Wednesday, 21 October 2015

London - Hibiscus

It's extraordinary the lengths I'll go to sometimes to have dinner with a mate.  

I found myself travelling to the UK at the same time as a buddy from Brisbane, so of course we arranged to meet up for dinner. The last time we caught up for a meal was the very special Fish House on the Gold Coast (see post here) and while that was a bit of a trek, by meeting up in London, we'd outdone ourselves.

I'd already hit up a couple of two Michelin Star restaurants for my short trip to London (The Square and Marcus), so thought what the heck, another couldn't hurt, right?  The very highly rated Hibiscus was the target of my attention and I was excited to check out the very passionate offering from Claude Bosi.

Originally opened in 2000, Claude purchased a site in the market town of Ludlow, which quickly earned a reputation as destination dining spot, earning a coveted Michelin Star in its first year of operation.  The second star was not far behind in 2003, which Claude has kept to this date.  Not even a move from Ludlow to central London could put a dent in the fine diner's popularity.  If anything, the move significantly enhanced the Hibiscus brand.

I'd arranged to meet Kev at Hibiscus, which was a lot harder to find than I thought possible. Google Maps had me all over the area and while I was able to find Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social, Hibiscus eluded me.  I literally had to to a 'house by house' inspection before I found the little brass nameplate.  Talk about a discreet entrance!  I waited outside for Kev, who regaled me with his own tale of trying to find the restaurant.

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana - The Italian King

When you visit a three Michelin Starred restaurant, you have a certain level of expectation.  I had very high expectations going in to my reservation for 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana, not just because it was three Michelin Stars, but because it was the first Italian three star restaurant located outside of Italy.  There was added pressure though, the purpose of my visit was for our 18th wedding anniversary, so  it was a special occasion too.

It had required careful planning to get into 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo for our anniversary dinner.  The restaurant is one of the most popular and consistently packed restaurants in Hong Kong and long range reservations are a requirement.  The fact that Umberto Bombana's fine diner has been open since January 2010 and it's popularity has not diminished at all in Hong Kong's ultra competitive dining scene is a testament to his genius.

That 8 1/2 Ottoe e Mezzo received two Michelin Stars within month's of it's opening signified that something special was going down, but in December 2011, Chef Umberto's legend was secured with his third star.

Yeah, expectations were high!

Sunday, 18 October 2015

London - Marcus ten years on

The very first Michelin Starred restaurant I went to was the two star Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley in Central London.  It was also my first trip to Europe, and to say that I was excited was an understatement.  At the time, London was the epicentre of global cuisine and Marcus Wareing was in the top 100 restaurants in the world.  It was a lock - I was going to have the best meal of my life!

But I didn't...

Now, I'm not saying that the meal was bad, far from it, it just wasn't the mind blowing and life changing experience that I'd built it up to be.  Sure, the service we received was outstanding, in fact, up until that point, I don't think we'd ever really experienced service at such a professional level.  It's just that the food was good, and I was expecting great.

Fast forward a bit, quite a bit in fact.  I was travelling back to London, this time solo for work and had a free day to hit a few restaurants, one of which was lunch the Square (see post here), followed by dinner on the same day, at Marcus.  Now, Marcus was the new name for Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley and while still located inside the Berkeley Hotel, the restaurant had taken on a slightly more casual approach to dining.  Oh, it was still rated as a two Michelin starred restaurant.

I was keen for redemption, would I find it?

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Blue Butcher - Superb Steaks in Funky Soho

I'm forever surprised by the hidden gem restaurants dotted around Hong Kong, more so when I walk by a spot, not realising that an absolute cracker of a restaurant is nearby.  But then, to be fair, sometimes I walk around with my head in the clouds!

The girl has mentioned the name Blue Butcher to me a couple of times as we've walked down Hollywood Road in the Mid Levels, but it never connected with me that the dark little bar front was actually hiding something more my style!  It wasn't until a mate from work said his favourite steak place in HK was the Blue Butcher that I had the light bulb moment - we booked a table immediately.

I'd arranged to meet the girl at the restaurant and when I rocked up out the front, SC was finishing up with a beer at the downstairs bar.  It was still a mystery to me that there was a steak restaurant around, especially looking at the facade, but after we walked up the stairs, it all became clear.  A huge space opened up that was equal measures dark pub and funky industrial style kitchen.  

We were initially booked in for a seat at the bar, which we were very comfortable with, but as we were being seated, our waitress indicated that a table had opened up, as long as we were out by 8pm - easily done!  We were seated by the window, which overlooked Hollywood Road and gave me a great view of the kitchen.  

Sunday, 11 October 2015

La Vache - steak frites Parisian style

There has been a long standing battle for the ownership of a national cuisine!  No, I'm not talking about the stoush between Australia and New Zealand over the beloved pavlova, I'm talking about something much more serious.

Steak-frites is a very common and popular dish served in brasseries throughout Europe, most notably in Belgium and France, where both lay claim as its birthplace.  Simply translated, it is a combination of steak and fries and in reality, many countries could probably lay claim to the dish.  Typically using entrecĂ´te, French for the premium cut or rib eye, the fatty steak is usually cooked medium rare and served with golden fries and topped with a bĂ©arnaise sauce.

It's somewhat surprising to learn that Hong Kong has adopted the steak-frites revolution, with a serious number of players in the space.  In fact, SoHo in the Midlevels has more steak-frites restaurant than you can count, with Peel Street housing three within sight of each other!  I'd been eyeing off many of these brasseries and decided it was high time to check on out! 

With so many to choose from, I simply picked one that had the coolest name and best looking web site.  Conveniently located in Peel Street, stepping into La Vache was like being transported to Paris, the staff and the fit-out screamed chic Parisian charm.  We didn't have a reservation, but were informed that there was a table available, as long as we were out by 8pm - not a problem we assured our maitre 'd.

Private Dining - The Popsy Room

There is a saying, I know you've heard it before; 'Art is in the eye of the beholder'.

But what is Art?  Contemporary wisdom tells us that it's a painting on a wall, a sculpture in a park or an exhibit in a gallery.  But is that all?  Over the last few years, artists have been using a new canvas for their pursuits - the plate.  The advent of the blogger, the food photographer and Instagram have helped transform gastronomy to arguably the most popular of all art!

This was never so evident than when I recently visited a private dining room that is an art gallery by day and gastronomic gallery by night.  The Popsy Room is an art gallery in Sheung Wan, an area that is rapidly transforming into the hippest of Hong Kong areas.  So it's fitting that such a juxtaposition of contemporary art and dining art start to bleed into each other.

Rotating exhibitions through the Popsy Room every two months keeps things fresh, but it is their approach to marrying the visual arts together that's so interesting.  The dining room takes direct inspiration from each exhibition, creating a menu that's in perfect harmony to tell a compelling story.  At the time of our visit, the gallery had a tribute to Madame Helena Rubinstein's legendary life, outlining her audacity and passion for creating a beauty empire.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

New Zealand Series - Bistro Gentil

I was looking forward to heading back to New Zealand for a holiday, it had been an exciting year to date, which included changing jobs and moving to HK.  As exciting as the year had been, I really needed a break and what better way to do so than a short ski holiday. Of course when I travel anywhere nowadays, I'm always considering the food angle and looking for the very best local dining.  I was a little bit dubious that I would find something amazing while travelling to Wanaka, a town in the South Island of NZ with the total population of 5,037.  Boy was I wrong!

Checking into our cute little bed and breakfast, Wanaka Haven, we immediately asked our host, Steve, for some local recommendations and without missing a beat, Bistro Gentil was mentioned.  Never one to delay, we asked if Steve could get us in for dinner the night of our arrival.  A quick call revealed he couldn't, the place was full, which was quite a promising sign.  Asking for the next available sitting, we were able to secure a reservation a few days in.  No matter, some skiing would have us anticipating the meal even more.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

London - The Square

I almost don't know where to begin, honestly.

I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks working out of London, which was exciting enough on its own, but even more so given my love of fine dining.  With a veritable smorgasbord of incredible restaurants on offer, how would I ever be able to narrow the choice down to just a few special dining establishments?

Let me start off by saying, I couldn't get into my first, second or third choice restaurants, even though I had plenty of time to book.  Let's just say that some restaurants are almost impossible to get into, and leave it at that.  As I worked my way down my list of restaurants I'd dreamed about dining in, I finally found a lunchtime spot available at Mayfair stalwart The Square by Phil Howard.

With two Michelin Stars held since 1998, The Square is an institution in London and chef and co-owner Phil Howard regarded as arguably one of the best chefs in Europe.  In fact, in an Instagram conversation with a former alumni of the Square, a guy that runs one of the best restaurants in Brisbane, it was put to me that the Square and Phil Howard were responsible for producing and inspiring thousands of top chefs globally.  The reverence in which both are held were clear and I knew I would be in for a treat.

Cheap Eats - Miss Kays Brisbane

My recent vacation to Brisbane held many surprises, in particular the number of openings and closings of restaurants.  When I lived in Brisbane, I knew there were lots of changes afoot, but like the proverbial 'frog in hot water' you don't really notice the change in temperature until it's too late.  Coming back after eight months away was like being dropped into a vat of boiling water, the changed foodie landscape was plain to see.

Knowing about my love of burgers, I'd been told by a number of friends and followers that there was a great new burger joint in the CBD and that I 'had to check it out'.  It was a huge coincidence that I'd noticed Miss Kays at around the same time, ironically, located at the site of the Villager (see post here), which had closed during my time away.

SC was off with her cousin, who she'd bumped into while we were walking up the Queen Street Mall, so I took the opportunity to leave the girls to catch up and made my way around the corner to Miss Kays.


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