Sunday, 29 November 2015

London - Smiths of Smithfield by John Torode

One of my foodie observations is how the zeitgeist has changed over the last decade, with the super star chef front and centre in people's consciousness.  This has almost certainly been driven by the transition of the chef moving out from the kitchen and into the television studio.  One cooking show in particular has taken the world by storm, and that show is Masterchef.  The original Masterchef kicked off in the UK before the concept was picked up by other markets and at last count, there were fifty countries that run a version of Masterchef!

While the concept started in the UK, the Australian version is credited with helping to transform the show, providing a more glamorous approach that, for me, was a little too heavy on the drama and was less about the food.  One of the great ironies of Masterchef is that the Australian version is hosted by an ex British chef living in Australia (Gary Mehigan) and the UK version has an ex Aussie hosting (John Torode) - go figure!

I was recently in the UK for work and looking for a place to check out, and my boss recommended a little place called Smiths of Smithfield, one of his favourite steak restaurants run by Jonty Rhodes.  I thought is strange that an ex South African cricket star would run a steak restaurant in London, but hey, the South Africans are well known meat lovers.  It wasn't until I made the reservation and had a look at the web site, that I realised that I'd heard wrong and that Smiths of Smithfield was actually run by none other than John Torode!  I felt like an idiot :)

While I'd done my fair share of solo dining in London (The Square, Marcus, Maze Grill), I was actually able to convince one of my colleagues to come along and check out Smiths with me. Hailing from the US and an avid meat lover, bringing KH along to visit a steak restaurant seemed like the right thing to do.  However, trying to find the place, especially for a couple of tourists, turned out to be a little harder than expected and there was a lot of walking involved to find the funky restaurant in Charterhouse Street.  Not an issue for me, but a huge one for KH, who'd been recovering for ankle surgery, who took a little extra time to find the joint.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Twenty Six by Liberty - worth the wait

What makes a restaurant desirable?  It's a question that many a restauranteur and chef has probably asked themselves a million times!  Long wait times to secure a table is often a measure of desirability, but is that all? Perhaps, but perhaps not!  I've entered waiting lists for many restaurants that have ended up being a let down, simply because of the elevated expectations by having to wait.  Equally, I've secured a table in restaurants with only a few hours notice, which have been incredibly desirable (luck plays a part!).

I've been lusting over Twenty Six by Liberty for a little while, ever since I came across some photos of Executive Chef Bjoern Alexander's take on modern cuisine.  The German born chef has an eye for the dramatic and his food presentation is nothing short of gastronomic visual porn. Having started his career in legendary American Chef Thomas Keller's French Laundry, before continuing onto countless two and three Michelin-starred restaurants, Chef Bjoern had created level of desirability that I'd not felt for a little while.

I will admit that my desire to check out Twenty Six by Liberty was fuelled by the fact that the place is nearly impossible to get into!  I'd tried without success to make a reservation on a Friday or Saturday night, and it wasn't until I tried to book on a Tuesday night that I managed to secure a seat.  I wasn't really sure if I felt like the ten course tasting menu mid week, but figured I could just about manage it :)

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Caprice - A generous and delicious tasting menu

When I rang to make my reservation at Caprice, I was reminded twice through the call that dress standards applied.  As if I needed reminding!  Caprice is one of the finest restaurants in Hong Kong and located in the exclusive Four Seasons Hotel, so I didn't really need to be told that dinner would be an occasion to dress up!

There was a touch of controversy in 2014, when Caprice lost both it's third star and acclaimed head chef Vincent Thierry, which meant that new face of Caprice, chef Fabrice Vulin had stepped into the lion's den.  Was Caprice on the way down, of was the loss of a star just a hiccup in the history of the great restaurant?  French born Vulin was certainly an inspired replacement, having run many two and three Michelin-starred restaurants across France and the rest of Europe.

We knew we were stepping into the heart of Hong Kong's elite when we crossed the threshold of the Four Seasons Hotel.  Not only is the building quite intimidating, the plethora of Ferraris and Bentleys parked out front reminded us that there was plenty of money in HK.  We'd not been to the HK Four Seasons before, but it's a beautiful building with immaculately presented staff that were only too happy to help us find Caprice.

We arrived right on opening time, and spent a few moment inspecting the immaculate entrance to Caprice, before our Maitre 'd noticed us and quickly came over to give us a hearty welcome. When we'd booked, we were told that we'd be unlikely to secure a window seat, so were pleasantly surprised when shown to our table that was right by the window and afforded us spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Taipei - RAW; the new breed of restaurant

For more than a few years, my best mate the Big Boy has been living and establishing a business in Taipei.  It's a long way to visit from Australia, but just a short flight from Hong Kong, so I've been able to get across to visit a few times.  As usual, when visiting any country, I try hit up the better restaurants, so I can check out the local dining scene. During my first visit, earlier in the year, we tried to get into Taipei's hottest restaurant RAW; but to no avail.  That place was hard to get into!

I decided there had to be another way, so for my most recent visit to Taipei, I did a little more research and realised that their might be another way.  RAW is Andre Chiang's first foray into his native homeland after establishing himself as one of Asia's top restaurant, Andre in Singapore (ranked #5 in Asia's top 50).  As luck would have it, I became mates with a guy who was a little bit connected in the Singaporean food scene and was well acquainted with Chef Andre.  Before too long, I'd secured a table on a Saturday night!  (Thanks EB!)

I was pretty excited to be honest, Taipei has a burgeoning food scene, largely being driven by the likes of Andre Chiang, and RAW was said to be the pick of the new breed of Taiwanese cuisine.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Porterhouse by Laris - a brilliant lunch set menu

In my short time in Hong Kong, I've had some of the most amazing, and most expensive meals of my life.  I mean, seriously expensive meals where I've walked out of a restaurant in shock and with 'buyers remorse'.  This is a symptom of a lot of great restaurants, but largely the fact that practically all food has to be imported to Hong Kong.

It's why I am completely amazed by the fact that you can go to some of those same amazing restaurants for lunch and get a similar feed for a fraction of the price.  I'm not really sure why, but there is a thriving lunchtime food scene in Hong Kong and it's really, really cheap.  I was again reminded of this phenomenon recently when we went out for a team lunch and hit up new spot Porterhouse by Laris.

Located in the newly renovated, and might I say now impressive looking California Tower in Lan Kwai Fong, and established by Aussie Chef David Laris, Porterhouse is a contemporary and upscale steak house more akin to the Australian version of a steak restaurant than the currently stylish 'Steak Frites' places dotted around Hong Kong.  No stranger to working overseas, Chef Laris had spent time refining his trade in London's Mezzo before moving to Shanghai and establishing his own award winning restaurants.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The First Floor - the best of surprises

We were walking home from work one evening, taking a new route for some strange reason, and happened along a pretty fancy restaurant launch.  It looked pretty inviting, with red carpet and lots of floral arrangements, but we were on a mission to get somewhere (can't even remember where now!) and made a mental note to get along and check it out.  There was one problem though, we didn't bother to find out the name of the restaurant!

It wasn't a huge problem though, we knew it was in Duddell Street and easy enough to find.  It was a Tuesday night and we felt adventurous, so wandered along Duddell Street, up the steep stairs to find our mystery restaurant.  Called 'the First Floor', we banked on the place not being too busy on a Tuesday night and rocked up without a reservation.  As luck would have it, we were welcomed with open arms and shown to a table and, not for the first time in Hong Kong, were the only people in the restaurant!

Only the First Floor is not really a restaurant, but a private club thats been set up by media group 'Lifestyle Federation'.  Part dining room, part open demonstration kitchen and 'part lounge for hire', the First Floor also has a humador for those that like a cigar after dinner.  It's plush too, really plush!  Our very comfortable seats were red velvet like seats and were placed around tables that were set for silver service.

London - MazeGrill, the more casual Gordon Ramsay

London is the home base for Gordon Ramsay, so I made it my mission to visit one of the great chef's restaurants during my recent visit.  It turned out to be easier said than done!  First on my list was the three Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsey, a must for any foodie visiting London.  Nope, no chance of getting in!  Next on my list was one of Gordon's first great restaurants, Petrus, and while I could secure a seat at around 9:30pm, it was a bit too late for a reservation.

And so I worked down the list of Gordon Ramsay restaurants until I was able to secure a seat.  I ended up getting a table at Maze, not the Michelin starred Maze, but the more casual MazeGrill located in Mayfair.  You know the old saying, beggars can't be choosers!  I was just happy to be getting along to a Ramsay restaurant at all, and thankfully, I ended up having one of my best nights in London!

I'd had some time to kill and found myself wandering around Mayfair for about an hour before my allotted reservation time.  Wow, you can certainly get a feel for the wealth of the area, it's quite a spectacular little patch of Planet Earth.  After getting my fill of seeing the wealthy side of London, I made my way to the beautiful old building that housed MazeGrill to get my fill of some delicious food.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

EPURE - superb French fine dining, but wheres the Michelin Star?

This was the week the Hong Kong & Macau Michelin Guide was updated.  Now, this post is not about the guide itself, but did stem from some of the articles I'd read, most of which really questioned the relevance of the guide after some shock omissions and demotions.  One of the best meals I'd had in Hong Kong was from NUR (see post here), which was one of the unlucky restaurants to be demoted.  I'd also read that a little French fine diner called EPURE was widely regarded as extremely unlucky to have missed out.  

I didn't really need more of a reason to check it out.  I wanted to see for myself if EPURE was indeed Michelin Star worthy.

EPURE is located in Tsim Sha Tsui, or TST, and is one of the many restaurants in the very popular Ocean Centre at Harbour City.  This is where the massive ocean liners dock while in Hong Kong and is probably the biggest indoor shopping centre I've ever seen, you can get lost there for hours!  We had a pretty good idea of how to find EPURE, but we arrived early anyway, so we could have a wander around the shops and have a pre-dinner drink.

Without doubt, my favourite style of cuisine is French fine dining, so I was super keen to learn that Executive Chef Nicolas Boutin was at the helm of EPURE.  Having worked at Michelin three-starred Troisgros as well as a handful of two-starred restaurants around Europe, I was expecting French cuisine of the highest order.  With a philosophy of delivering a glamorous and chic dining experience  and inspired by French royalty, the layout of the EPURE dining room was certainly very plush and luxurious.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Tartine - very fancy toasted sandwiches

There are so many new restaurants opening in Hong Kong that it's hard to keep up.  Sure, I have my regular sources of information to keep abreast of the changes, but it's nearly impossible to track them all.  I didn't have any such problems with recently opened Tartine, I'd been keeping a close eye on it's development each night on my walk home.  I love watching restaurants go from empty spaces to fully fledged establishments, mainly because I know that soon enough I'll be trying them out for myself!

That I was going to check out Tartine was a foregone conclusion, not just because it looked quite different from everything else around SoHo, but because of the involvement of Michelin-starrred Philippe Orrico, the man behind On Dining (see post here) and Upper Modern Bistro (see post here). Orrico is noted as consulting chef, which I assume is just helping with the menu and attributing his name to help the restaurant along, never the less, it got my attention.

Just in case you didn't know, a tartine is a fancy French toasted sandwich and Tartine has combined the humble toasty and spruced them up with high quality ingredients and a farm-to-table philosophy.

We'd planned to hit up Tartine on the way home from work one night and figured that as a brand new restaurant, we'd not need to make a booking.  It was a solid plan, especially since we'd walked by a few times since opening and not seen a soul inside so far.  It was also flawed, unbeknownst to our morning plans, Tartine had gone on an advertising blitz with an article in just about every food publication available in Hong Kong!

New Zealand - Fergburger: legendary burgers?

While we were skiing the wonderful mountains in Wanaka, New Zealand, we'd been hearing of a near mythical place to eat up the road in Queenstown.  I'd pretty much had every day planned for food, but after hearing about a little place called Fergburger, I had to satisfy my burger craving and get along to check it out.

I was told to expect long queue wait times.  I was told that the place was open for twenty two hours a day, just to cater to all the ski freaks and ski bunnies.  I was told all sorts of stuff, but mainly, I was told that Fergburger pumped out the best hamburgers that most people had ever eaten!  I love burgers and I like to think I know a little bit about them too, so I was keen to see if I shared that popular opinion.

Fergburger stared as a little hole in the wall burger joint around 2001 in well known Cow Lane, where there were not too many casual food options after a hard day on the ski fields.  As it's popularity grew, Fergburger outgrew its little spot, but it wasn't until the threat of its original home being torn down that a move was initiated.  

It was to this remodelled burger joint that we rocked up for a sampling of the Fergburger burger. Looking very much at home in a ski village, Fergburger stood out with its exposed wood and slate floors.  We didn't see the expected queues, but we'd timed our run to perfection, hitting the joint at 3pm, too late for lunch and too early for dinner.  Even though there were no long queues, it was still really busy, with most of the seats taken and about 6 people in the line before us.  SC grabbed one of the only seats left while I jumped in line to wait.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

G7 Private Dining - Singapore sling Italian style

After recently finding a taste for Hong Kong's private dining scene, I decided it was again time to sample the uniquely HK approach to dining.

This time, it was to well known Hong Kong Chef Eddy Leung, who's plied his trade at some of the city's most famous 5 Star restaurants, including those at the Swire Hotel, The Ritz-Carlton and the Peninsula Hotel.  More recently, Chef Eddy has been working the private dining scene, with his Aberdeen kitchen called Chef Studio by Eddy.  

But who really wants to head to Aberdeen for dinner?  So, Chef Eddy created a more accessible Private Dining experience in the heart of Central, G7 Private Dining.  Well, much more accessible for this little foodie!  Located on the edge of the Botanic Gardens in Glenealy Street, G7 is a little hard to find at first, and when we did stumble across the front door, we couldn't figure out how to gain entry.  It got to a point where I had to call the restaurant and say we were out front, before the door magically slid open!

London - Byron Hamburgers

What do you do when you are catching up with a mate you haven't seen in ten years?  Well, you head for a burger of course!

I was in London for work and caught up with one of my favourite bosses from days gone by, Johnzo. Apart from being awesome catching up, Johnzo took me along to that time honoured tradition in London of afterwork drinks down at the local pub.  That we were at Canary Wharf meant that we had to tackle a pub in shiny new building, but strangely once through the front door, it was largely still an old style pub.

Anyway, I'm not gonna talk about the pub, this is after all a food blog first and foremost.  While we were at the pub, Johnzo had been banging on about this burger place around the corner that we had to visit.  Not for the burgers, but for a side that he rated as the best in town.  Me?  I was happy to get along for a burger, as after visiting a slew of two Michelin starred restaurants (The Square, Hibiscus, Marcus), I was looking for something much more casual.

It was a short walk from the pub to our destination, a burger chain called Byron.  I'd initially thought it might have been named after Byron Bay in Australia, but no, owner Tom Byng had been inspired after a four year stint in America, where he 'ate enough burgers to sink the Titanic'. Wanting to bring back that authentic US of A style burger to the 'old country', Tom had the craving for the classic and simple stylings from his favourite spot in the US, Silver Top in Providence, Rhode Island.  


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