Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Pawn - The British invasion continues

In 1997, after over 150 years of ruling Hong Kong, the British handed back control to China amongst much fear and anxiety. That anxiety was largely unfounded.  In 2015, it seems as if Briton's imperialist aspirations have returned, only this time it takes a very different form.  It's UK chefs that are taking control of Hong Kong, and it's the dining scene that is seeing an invasion of the UK's top chefs.  

When you think of the UK chefs establishing themselves in Hong Kong, it's usually names like Gordon Ramsey (see post here), Jamie Oliver and Jason Atherton (see post here and here) that spring to mind.  However, they're not the only well known celebrity chefs expanding their global network of dining establishments.  Tom Aikens may not be the first chef you'd think of when talking UK chefs, but that could be about to change.  One of the stable of well known chefs that have dominated Great British Menu, Tom was over visiting his Hong Kong outpost, The Pawn.  Of course, we had to get along and check it out.

The Pawn is located in one of the last remaining heritage buildings left in Wan Chai. The Pawn recently went through major renovations, which thankfully kept much of it's heritage charm. Aikens, working with HK group the Press Room Group, has collaborated as consultant chef and brings his uniquely British take on casual fine dining.  The dining room sits atop two bar areas, which we had to traverse to get to the restaurant, having failed to notice the main entrance on Tai Wong Street.  Instead, we'd taken a dark and narrow staircase up through one of the bars, before finding our way to a rickety elevator to take us the dining floor.

Quick Bites - Beer and Fish (where's the beer)

Beer & Fish HK

One of the things I miss most about my former home, a country that is one big island where most of the population lives on the coastline, is the variety of fish available when visiting a fish and chip shop.  In most fish and chipperies in Australia, you have a myriad of options available, all of it amazing quality.  So far, I've discovered that there is a distinct lack of fish and chip joints, and the few good ones I've found, there are limited options available.

My favourite so far has been Hooked in Soho (see post here), but even this New Zealand run little joint has very few options for an adventurous diner.  So, it was with a little trepidation that we visited the new the SoHo fish and chip joint, Beer & Fish.  We'd had a few false starts over the last few weeks, walking by  a couple of Saturday afternoons in a row, only to find that Beer & Fish was 'not quite open' yet.  Then, one day, it was open!

Being brand new, Beer & Fish had that shiny new feeling about it, everything was shiny and clean and it looked pretty cool.  Exposed light fittings gave it a slightly industrial feel, as did the metal benches that doubled as serving benches.  Like a lot of dining spots in SoHo, Beer & Fish took up very little room, in fact it was tiny, and would probably only hold half a dozen diners at any one time.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

22 Ships - tapas at the cool end of town

I've not really been in Hong Kong long enough to have witnessed the gentrification of parts of Wan Chai. I mean I can still see elements of the old Hong Kong in the hip Hong Kong district, but it seems as if a large part of the area has already changed.  It's not for me to say whether that's a good or bad thing, I have a natural predilection towards urban renewal, but there are some parts of Wan Chai that are now pretty hip and cool.

Ship Street is probably one of the leading lights in the gentrification of Wan Chai, with an ever expanding number of cool little restaurants and bars, along with some of Asia's top restaurants (see post here and here).  It was with this in mind that we decided to catch up with local food buddy Cynthia from JustCozitsTuesday for dinner, it also helped that it was in Cynthia's neck of the woods for a change!  Big fans of Aberdeen Street Social (see post here), we went to Jason Atherton's other Hong Kong restaurant, casual diner 22 Ships.

Named after it's location in Ship Street, 22 Ships is easy to spot from the street.  As with a lot of small, hip restaurants, there's a no reservation policy at 22 Ships, which normally means you need all parties together to score a seat.  We'd arrived a little earlier and with puppy dog eyes, asked if we could take our seat as our friend would be joining pretty quickly.  The waitress took pity on us and led us to one of the few tables that was still available inside and as we waited for our dining companion to join us, we looked over the menu.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Linguini Fini - biggest pizza ever!

Always on the lookout for a quick and cheap dining option on the way home from work, we've had our eye on Linguini Fini for the last few months.  Located on the corner of Elgin and Shelley Streets in Soho, Linguini Fini immediately met one of our two requirements for a regular dining haunt, we walked by it every day on our way home from work, so convenient: Check!  There was only one way for us to find out if it met our other criteria, great tasting food, and that was to finally check it out.

Ironically, we went to Linguini Fini on a Sunday evening for dinner, so even though it was conveniently located on our walk home, we ended up coming at it from the wrong direction. Being a Sunday, we didn't think it would have been necessary to make a booking, and while the restaurant was quite busy with Sunday afternoon/evening expat drinkers, there were still tables available for diners.

If you've walked up the escalators through Soho, then you'd have seen Linguini Fini before, it's pretty hard to miss.  What makes it stand out so much is its open facade and its bright red neon sign, shining like a beacon calling in weary travellers for a beer and a pizza.  We were led around the back of the restaurant and given a seat that had a prime view of the kitchen, which gave me a bit of a sense of Linguini Fini.  Know for it's fresh produce that's locally sourced, I could see fresh pasta hanging from the ceiling and one of the chefs handling a huge fish that looked like it was squirming about, it was so fresh.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Fine Dining - Amber Hong Kong

Our first year in Hong Kong means a round of special occasions in a new country, you know the ones, birthdays, anniversaries and such. We've always had our favourite restaurants to revisit on those special occasions, but being in a new country means new dining spots and hopefully new memories.  We've had some lovely meals in Hong Kong so far, but were any worthy of revisits on a special occasion, that special someone only turns forty once right?

With an abundance of Michelin Starred restaurants in Hong Kong, we knew that we'd be able to find a great restaurant for dinner, but it had to be special.  So, what to do when presented with such a dilemma?  It was time to pull out the big guns, sure we could just look at the Michelin Starred list, but I wanted to go even better, so it was time to pull out the San Pellegrino - World's top 50 restaurants list.  There are some amazing restaurants in HK, but only one has consistently made the world's top 50 list, and that restaurant is Amber!

Amber has graced the list for five consecutive years, first joining the elite of world restaurants in 2011, where it listed as the 37th best restaurant on planet earth.  Since then, it's been a bit of a yo-yo ride up and down the list (currently back at #38), with it's highest ranking coming in 2014 where it came in at number twenty four, ahead of perennial favourites like Per Se and The Fat Duck.  Now, we're not strangers to the worlds restaurants in the world's top 50 list, with visits to Eleven Madison Park (#5 see post here), Le Bernadin (#18 see post here) and Attica (#32 see post here), so I was expecting something special.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

On Dining - On top of the world in Central

When you plan a move to another country, one of the things that's hardest to do is to say goodbye to friends and family.  Sure, everyone says all the right things, like 'of course we'll keep in touch' and 'it won't be long before we come and visit', but you alway have that nagging fear in the back of your mind that it might be a long, long time before you catch up again.

I guess the thing about moving to a county like Hong Kong is that it's pretty much the centre of the world, you can stop off here when travelling practically everywhere.  So, I've been pretty stoked that I've been able to host a few friends already in our short six months in country.  What's better is that as I've gotten to know HK, we can act as guides, both for touristy stuff and the important culinary stuff.  When a buddy was recently back in Hong Kong for the second time in as many months, I wanted to take her out somewhere special for dinner, and that spot was On Dining Kitchen and Lounge.

On Dining is the second restaurant from Philippe Orrico, the first being Michelin Starred Upper Modern Bistro, which is ironically a restaurant I'd dined with another of our visiting friends (see post here).  Philippe is joined by a trio of long-time friends in the venture, who between them have some experience at many of Hong Kong's finest restaurants.  While Philippe's first restaurant is in the back streets Sheung Wan, On Dining is right in the thick of HK's busy dining precinct in Central, and with little room for error in such a dining hot spot, we were expecting a meal every bit as good as it's Michelin Starred sister restaurant.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Cecconi's - their meatballs are amazing!

If you've been living in Hong Kong for any length of time, chances are, you've been to one of the restaurants that makes up the DiningConcepts stable.  In what has to be one of the most diverse portfolios of restaurants in HK, DiningConcepts has so many dining spots that they run a frequent diners club loyalty program.  With over over twenty different concepts, the team run such favourites as Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen (see post here) and Mario Batali's Lupa (see post here).

We've rather enjoyed most of our visits to the DiningConcepts restaurants, so have recently been keeping an eye out for one of their restaurants when looking for dinner.  Over the last few months, we'd had some pretty ordinary Italian cuisine, which is always disappointing given our love of Italian food.  So, when we spotted a little restaurant in Expat territory (Elgin Street), we breathed a sigh of relief when we saw it on the list managed by the group.

The front of Cecconi's is quite deceiving, it's hard to see into the restaurant, so it would be easy to miss the casual elegance of the white linen tables and the classy, yet understated dining room. Walking through the front door located under the slightly garish neon sign and into the quiet tranquility of the completely empty restaurant, completely removed us from bustling Soho and the heat of a typical Hong Kong evening.  We were taken directly to our table, which was located in a very comfy booth at the back of the restaurant, which gave me fantastic views of the pass.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Casual Dining - The Chop House

After living in Hong Kong for around six months, I'm starting to get a bit of a feel for the food scene in this monolith of a foodie city.  Now, I'm not going to pretend that I've got it nailed, it's likely that will never happen, no matter how many restaurants I visit, but I am getting attuned to the vibe.  Most of the time, I find it pretty easy to track down a restaurant that feels right, a restaurant that I'd happily go back to again and again.  However, every now and then, I find a spot that doesn't really resonate, a spot that's pretty forgettable and sometimes a restaurant that is just plain terrible.

It's not as if you can pick the quality of a restaurant by an area in Hong Kong, there are gems in just about every part of the city.  Causeway Bay has some very fond memories for me, largely due to our regular haunt, Din Tai Fung (see post here), but also such gems as Penthouse By Harlan Goldstein (see post here) and Paradise Dynasty (see post here).  Wanting to expand our Causeway Bay dining experience, we made our way to Soundwill Plaza (the home of the aforementioned Penthouse) for an evening at the Wooloomooloo Group's The Chop House.

The Wooloomooloo Group is responsible for a swag of premium steakhouses in Singapore and Hong Kong, as well as being named after one of Sydney's most famous inner city suburbs (Russell Crow's old stomping grounds - yes, I know it's spelt slightly different too!).  With Wooloomooloo Prime and Steakhouse the premium brands, the group have established a slightly more relaxed, casual dining experience called the Chop House.  


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