although they were seemingly not doing anything wrong, apart from being a little slow to react to his demands. Although I feel that he is needlessly abusive, whether or not he takes on this personality for the camera is of little importance to me, what matters to me is the food


Dead Garden – Morel, Caterpillar fungus, green onion, lime

What looks like a miniature garden turned out to be the best dish of the day. A  morel powder sitting over a green onion and lime cloud(more of a mousse texture), with chinese caterpiller fungus completing the (slightly gruesome) illusion. The enoki mushrooms were dehydrated till crisp and had a strong umami flavor, I remember seeing Wylie use this technique somewhere, to make them look like twigs.  The combination of the spring onion-lime cloud and crunchy morels was brilliant, both in terms of flavor and texture. The refreshing spring onion foam brightens up the palate, adding a citrus lime note to cut through the richness morel. The caterpillar fungus added a nice crunchy mouthfeel to each bite. I thought the dish could have been plated to look a little more appetizing, but maybe this was done intentionally to shock the diner? Regardless, a good start to the meal. Good-v good

 


Saba – Sesame, ponzu cloud, ginger, parfum de hong kong

Served over a metal bowl with the smoky effect of dry ice carrying the “perfume of hong kong” eminating from within. I would like to think that the perfume might have contained drain water that was procured near the harbour, metane, fermented fish, or maybe even a combination of the three. Considering how ‘extreme’ chef Alvin Leung is, I wouldn’t consider it impossible. The oiliness of the Saba fish really melted well with the sesame oil to form some kind of delicious, wonderfully fragrant mutant oil. The ponzu foam actually carried a good amount of ponzu flavor, and of course it worked nicely with the fish. Ginger cleansed the palate at the end. An artful balance of Chinese and Japanese ingredients. Good


Xiao long bao

I love the idea of this dish, a molecular version of a xiao long bao, with the stock used to make xiao long bao spherified and encapsulated within itself, with no need for any of the pastry, served with a sliver of ginger to pay homage to the way the classic dish is eaten. Despite so much anticipation around the dish, I found it to be largely disappointing= it wasn’t particularly well spherified, either made with too much alginate or it sat too long in the calcium bath, which lead to it being too gummy and viscous for me, plus it was under seasoned as well. Okay

Black Truffle Cheong Fun

I ordered this as a side without realizing that it would show up later in the meal. The texture of the Cheong fun was good, but I’ve had better in Singapore. What I like was the they bothered to roll small pieces of diced truffle into the Cheong fun, so that when you cut into it, you could see tiny pieces of truffle embedded within each layer. The truffle sauce wasn’t overpowering and the Cheong fun was actually a very good vessel to carry its flavor. Okay-Good

Har Mi – Lo Mien, Chili, Kankio

Har mi noodles had a much punchier dried shrimp flavor than the version I had in Singapore during the savour event; its a pity that I wasn’t crazy about the texture of the noodles. The noodles were a little dry as well, although in their defense, an entire teapot full of (tasty) oil was provided, to be added as and when the diner sees fit, the clogged arteries come as a freebie. The spiciness from the oil was present but never overpowering. Despite its faults, I did quite like the dish, it felt comforting and familiar. Okay-good


Cod – Saffron Miso, sauterness, seaweed

The saffron miso sauce tasted a lot like something fruity, almost… Passionfruit-like, and I couldn’t figure out why. Its a strange combination of flavors. and they didn’t really work well for me either- the crisp seaweed added a pleasant burst of salty flavor, but the (strong) alcohol in the Sauternes jelly didn’t really go well with anything and just completely wrecked the dish because it was so pungent, to make matters worse, the cod wasn’t particularly well cooked either. Bad


Foie Gras – Mui Choy ice cream

The foie gras was cooked in a ‘shao ya’ (roasted duck) style, and it did take on a nice glazed effect, while retaining a bounchy texture.. The concept behind the dish is sound, the saltiness from the mui Choy ice cream balances the sweetness of foie, the sharp pickled/briny taste of the mui Choy cuts through the richness of the foie, the cold ice cream contrasts the warm roasted foie, but the portioning of the dish was imbalanced and despite rationing the amount of foie on my plate, I was left with a big chunk of ice cream left, which doesn’t sound like it is a big deal, but it is so strong and salty that it was almost inedible on its own. Okay-good


Saga-Gyu Beef – Black truffle, soy, cheong fun

The beef was expertly cooked- soft, a medium rare, and a very thin seared layer on the edges, unfortunately, it still had a bit of connective tissue within the meat which made it a little tough to break down when chewing. Despite this, it had the most wonderful nutty flavor, everything I’d expect from A5 grade beef. The soy sauce was gelled with some kind of hydrocolloid, and gave the sauce enough thickness to be lathered onto the meat. The truffle and the soy worked well together, it wasn’t a bad dish. It just felt a little one dimensional, pairing soy sauce with beef and truffle, it just felt a little too…. simple? Okay-good


Strawberry – Wolfberry, Pineapple, Chinese Green tea

This consisted of a strawberry jelly, wolf berry sauce, pineapple granita, freeze dried pinapple, and Chinese green tea ice cream. The jelly had a wonderful consistency, very wobbly and melted almost instantaneously on the tongue. The soft texture contrasted the crunchy freeze dried pineapple as well. The green tea ice cream tasted good on its own, but no matter what I tried to eat it with, it just clashed and didn’t work with any other component for me. Its a pity because it felt like this could’ve been a great dish. Okay-good


Mandarin Orange, almond foam

Before the waiter could explain the dish, my impatience got the better of me and I stuck my face straight into the smoking pot. Right as he said the words ‘served with the smell of incense’ I immediately got hit with the strong aroma you get when you visit temples. Not the least bit appetizing, but at least they saved it for the end of the meal.  The almond foam was dense and had a surprisingly strong flavor, but  hardly anything to write home about. Okay


 

My meal at Bo has been a long time coming, it’s almost as if I have observed the restaurant and chef from afar for a long time before getting the opportunity to dine here. It seems that there are two schools of thought about Bo, you either hate it, or you love it. And while I can say that I didn’t have a bad meal, I did leave feeling pretty disappointed. The only dish that really impressed me was the lime-spring onion cloud dish, it showed innovation and it followed through with execution.

All the other dishes were either well executed, but weren’t particularly interesting (beef), or had an interesting idea, but fell short on execution(mui Choy and cod). I has always had doubts about the place, but after holding onto their two stars for two years in a row(after dropping to 1 star in 2010), I assumed that they had finally found their footing(despite the reviews still being very mixed)- unfortunatel, the food I had didn’t reflect this, it doesn’t feel like a polished product, and some of the techniques used seem to be geared to shock and awe diner, and these these techniques don’t necessarily serve to make the meal a better experience.

I wouldn’t return to Bo, a bulk of their menu hasn’t changed over the years, and if the meal I had is an indication of quality of the rest of the menu, then doesn’t really warrant a return. Back when Bourdain visited Bo, it was one of the pioneer molecular gastronomy restaurants in asia, these days, there are far too many other molecular restaurants in Asia, perhaps chef Alvin had better cash in on his fame soon.

Hong Kong

Australian Dairy Company, Hong Kong

This will be my last post before I fly off to Tokyo, I’m taking a little break in between packing. Well, its not so much ‘packing’ as it is doing 3-point jump shots with my clothes across the room  into a luggage. My itinerary for Japan is pretty ridiculous, I only have about 6 days worth of eating before Japan transitions into Golden week, where majority of the restaurants will be closed, therefore I have a pretty tight schedule for those 6 days, lookout for posts on that soon!

I visited ADC twice in January during my short trip to Hong Kong, quite a feat considering we were only there for about 2 full days. ADC is a very unassuming restaurant where you’re more likely to get disservice than service from the waiters- they hurry you into the restaurant and don’t give you much time to read through the menu before hovering over you, ready to take your order. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t rude, but this is a true blue hustle and bustle kind of place- the constant clinking of plates being put on the table, the steam and noise going on in the kitchen, the loud chatter from the dining room, it’s not a place you would want to sit down and catch up with friends, but its a place that’s undeniably Hong Kongese (real word?).

   

Macaroni/Spaghetti with ham

We would not have ordered this if it had not come as part of a set. Although having Macaroni soup is (strangely) quite a common breakfast to be had in Hong Kong, this version wasn’t particularly good. Pasta was very overcooked and too generous with the portions, ham was mediocre and as you can see from the photos, stingy with portions(not that we were screaming for more). The spaghetti isn’t served with invisible ham if you were wondering, the ham in that particular set was moved onto the scrambled eggs, so you will get your ham by hook or by crook. The soup tasted synthetic, like it had come out straight out of a can, boiled with some ham, then served. Bad

Scrambled egg with toasted bread

The real star of the show, and the main reason why people line up to eat at ADC, is their scrambled eggs. If you want the technical details, it is cooked with large curds(low-medium temp, stirring once a while?), very different from the traditional french method where the aim is to get as fine a curd as possible. It is incredibly moist when you eat it, although I think part of the reason why it stays so moist is because there is ridiculous amount of butter in it. The seasoning is spot on, and the aroma and taste of the butter hits you with every bite, and it goes incredibly well with the soft, fluffy, lightly toasted bread.

The bottom line is that they are delicious, whether you eat them together with the bread, or you eat them alone. This something I would eat everyday if I learnt that there was an astroid heading towards earth and everyone would die in a month, but given the amount of butter put into it, I might not even last a full month before my arteries give way. Very good

Hot milk tea

This was strong strong tea, a little too strong almost, like someone poured milk into your mouth and you were sucking on a teabag. But for the same reason, drinking this at 7am with a lack of sleep made this work on so many levels. The kind of drink that would fuel nocturnal serial killers who hold a regular day job, maybe like a Hong Kong version of Dexter. Okay

Ginger milk pudding + Milk pudding

We had both of these cold, the ginger had a much stronger taste but a more brittle consistency, it did taste a little ‘cleaner’ on the tongue with not much aftertaste. The milk pudding had a more ‘melt in your mouth’ feel to it, but a very strong egg-y aftertaste. Both didn’t really do anything for me. Okay

I would go back to ADC solely for their scrambled eggs, but the problem with their menu is that the set menu (pasta + eggs + tea) is priced in such a way that it is only slightly more expensive than just ordering the eggs alone, therein lies the conundrum. I don’t like leaving food on the plate if I can help it, but this is one instance where I really have to say that the pasta just isn’t worth your stomach space. Besides, Mak’s noodles is just down the road from ADC, and their wanton noodles are, without a doubt, much better than the macaroni/spaghetti at ADC.

Go to ADC with realistic expectations of service- noone was rude to us, but we were made to share out table with other diners and constantly had to move our chairs for staff that were running to and fro, such is the nature of service at a busy establishment like ADC that aims to turn tables as quickly as possible. But I digress, just remember to order the scrambled eggs, in fact, order 2 portions and forget about the guilt.

Hong Kong

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong (*)

Occupy Tim Ho Wan

Let me cut to the chase with Tim Ho Wan, there are many many other blogs out there that can give you a detailed play by play description of each dish and what to expect, but I’ll condense it down for you. I had breakfast(which turned into lunch by the time we went in) at the Kwong Wah branch, the original branch with the Michelin star. In the process of queuing for 2 hours and losing my sanity, my friends made the mistake of handing me the menu chit for ordering- They were going to pay for their mistake, I had already decided that I was going to eat as much as I could to make up for all this time I spent standing in line. And so we ate, a lot, in fact, we had a good 75% of the menu. There is a term in weight training called training till failure, where you do enough repetitions of an exercise until you experience momentary muscular failure, our meal at Tim Ho Wan could be summed up as “eating till failure”. The good thing is that I was able to try out a lot of dishes, and here are my thoughts.

It didn’t seem that much on paper

We had to unroll the bill like a scroll

1) Be prepared to wait, unless you manage to be the first batch of people who make it into the restaurant. I’d suggest being there before 9 to make it into the first batch, maybe somewhere around 8.30, you’ll end up waiting a good 2 hours if you show up later anyway.

2) You can do takeaways, which I would recommend. The restaurant is a very very small space and you’ll likely to be elbow to elbow with the person next to you; which could add to the experience of eating dim sum, depending on how you look at it.

3) The food: As you probably already know, the main must have dish would be the cha siew baos, and they are delicious(Very Good). The baos have a rich, sweet, porky cha siew filling, baked with a topping akin to that of a Bo Lo bun, my sis mentioned that she has used a similar(ish) topping on her eclairs, the main components are basically butter, flour and sugar. I’ll save you a trouble and let you know that each person should just get a plate of this(3 pieces), these paos are not for sharing.

Other standout dishes were the osmanthus jelly(good), and the pork-century egg porridge (Good). Everything else was pretty mediocre in my opinion. The har gao and siew mai, staples in dim sum, had a generous amount of filling, but like I said, it wasn’t anything special.

4) The michelin star, I’ll address this later

 

I’ve got to admit, before I even arrived at the restaurant, I had my reservations about the place, not because of the food they served, but because of the michelin star they were carrying on their back. Touted as the ‘cheapest michelin starred restaurant in the world’, and judging from the lines the restaurant gets, they could easy raise their prices a notch and still have a stream of customers, both local and foreign, but is the restaurant really indicative of what a michelin starred experience should be like?(Granted that they only have a single star)

My last one star experience was back in the States, at Cafe Boulud, and while I didnt have a particularly memorable or stellar meal there, it was miles away from my experience with Tim Ho Wan- the food was much better at Cafe Boulud. Many have discussed and talked about how Michelin have dropped the ball with Hong Kong, first with giving Tim Ho Wan a Michelin star, and then with giving Lung King Heen three. The point I’m trying to drive is not that I didn’t enjoy my meal at Tim Ho Wan, but rather, Tim Ho Wan is not really an accurate representation of a Michelin starred restaurant, and this is important to note, both for those who are seasoned Michelin diners, and those who are about to lose their Michelin virginity to Tim Ho Wan; I will go as far as to say that I don’t believe Tim Ho Wan really deserves a star, even if you discount the service, the ambiance, and everything non-food related, the food simply didn’t do enough to warrant a star; but with that being said, I don’t believe it really needs a star, it has almost reached cult status at this point. If I have convinced you that the Tim Ho Wan star is meaningless, what you should probably do is head over to the Sham Shui Po branch of Tim Ho Wan, I have heard the waiting times are much shorter there, and you can still get the delicious cha siew baos. At least thats what I’ll be doing the next time I’m in Hong Kong.