Sunday, 26 April 2015

Mott32 - Modern Chinese with style

I've recently taken a real shine to char siu, and when I find something I like, I can get a little obsessive about finding more.  You can imagine what that means, right?  Pouring over every menu at every restaurant we visit looking for the Chinese style delicacy.  If you're not familiar with char siu, it's translates literally to 'fork-roast' but is more commonly known as barbequed pork.

Our recent visit to Mott32 was special for a couple of reasons, firstly, it was a surprisingly beautiful and funky restaurant but mainly because I found the most amazing char siu I've had in Hong Kong to date.

But I get ahead of myself...

Mott32 is one of those restaurants where it's recommended you make a reservation, but continuing my run of jagging a table, we managed to score a couple of seats straight after work.  Of course, we had that moment where you get the strange look for asking for a table without a reservation, but one I'm now quite comfortable ignoring.  

We were led down a huge escalator, then a couple of flights of stairs to the bowels of the Standard Chartered building and found ourselves in a dimly lit, but exquisitely appointed restaurant. Designed as a collaboration between Maximal Concepts and Joyce Wang, a designer who was recently awarded the 'Wave of the Future 2014', Mott32 is a stunning space.  Designed centrally around a custom industrial duck oven and special air-drying duck fridge, the dining room in immediately intimate and comfortable.

Sunday's Grocery - it's schnitzel time

Yeah, there are a lot of cool dining spots to check out in Hong Kong, so many, that it's hard to keep track of them all.  So when we heard about a cool little spot out at Kennedy Town, we didn't muck about, plans were made and within days we were sitting out the front of Sunday's Grocery.

I'd never been to Kennedy Town, which is the end of the line on the MRT line that runs along the front of the island.  Our plan was to walk there from the Mid Levels, a tour that took us through the University of Hong Kong, which is just down the street (and around the corner) from where we live.  It was quite a pleasant walk, even though it was a little hot and sticky and there may have been some lost time in the Uni, trying to get our bearings.

We'd timed our walk perfectly, and by the time we were standing outside of the very hard to miss and brightly coloured Sunday's Grocery, it was very conveniently time for lunch.  Stepping inside, I was surprised by how tiny the space was, essentially just a shopfront and counter, with no room for loitering (or dining) within.  I wasn't too sure what to expect to be honest.

Created by Matt Abergele and Lindsay Jang, who've an eye for creating awesome little ventures (Yardbird and RONIN being their other hotspots), Sunday's Grocery is a liquor store, curated convenience store and a takeaway sandwich shop.  With our primary reason for visiting a bite of lunch, we ignored the wide variety of Japanese Whisky, sake, shochu beer and wine on offer and made a beeline for the short but interesting looking takeaway menu.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Bibo - where art and food combine

Fine dining has often been compared to contemporary art, food displayed immaculately on a plate that is often (almost) too beautiful to eat.  I've eaten in restaurants where the Chef could only be described as an artist, and I'm sure you have too.  I've even had beautiful food in Australia's GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art), where the award winning GOMA restaurant produces food that would be better placed on the walls of the gallery.  I'd never been to a restaurant that would be more appropriately called a gallery of contemporary modern art, that was until I visited Bibo.

In a sign that bohemia is alive and well in Sheung Wan, Bibo is quite unlike any restaurant you are likely to encounter, at least in this part of the world.  Bibo is short for 'bilingual bohemian' and is a mix of contemporary art and fine dining French restaurant.  Reminiscent of the speak-easy style of New York, the entrance to Bibo is a secret gold door on Hollywood Road and while you don't need a secret password to enter, you do need to get past the burly bouncer on the door. Once the Star Trek like sliding door opens, you descend steps that hint of what's to come.

An assault to the visual senses is probably the best way to describe those first few seconds in the restaurant, which was quite breathtaking.  Every spare inch of space in Bibo is taken up with contemporary art, visually stunning, it's not until you hear the story of some of the pieces that you understand the importance of Bibo - more on that later.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Big Fernand - the French take on a burger

French Fries are great right?  I mean, they've been around for as long as I've been eating, apart for a very short period of time when the worldwide geopolitical situation dictated that some call them Freedom Fries.  However, I digress...  French Fries are great and I'm partial to eating them pretty much any time I grab a burger.

French Burgers, now there's something I'd never really thought about.. I mean, burgers are quintessentially American, but with the worldwide trend of burger domination, it's perhaps natural that the French would give burgers a crack.  

Big Fernand is a French burger chain that opened Paris in 2012 and has been dominating the European burger scene.  Listed by the Wall Street Journal as the best burger concept in France, it was only a matter of time before world wide domination beckoned.  With a base of six different burger types, one of the elements that sets Big Fernand apart is the liberal use of cheese in their burgers.

I'd sauntered over to IFC, where Hong Kong's first and so far only Big Fernand is housed, for a quick solo lunch.  It was fairly early still, and while there was a queue of people waiting to place their order, there were plenty of seats still available.  Joining the queue, one of the wait staff asked in a sexy French accent if it was my first time...  Such a personal question, but I got the gist and agreed that it was in fact my first time for a French burger.

Little Bao - fun and intimate casual dining

It sure can be hard getting into the cooler and more popular restaurants in Hong Kong, it's either walk up and wait or book some time in advance.  Oh, and make sure you turn up on time, 'cause if you're fifteen minutes late, your table is gone!  We'd booked into one of Sheung Wan's most popular new restaurants recently and were pretty excited, but some last minute schedule changes at work meant that we had to reschedule.  It was another catch up dinner with fellow blogger buddy JustCozItsTuesday, the last for a while before she heads back to Australia for a few months.

With our first plan in chaos, we decided that we'd have to take a chance with one of the aforementioned cool restaurants where it's first come first served.  We had a couple of targets in mind, interestingly enough all around our new favourite hang out spot in Central, the old PMQ.  First on our list was Little Bao, which as been pretty packed on the times when we've walked by, and we'd never been to before (well, Cynthia had been a few times).  Knowing how difficult it would be, SC cased out the joint and gave a heads up that three would be joining for dinner (hoping that it would make a difference).

Little Bao started it's life as a small stall in the Island East Markets, and focussed on traditional Chinese but mixing with the globe's biggest phenomenon in the last few years, burgers.  Chef and owner May Chow's concept of Chinese style bao topped with delicious and contemporary filling seemed to be the right idea at the right time, exploding into people's consciousness.  The next step of a restaurant was a logical step and the up-and-coming PMQ district in Soho was the perfect spot (a little foresight goes a long way).

Saturday, 18 April 2015

ManMo Cafe - interesting but pricy dumplings

When we were looking around Hong Kong for a place to live, Sheung Wan was on a relatively short list of areas that I wanted to live.  We had a pretty demanding list of requirements, and as new residents to Hong Kong, didn't really have the right requirements on the list.  As it turned out, we  didn't move into the area, which in hindsight is a shame...  I really love the vibrancy and energy in Sheung Wan, oh, of course I love all of the the little laneways that are full of funky little cafes and restaurants.

It's not as if we live a long distance from Sheung Wan, in fact, we live just up the mountain in the Mid Levels, so it only takes us ten minutes to walk down the hill (up the hill is another matter). We spend a lot of time wandering around the area, just soaking up the vibe and last weekend, we checked out the Portobello Markets (unfortunately not the same as the Notting Hill version). Apart from meeting some really cool peeps (that we will be hanging out with for dinner soon), we found a little dumpling cafe that looked the goods.

ManMo Cafe bills itself as a 'contemporary dim sum with brilliant flavour in Sheung Wan' and serves up a contemporary mix of fusion and eclectic vegetarian friendly Chinese.  Normally, with a title like that, I'd run for the hills, but given we were pretty hungry and the cafe really did look inviting, we went in to check it out.

ManMo is an interesting name, and is labeled after a famous neighbouring temple and was conceived by Swiss-born Nicolas Elalouf to serve a burgeoning crowd of East meets West foodie.  Throwing everything into the menu, Nicholas has scoured the dining scene looking for input from chefs with pedigrees that includes Robuchon and Din Tai Fung.  As a result, ManMo boasts a menu that is contemporary and quite different from any other dim sum place around.

Chom Chom - A taste of Hanoi in HK

Spending a lot of time wandering around the streets of Hong Kong, in particular Central and SoHo, you get a sense for which restaurants are popular and which are struggling a little bit.  I'm often amazed that one funky little dining spot might have a crowd spilling onto the pavement, while another will be empty all the time.  With so many cool looking little spots about to try out, my list keeps getting bigger!

I was recently contacted by a restauranteur I know in Brisbane who has some of the most popular dining spots in town, with a recommendation to check out SoHo hotspot Chom Chom.  It was the inspiration for one of his most popular little food joints called Kwan Brothers (see post here) and DG thought it would be great for me to connect with Chom Chom mastermind Peter Franklin.  So, linking up with our favorite HK food blogger Cynthia from JustCozItsTuesday, we made our way across.

It was a hot and steamy HK evening when we made our way up the hill from Central to Chom Chom and the first thing I noted was how often I'd walked past Chom Chom, not realising that it was one of those funky little dining spots I'd been keen to check out.  Cynthia was already warming a seat while we waited for a table to clear inside, so with nothing else to do, we sat outside catching up while the girls cracked on with some cocktails.

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Boss - dim sum lunch treat

There's just no getting around it, sometimes you need to 'bite the bullet' and book a restaurant.  I love taking my chances and rocking up to a restaurant and seeing if I can jag a table.  It works more often that you'd think, but I guess when you are trying to get into one of Hong Kong's hottest new Michelin Starred restaurants, making a reservation is a much smarter option.  It didn't stop me from trying to get into The Boss, located in Queens Road Central, a few times before giving up and making a booking.

To be honest, I only made a reservation this time because I was hosting a work colleague who was visiting from London, so it wouldn't do to turn up for a busy lunch service, only to be turned away.  It seems as if my reputation for choosing for amazing restaurants had spread, so I'd been given specific instructions not to book into an 'expensive' restaurant.  Knowing that The Boss had a lunchtime Dim Sum menu seemed to be the logical choice, it would showcase a great new restaurant to our London visitor, while keeping it real for our wallets...

The Boss is located in the basement of the Peter Building in QRC and once you descend the steps the the dining room, you're presented with a modern looking take on a Chinese restaurant. Modern and minimalist are the words that spring to mind when describing the fit out of the restaurant, combining blacks and greys for a sleek and contemporary feel.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Three Michelin Stars

Hands down, my favourite cuisine is French fine dining.  A couple of years ago, I was able to fulfil a lifelong dream by eating at one of Paul Bocouse's many global restaurants.  It's a meal I will never forget.  If you've not heard of Paul Bocouse, then you need to check him out, he is one of three chefs to have been awarded 'Chef of the Century' by Gault Millau.  If you're into food though, I'm sure you've heard of the Bocuse d'Or, often called the world championship of cooking and named after the legendary chef.

One of the other legendary chefs awarded the 'Chef of the Century' tag is Joel Robuchon, who also holds the distinction of being awarded the most number of Michelin Stars globally, currently twenty five.  When I moved to Hong Kong, one of the first things that struck me was that I was moving to a city with a L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, one of the few three Michelin Starred restaurants in Hong Kong.  With accolades that seem to fall like cherry blossoms in spring, L'Atelier is also ranked as the seventeenth best restaurant in Asia by the San Pellegrino Asia's top 50 list.

I'd been fortunate enough to have visited Singapore's L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon last year (see post here), but that was a solo dining experience, so I was keen to take SC along to experience the ultimate fine dining experience.  I was travelling when I asked SC to book a table at L'Atelier Hong Kong and when she came back to me to say that we could only get a seat at the bar.  I had a little chuckle, "It'll be OK, just wait and see" was all I could manage.  

I didn't want to spoil the surprise, but the whole point of L'Atelier de Joel Robucon is to bring the diner into the meal.  Originally conceived in Tokyo, the restaurants serve French haute cuisine in a stylised environment, with most of the seats arranged around the central kitchen.  L'Atelier translates into 'workshop' and the style of kitchen allows the diner to witness the chefs at work - watching the magic happen.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Casual Dining - Hooked fish and chips

Typical for a Kiwi to make a claim for the best fish and chips in the world, but that's exactly what the team from Hooked have done.  I make this statement as an Aussie, because it's clear that Aussies make the best fish and chips in the world.  It was with fond memories of wonderfully cooked fish and golden brown, crunchy chips that I set out to find Hong Kong's best fish and chips, which is how I stumbled across Hooked.

Located on Caine Road, right in the middle of Expat territory, Hooked is one of those little food spots that you could easily walk by if you weren't looking for it.  It's a tiny little space that has room for standing only and is run by a Kiwi with grand designs.  To bring the best of New Zealand's pristine waters directly to Hong Kong, with all fish caught using sustainable practices.

Now, I'll be the first to admit, New Zealand has some of the most amazing produce in the world, the land of the 'long white cloud' is far away from much of the worlds pollution and the Kiwi's do have a reputation for great fish and chips.  But so do the Aussies, who typically also think we're the best at everything (LOL).  

Only one way to find out and that was get into Hooked and give it a go.

Pizza Express - my fallback place to eat

I very clearly remember the first time I had Pizza Express.  We'd just landed in Barcelona a couple of days before New Years Eve 2008 and were pretty darn tired.  Wandering down Las Ramblas, the main area of the ancient city and were looking for a bite to eat.  Sure, you're in Barcelona and the first thing you want to find is tapas, but there were so many people about that we just went for the first thing we saw.....  It just happened to be a Pizza Express.

That first time in Pizza Express was an interesting one, we had some amazing pizza but were conflicted, the pizza clearly came from a chain....  We like to think we are above heading to chain restaurants, but when the food's great - well, let's just say we overlooked the chain element.

We'd never seen Pizza Express in Australia, so always figured it was a European chain, but weren't totally surprised when we learned that there were a few outlets in Hong Kong. After all, to be honest, you can find just about anything in HK....  So, it was with fond memories that we snuck into Pizza Express one night after work and were reminded all over again, European Pizza is so much better than New York pizza (see post here).

After a couple of months in Hong Kong, we have a few favourite spots where we go to eat when we don't really feel like trying something new....  Pizza Express is one of those spots.

Motorino Pizza - New York comes to Hong Kong

I love pizza!

It's a great way to start, right, stating the obvious.  Pretty much everyone loves pizza, and with good reason, it's a simple staple that just tastes great.  I've spent plenty of time in cities around the world where the pizza is supposed to be the best, including Rome and New York (see post here).  I found the pizza in Rome to be the best, but unfortunately, the pizza in New York was a mixed bag, ranging from completely amazing to pretty much 'meh.

Living in the Mid Levels means that I'm forever traipsing up and down the escalators (or magical anti-gravity machine) that runs from Central, right the way through Soho to Conduit Road.  It's hard not to notice that there is a little slice of New York, right in the centre of Soho.  Motorino Pizza is a little pizza joint that opened up in Brooklyn New York, a neighbourhood pizzeria with big ambitions. With outlets in New York, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore Hong Kong, the team from Motorino are bringing a slice of the Big Apple to Asia.

We'd zoomed up the magical anti-gravity machine dozens of times before we thought we'd stop in and see if we could be transported back to New York, and memories of our greatest holiday. Motorino is a pretty compact little restaurant and stepping through the front doors did transport us back to our time in New York.  Exposed brick walls were reminiscent of little cafes in the Little Italy and were very much a feature of many of the pizzerias in NYC.  

Friday, 3 April 2015

Ho Lee Fook - much more than a funny name

I'd only been in Hong Kong for a short time, just wandering around, exploring and trying to get my bearings, when I stumbled across a restaurant in trendy Soho's Elgin Street.  I actually did one of those comical double-take moments, you know the one, you catch a glance before your head snaps back to double check you've actually seen what you thought you saw.  Now, maybe it's just because I'm Australian, but when I see a place called Ho Lee Fook, I'm pissing myself laughing....  This is what happened, and then of course, I took some photos to share with my friends on Facebook.

Behind a very funny name is a very serious dude, Chef Jowett Yu, a young chef who's achieved a lot. A native from Taiwan, Yu spent most of his formative years in Canada before moving to Sydney in 2005, where he worked for legendary chef Tetsuya Wakada in arguably Australia's best restaurant of the last decade - Tetsuya's.  Not satisfied with working for one the world's best Asian chefs, Jowett went on to further success with Sydney's Mr. Wong and Ms. G’s - Mr. Wong's picking up the Australian Gourmet Traveller's best new restaurant of 2013.

It took me a couple of months, but I finally found my way back to Ho Lee Fook, this time with the express intent of satisfying my desire for some kick-ass Asian fusion.  We'd tried to make a booking for the restaurant, but as with many in Hong Kong, Ho Lee Fook had a no reservations policy, so it was get along and wait for a table....  Of course, we hate waiting for anything, so, with careful planning, we found ourselves standing at the top of the stairs that led down to the main dining room and scored the last available...  With a promise that we would be out by 8pm.


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