Sunday, 29 March 2015

'Off Night' One Off? Cenacolo Steak and Pasta

Everyone knows and understands that all humans have different tastes, likes and dislikes.  FMUS hates pumpkin and sweet potato, I think they make a fantastic soup, mash or generally anything else.  I am really not partial to salted caramel anything, but FMUS will always order that flavour if it is on the menu.  Writing this food blog has also reinforced that what works for one palate doesn't work for another, and what one person thinks was an amazing experience will be a really bad night on the town for another.  We experienced the negative side during a visit to Cenacolo Steak and Pasta in Soho.   

We were still HK newcomers, and had only recently discovered the little district known as Soho. (Fun fact - the original Soho in London was thought to be named after a battle cry; whereas SoHo in Manhattan means "south of Houston Street" and SoHo in HK means "south of Hollywood Road").  I had been tasked with finding somewhere for dinner in this area, and, not knowing what was really on offer, did some research and came across Cenacolo Steak and Pasta, in Graham Street.

Fook Lam Moon - Michelin Stars in Wan Chai

Sometimes in Hong Kong you just want to eat something local (and I'm not talking about dumplings either).  There are only so many burgers, chips, burritos, steak, pizza and bowls of pasta that can be consumed before your stomach says "Enough!  For heaven's sake, you're in Hong Kong, have some fried rice and crispy chicken!!".  So with that, about two weeks after arriving in Hong Kong, we decided to take the short MTR ride after work to Wan Chai to try Fook Lam Moon, and continue our 'baby-steps' exploration of the local Cantonese cuisine. 

We were a little early, but also had no idea where the restaurant was in relation to the MTR station, so headed off for a little stroll to get our bearings.  As luck would have it, we had headed in the right direction and shortly found ourselves outside Fook Lam Moon, where the front of house staff member was ready to greet us and usher us up in the lift.

Breakfast Series - Wagyu Lounge

When the Big Boy recently visited us in Hong Kong, he wanted to have an "Aussie breakfast".  After living in Taiwan for so long, he was looking forward to tucking into some bacon and eggs, something that you would find in any suburban bistro in Australia, but which is more difficult to find in Asia.  With its bustling expat culture, there are a lot of places in Hong Kong set up to attract that Western palate, so we did a little bit of research and arranged to have an early start on the Saturday morning.

The most difficult part about finding a breakfast spot in Hong Kong is finding somewhere that opens at a time that is more in line with breakfast rather than brunch.  Not being the party animals that we used to be, breakfast for us is usually consumed before 9am, but many places in Hong Kong don't open until later, catering more to the 'bleary-eyed' crowd.  We did, however, manage to find Wagyu Lounge, which is open for we early risers, but also doubles as a  bar for later in the day.  So we hoofed it across the HK zoo to above Lan Kwai Fong where Wagyu was ready for our business.

Burgers, burgers and more burgers - The Burger Shop by Shake 'em Buns

Wandering around Central one day, I spied a little burger shop with a funny name. At the time I was not that familiar with the area between Queens Road Central and Soho, and could not remember where I had seen it.  Fast forward a couple of weeks and I came across it again, however this time I know where I was and suggested to FMUS that we check it out after work one night.

Of course I only had to say the word "burger" and FMUS was keen.  The Big Boy was flying into Hong Kong so we decided to try The Burger Shop by Shake 'em Buns before heading out to the airport to meet him.  Lucky for us we were there not long after it opened as, like other burger places in Central, there is not that much space and it quickly filled up.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

On the hunt for more xiao long bao at Paradise Dynasty

Xiao long bao you say? Causeway Bay you say?  Surely that means (yet) another visit to Din Tai Fung? On any week night you would be correct, dashing from work straight to the MTR for the short ride out for soup dumpling goodness. However this time it was the weekend, and we were at the other side of Causeway Bay, wandering Times Square and Lee Gardens, and didn't fancy trying to mimic salmon swimming upstream against the hordes of people heading to the shops.  

We had been wandering around Lee Gardens, enjoying a spot of window shopping, when we spied a sign for Paradise Dynasty, with the multi-coloured xiao long bao pictured.  Intrigued by the colours, we decided to try our luck at getting a table, thinking lunchtime around Causeway Bay would be a nightmare.  Walking out of the lift we were struck by the large foyer area filled with tables, however we did not have to worry about waiting, as at that time of the day it seemed we had avoided the queues.  We also noticed the restaurant's sign "Paradise Dynasty: Legend of Xiao Long Bao".  Hmmm, sounded like something out of a very tasty movie!  

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The coolest restaurant name in Hong Kong - Madam Sixty Ate

With so many restaurants in Honkers, one of the fun games is trying to figure out which are the best to dine at.  Sure, there are restaurant guides, like the Michelin Guide and Open Rice, but it's often word of mouth where the absolute surprises come along.  We were heading out as a team for a farewell lunch for one member of the team who was leaving for greener pastures and wound up at one of the best surprises I've had in Hong Kong so far.

Usually when we go out for a team lunch, it's one of the many local restaurants in Central but this time we went just a little further afield to Wan Chai.  With a couple of options to get from Central to Wan Chai, which includes walking, we took the tram that runs along Des Voeux Road and moves into Johnston Road.  It was my first time on one of the skinny little trams that I've seen hundreds of times.  Yep, they get crowded and while it was marginally faster than walking or the MTR, it was a bit of an experience....  Not sure I'd do it in the middle of summer though.

Once we jumped off the tram we made our way to the restaurant, which had the funky name of Madam Sixty Ate.  Like a lot of restaurants in Hong Kong, Madam Sixty Ate is not on street level, but up on level one.  As we made our way through a little bit of an entry area, past the bar, we came to the main dining room, which was surprisingly large and very airy.  The high ceilings and open spaces provided a really pleasant vibe, which was helped by the open kitchen area with chefs busy at work.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Michelin Starred Ming Court at the Langham Mongkok

I'm slowly finding my way around Hong Kong and while I don't know it as well as SC, I was pretty happy that I made my way across to a presentation gig at the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok solo.  Ha, if you know Hong Kong, you're probably thinking that it's so easy to get to Mongkok from Central, and you're right.  However, throw in a few million people all trying to get around at the same time, along with being naturally clueless when it comes to public transport and general directions, well, let's just say I was pretty happy I was able to find it.

As I made my way to the presentation area, which was at the Langham Place Hotel, I noticed that one of the lifts went to the Hotel restaurant, the Ming Court.  A flood of memories hit me when I realised that I was standing only a lift ride away from a restaurant that my mate the Big Boy had been banging on about for the longest time.  In fact, each time he talks about Hong Kong or coming to visit, the Ming Court features heavily in the conversation.  Normally just nod and then look for somewhere else to go, but since I'd found the place I made a note to get back that very weekend with SC for a visit.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Lupa by Mario Batali - bringing a bit of the Big Apple to Hong Kong

Wandering around Central one evening we heard some pumping beats coming from somewhere overhead.  A closer inspection skywards revealed a small yellow sign above Theatre Lane, announcing the location of Lupa by Mario Batali.  As soon as FMUS saw the sign he knew we had to try it out.  We had previously dined at Eataly, one of Batali's many NYC establishments while on our Manhattan odyssey (see post here), and were keen to try out another of his ventures.  

Everyone knows the myth surrounding the foundation of Rome - Romulus and Remus, originally left for dead but suckled by a she-wolf on the banks of the Tiber, rose to form the new city of Rome.  Remus was killed by Romulus over a dispute about whether to build on the Palantine Hill or Aventine Hill, but the iconic image of the twins suckling on the lupa (Latin for she-wolf) has remained as steadfast as the great city herself.  It was only fitting that an Italian restaurant should take the name of the she-wolf, as a symbol of simple Roman style dining.  It helps that the restauranteur in question, Mario Batali, is one of the biggest names on the US and now international dining scene....

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Tate Dining Room and Bar - a standout in a city with standouts

There is a mind boggling number of restaurants in Hong Kong, in fact, it's pretty hard to get your head around how many there really are.  Practically everywhere you go, every building, has a dining room of some kind.  To put that in context, there are over seven million people and around 6,000 skyscrapers in the greater Hong Kong area.  Open Rice, Hong Kong's main online restaurant guide, lists around 79,000 restaurants, so finding a restaurant is not a problem.  Finding a great restaurant is the challenge.

Walking around, I see lots of restaurants that I'd like to get back to and visit, but with so many around, I often forget which ones I want to get back to.  We were walking up Elgin on Saturday night, just looking around, when we walked past a stylish little dining room that looked the goods.  It helped that there was a cute little horse head that held up a quaint little sign that stated the restaurant open.  Triggering a memory, I checked my list of Michelin Starred restaurants I wanted to visit and sure enough, the little restaurant was on my list!

Tate Dining Room and Bar is the creation of Vicki Lau, a graduate of New York University in Graphic Communication.  With an obvious flare for the creative, Vicki commenced a recreational endeavour at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu, one of the worlds most prestigious hospitality education institutions.  It was a decision that would set the course of Vicki's life and out her as one of the Region's most creative and influential chefs.  Combining an appreciation of design with the culinary arts, Tate has won a coveted Michelin Star from 2013 through to 2015, culminating in being named Asia's best female chef.

A night at the Spandau Ballet - Gold by Harlan Goldstein

We have discovered that dining in Hong Kong is slightly different to Australia, in that it is more difficult to just walk in to a restaurant and ask for a table without a reservation, even if the restaurant is mostly empty.  With this in mind I had decided to make a reservation for dinner at Gold by Harlan Goldstein on a Friday night.  Unfortunately on the night in question FMUS was still suffering from a stomach bug, so we had to reschedule to the following week.  Finally that night was here, and we headed in for what we hoped to be a good meal at the flagship restaurant of one of Hong Kong's more prolific restauranteurs.

Harlan Goldstein is a New Yorker who worked under 3-Michelin starred chef Jean Banchet in Chicago, before travelling to Asia and working at some of the top hotel restaurants in the region.  He moved to Hong Kong and, after working at the Aberdeen Marina Club, has now opened his own stable of restaurants in Hong Kong.  We had eaten at one of his other restaurants very early in our Hong Kong experience (see post here) and were impressed with the simple yet tasty dishes served.  We were hoping that with a Michelin star, Gold would top our experience at Penthouse. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Taking the cheaper option - Le Cafe de Joel Robuchon

This blog has taken a little longer to get to - not because the food was so bad that I didn't want to write about it but because so much has been going on since then that the time has just slipped away!  During the time that the Big Boy was in Hong Kong visiting us, I decided to take both he and FMUS across on the Star Ferry to Kowloon, for a small glimpse of some of the areas I had been exploring since arriving in Hong Kong in January.  It was a cold and windy day, so we limited ourselves to indoor activities - shopping centres!  Lunch was then of course an easy choice - Le Cafe de Joel Robuchon in the Harbour City Shopping Centre.

Regular readers of this blog will know that FMUS is a big fan of all things fine dining, and had the opportunity to attend L'Atelier de Joes Robuchon in Singapore on a work trip last year (see post here).  Not really having the time (or the inclination) to do the full Robuchon experience for lunch, Le Cafe presented a cheaper option, yet one where the food is still above average and certainly much better than your usual shopping centre fare.  The beautiful thing about Le Cafe by Joel Robuchon is that you can have a full meal, or just enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and some lovely cakes. 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

SOHOFAMA - Asian Fusion

It's not often that I put myself in the hands of another blogger when deciding what to have for dinner, but that's exactly what I did recently.  

Knowing I was moving to Hong Kong, a social media buddy of mine suggested I get in contact with local blogger Cynthia from Just coz its Tuesday.  Cynthia is in the unique position of living in both Hong Kong, and my home town Brisbane - the best of both worlds.  Of course dinner needed to be arranged.

We'd arranged to meet at SOHOFAMA, which was one of the many cool eating holes at the PMQ which also housed Vasco (see post here) and Aberdeen Street Social (see post here).  Arriving well ahead of time, which is our usual way, we'd spent some time looking at the Night Markets and the cool arty shops that make up most of PMQ.  One of the last spots we'd looked at was a cool little clothing store, which unbeknown to us, was actually part of SOHOFAMA.

Described as a place where urban farming meets comfort Chinese cuisine, SOHOFAMA's goal is to raise awareness of healthy living through serving quality, chemical-free food.  Searching for locally grown ingredients that support the community, SOHOFAMA draws on traditional Chinese traditions to deliver on a modern take - almost Chinese fusion but between modern and traditional.

Burger Circus - old school burger goodness

What better place for a US style burger joint than Hollywood Road?  I'd walked past Burger Circus a heap of times while exploring Soho, but it had always been super busy, with queues down the street.  I've never been one for queuing, so I'd just keep walking by.  It would take planning to get in to test out these burgers, and judging by the queues, I was anticipating a superior burger (no pressure!).

Designed to resemble a train carriage, Burger Circus plays homage to the original American diners which often operated out of abandoned railway cars and were sometimes open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.  Not quite open 24/7, Burger Circus plies its trade in freshly ground burgers, all American Sandwiches and traditional deserts from 12pm until late.  So, we'd planned our morning around hitting the joint around 12 to ensure we didn't have to wait.

It was a good thing too, we were standing out the front of the Hollywood Road burger joint shortly after 12 and most of the seats were already taken.  In fact, our only option was to sit at the bar counter, which actually suited us better, we could get a first had view of Burger Circus in action.  Unlike some of the other burger joints around HK, where there is a limited menu, the Burger Circus menu is action packed, with a heap of burgers, sides, sandwiches and a pretty extensive drinks selection. 

CIAK in the Kitchen - Michelin Starred Itailan

The Landmark Building in Central has got to be one of the most impressive in Hong Kong, especially when you consider the sheer number of Michelin Starred restaurants that it houses.  Included in that list of special restaurants are two 3 Michelin Starred restaurants and a 2 star restaurant that graces the San Pellegrino 'Worlds top 50 restaurant list'.  But it's not all about mega expensive restaurants in the Landmark, there is also one of the more reasonably priced Michelin Starred restaurants in HK.

CIAK in the Kitchen is the latest creation from legendary chef Umberto Bombana and successfully conveys its old world philosophy of an Italian Grocery, where people can enjoy high quality products on site or take away.  It's a trattoria where only the freshest ingredients are used and focused around a series of 'open kitchens' that specialise in pasta, pizza, charcoal grill and pastry.  Most seats in the 8,000 square foot dining room can watch the artistry of chefs as they prepare the delicious CIAK menu.

After a series of cheap and cheerful meals, we'd decided that we wanted a nice meal that wouldn't break the bank, so after a little research, SC picked CIAK.  It had the added benefit of being really close to my place of work, so we'd be able to get stuck in and eating in quick time.  It's quite a pleasant walk to CIAK, past some of most exclusive stores in Hong Kong in a building that has been designed with opulence in mind (The Mandarin Orient Hotel also calls the building home).

Cheap Eats - Majesty Seafood Restaruant

Majesty Seafood Retaurant

It's easy to get carried away eating dumplings in Hong Kong, most Chinese restaurants seem to do dim sum during the busy lunch period.  My dumplings place of choice is Din Tai Fung (see post here), but there is not a Din Tai Fung close to work, so I've had to look for other places to dine.  You'd think that would be easy with so many restaurants, right?  Well, I'm finding it pretty difficult, mainly because most of the restaurants are not on street level, but on various floors in high rise buildings, so it's a bit hit and miss.

I've managed to find one restaurant nearby that is clearly marked from street level and is relatively easy to access...  I mean, you just have to go up a couple of floors in a rickety old elevator and guess at the right level because I can't quite read Chinese yet!

The Majesty Seafood Restaurant takes up the whole of level two (or three) and has pretty awesome views of Queens Road Central for a brief respite during lunch from the crazy crowds that make up Central HK.  On my first visit, I was placed right by the window and had a great view of the crush of crowds below.

Cheap Eats - Wilburs HK

There was a time where the only burger I would eat in Hong Kong was from the Butchers Club, they're pretty awesome.  But as a food blogger, my blog gets pretty boring if I just eat in the same spot every day, so it was time to spread my burger wings.

Continuing the daily lunch exploration around my workplace in Central, I came across another spot in Wyndham Street called Wilbur's burgers-burritos-lobster and thought it was worth giving it a try.  It was easy to get a table right on 12pm on a weekday and was quickly surrounded by wait staff giving out the menu and a tall glass of cold water (a rarity in HK where the water is normally served hot).

As advertised from the street, the menu consisted of a number of burgers, burritos and lobster rolls.  I was sorely tempted to pick up a lobster roll, with memories still fresh from my 2013 trip to New York where lobster rolls were plentiful and superb...  But, I stuck to my guns and ordered the wagyu beef burger, which based on the photos around the joint would be pretty awesome.

Cheap Eats - Fringe Vault

There are simply too many restaurants in Hong Kong and sometimes wandering around, it's a matter of analysis paralysis on where to eat, especially for lunch.  I've taken to exploring the little part of HK near my work at Central, trying to find a great little place where I can fall back to when needed.  

I thought I'd found just the right spot when walking up the first part of Wyndham Street.  Fringe Vault looks pretty cool, located in a red brick building, it reminded me of the cool little cafes that you'd stumble across in Melbourne.  A sneaky look through the window reinforced that view, and a quick look at the all day breakfast menu convinced me that I was onto a winner.

Inside was cool, really cool.  Exposed brick walls with cool artwork abounding along with polished cement floors had me convinced my meal to come would be the goods.  I ordered my 'lusty big breakfast' and a hot chocolate at the counter, then made my way into the dining area for a seat to await my meal.  The tables and chairs further added to the feeling of cool, all were outdoor furniture pieces that combined to give a great vibe...  I felt really comfortable while sitting there, I really did.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Aberdeen Street Social - Invasion of the British Chefs

I first came across the name Jason Atherton while watching one of my all time favourite cooking shows out of the UK.  Great British Menu is a program that pits the UK's top chefs, often with two or three Michelin Stars, against each other in daily cook offs.  It's like a cage battle where many go in and only a few come out.  Jason Atherton was one of the contestants in 2008 and in his first appearance, won through to the main banquet, no less preparing the main course (the most coveted spot).

It was Atherton's only appearance on the show as a contestant, but he later returned to the show as one of the Mentor's and weeknight judges.  Great British Menu has a history of taking amazing chefs and putting them in the spotlight, which certainly doesn't hurt their careers and many of the chefs who have appeared have seen their restaurants flourish.  Not that Jason Atherton needed the attention! He worked for Gordan Ramsey directly and was the executive chef of Maze in London before leaving in 2010 to establish his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social, which won a Michelin Star in its first year.

Aberdeen Street Social is Jason Atherton's flagship restaurant in Hong Kong and is part of his growing stable of International restaurants, including Singapore, Dubi and Shanghi.  Located at the super cool PMQ complex, Aberdeen Street Social combines a fine dining restaurant with a more casual and relaxed bar section that also serves food.  We'd decided that a Sunday night visit was in order, so rocked up without a reservation, after misreading the website stating that no reservations were required.  We were greeted with a puzzled look, one that said 'no reservation? how dare you?' but after a few minutes were shown upstairs and granted a seat.


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