Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Yung Kee, an old steward still serves

with family in Hong Kong

Two one star Michelin restaurants in one single day...I won't be able to afford this in Europe, but in Hong Kong, it is not as much a stretch of the wallet. Earlier for lunch, we ate at Lei Garden, IFC, and the evening, we dined with my friends Steve, his lovely wife Shirley, and Sean at Yung Kee. This restaurant has been on every recommended list for nearly forever. It even has its own page in Wiki. The restaurant was awarded one Michelin star in the 2009 guide.

Their Century Eggs (preserved eggs with sliced ginger) are legendary

Typically preserved with a mixture of lime, clay, ash, salt and rice straw for several weeks. During the process, the raw duck eggs become pickled - the proteins get broken down into smaller but more aromatic products. The yolk acquire a creamy texture, and a greenish tinge. A strong fragrance of ammonia and sulphur. The whites become a clear, but black translucent jelly. Eaten with pickled ginger, the combination was served as an hors d'œuvre. The yolk was very creamy and the fragrance of the ammonia and sulphur was not overpowering, but lightly piquant. Certainly the best Century Eggs I have eaten.

Next was the even more famous roast goose.

The restaurant made its name in the culinary world with the crispy, aromatic, tender roasted goose. That evening, the goose was a little salty, but full of flavour. The skin remained crispy - a technique possibly developed for the Peking Duck - involving soaking in brine, scalding and icing the bird, and air drying before roasting produced a very thin, crisp skin. It is possible that the bird did not spend sufficient time being washed of the brine before scalding which may account for the slightly saltier taste. However, I do have a more acute tolerance of salt than most...sometimes preferring a blander version to one too heavily seasoned...because the flavour and taste of the quality meat shines through with less seasoning.

The goose was served in a sweet, slightly sour plum sauce which is a good complement. Quite tasty and probably worthy of the fame.

The deep fried prawns with crab roe in bean curd skin was also an award winner.

The crisp deep fried bean curd skin contrasted with the juicy, fresh, succulent prawns ably supported by the counterpoint of the rich crab roe. The prawns were excellent. The entire ensemble was assembled on top of sea weed, and even had a decoration of a baby crab. Edward ate the crab, which tasted like soft shelled crab, but with a harder, crispy outer.

Steamed fish is often a measure of a chef. Even though the dish is ultra simple...come-on what could be simpler than steaming fish...I think beable to do the perfect steamed fish is a mark of a good chef's estimation and control of fire and steam. And also his ability to season correctly and garnish well.

This fish was perfectly steamed. The meat was cooked, but just ever so slightly at the bone, it was a little rare. Excellent. The sauce was just soy sauce and spring onions, and allowed the freshness of the fish to shine. The maitre d' brought the live fish for inspection before the chef cooked it, so we know this was very fresh fish.

We added a second prawn dish after the first turned out so well.

This turned out to be a real winner. Super fresh prawns...they didn't bring them for inspection, but I suspect these were live prawns. The extra large prawns...almost the size of a small lobster, were crisply deep fried, and seasoned with only a tiny bit of salt, pepper and perhaps a touch of soy sauce, the superior ingredients shone. Sweet, crunchy, sea fragrance was all apparent in spades.

A claypot of sliced beef in ginger and spring onions was next.

The chef showed his superior ability once again. The slices of beef were tender almost to a fault. The sauce was fragrant, salty, but also complemented the meat. The traditional accompaniment of sliced ginger and spring onion provided support to the chorus.

Egg tarts were served as a palate cleanser before dessert.

These were not as wonderful as those served by Tai Cheong, but were nevertheless very good. Shortening was used to create the pastry, and the custard was not quite as runny or as tasty as Tai Cheong's.

For dessert, we were divided into two camps. One camp chose the red bean tong sui. And the other selected the mango pudding.

Those who had the red bean, was very pleased with their choice. I did was not amongst that group, and can only show you the picture...you can see that the red bean used was the superior quality - large, and from where I sat, I could smell the beautiful aroma.

The mango pudding was not extra-ordinary...but still quite tasty. I opted for this as I disliked red bean which tend to stick to the teeth after.

So after experiencing two one star establishments and several of the listed Cheap Eats in Michelin 2009 Hong Kong and Macau, what do I think of the awards? Surprisingly, I find myself mostly agreeing to the verdicts...if you keep to the guide, you will eat well. But I know that if you are religious in keeping only to recommended restaurants, you will miss out in some wonderful food in Hong Kong. There are just so many eateries in Hong Kong which rise above the normal conundrum, and only able to do so, because they are supported by a food crazy public.

Yung Kee Restaurant
Address: 32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
url: http://www.yungkee.com.hk
Email: info@yungkee.com.hk
Tel: (852) 2522 1624
Fax: (852) 2840 0888

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lei Garden, Hong Kong. Michelin marvel?

with family in Hong Kong

By some coincidence, our trip to Hong Kong somewhat follows almost immediately the launch of the Michelin Guide for Hong Kong and Macau (released Dec 2, 2009). A fellow blogger Cha Xiu Bau has compiled the list in his blog.

Kin and I have had several great experiences with the Lei Garden at Wanchai - 1/F., CNT Tower, 338 Hennessy Road...we have wonderful memories of the superb, best we tasted roast pork. One evening, tired after a full day up The Peak, we had trouble finding the place...mistake of not having the address handy. The next day we took the easy way out, and went to the outlet at IFC. I thought, this branch had the additional benefit of one Michelin star.

The roast pork was in top form. Very tasty. The belly of pork was cut into cubes - mildly salty on the meat side, cooked perfectly...soft, tender, juicy. Topped with very crisp, brittle skin providing the highlights.

From memory, this cut of pork was less fat than the one we sampled a few months ago in the Wanchai outlet. Flavour comes from teh fat, and as a result, the roast pork was less flavourfull, but still quite delicious.

We also had the usual tim sum. Harkow, siewmai, char siew pau.

The siewmai was not spectacular, but quite up to the mark. Crunchy, fresh prawns still smelling of the sea adorns the dish.

The harkow was quite nice. The skin was almost transluscent, playing a peek-a-boo half revealing, half concealing the prawns it contains. The prawns were very fresh, as is expected.

The char siew pau was quite marvellous. The skin pastry was light, fluffy. Fragrant even. The char siew was sweet...coyly meaty/savoury. And very tasty.

As can be seen in the pic above, the skin is airy, light, fluffy. The filling intense.

Even simple fare like these tim sum dishes had the touch found only in Hong Kong. Singapore tim sum, though excellent and often also made by Hong Kong chefs (though these days, more frequently by Malaysian chefs) is not a comparison. The springiness, and texture of the harkow skin is a classic case in point. The superior ingredients is another. I guess tradition, dedication and passion pays.

The char siew was quite spectacular.

But not in the same manner as those found in KL in the likes of Overseas Restaurant or the more humble Meng Kee. It had less caramalization, less Maillard reactants. Perhaps the marinade was less sweet, and the fire less intense than the KL cousins. But the meat was well chosen, with a good blend of fats and lean. It sat on a small pool of soy sauce...the Hong Kong soy sauce is somewhat sweeter than the versions we get in Singapore which tended to be saltier. But the fragrance of soy was apparent, and went quite well with the sweetish marinade of the meat. I enjoyed this for what it is, but crave for the KL variety more.

The maitre d' also recommended a soup, which to me was a bit unusual.

Looks like a regular house soup - lai thong, typical of Cantonese cuisine.

The broth was very clear, mildly fragrant. Very nice.

But it also contained interesting ingredients which included pig's liver, lungs, kidneys, stomach, and claws of chicken.

We ended the meal with a lo mai fun.

Chock full of ingredients like pork, preserved chinese pork sausage, mushrooms, strips of omelette, this was a very good conclusion to a good meal.

A very tasty treat. Different from lo mai kai as this was made with regular rice as opposed to glutinous rice. But very nice.

Oh, and the customary vegetable dish...large leafy vegetables - this time leafy dou miao were blanched and lightly tossed with garlic.

So is it worthy of the Michelin star? There has been great debates that as the Michelin judges were mainly westerners who were not attuned to properly appreciate a Chinese meal, the stars were awarded to surprising entrants. My Hong Kong friends feel the Wanchai outlet to be better...even though 3 Lei Gardens were in the list, the Wanchai outlet was not listed. For me, it was a good meal, very enjoyable. The tim sum was above average, even for Hong Kong. The roast pork, char siew pau and lo mai fun was outstanding. And the soup was interesting. And worthy of many repeat visits.

Lei Garden Restaurant, Central
Address: Shop No. 3007-3011, 3/F., International Finance Centre, Central, Hongkong
Tel. No.: (852) 2295 0238
Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday & Public Holidays
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Dinner: 6:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.
Lunch: 11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Dinner: 6:00 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Espresso in KL.

with Prof. Massi and Prof. Francesca

I have waxed lyrical about espresso before...and to the depths of trouble addicts like us...um, me take to get the prefect espresso. Click here to read how my guru, Prof. Thanet roasts and brews his coffee.

The perfect cup of espresso remains the holy grail. Italy have many little cafes who continue to make fantastic espresso decade after decade, but outside of Italy, good espresso is kind of hard to find. The ubiquitous Starbucks is a joke amongst espresso connoisseurs - their coffee is always over-roasted, bland and tasteless...one dimensional. This is done on purpose, in the name of quality (the ISO kind) so their coffee tastes the same everywhere, which necessitates the lowest common denominator. However, there are small stores here and there which make good espresso to satisfy our delicate palate. Mecca by King and George Streets in downtown Sydney is one such place. Paul Bassett's own cafe in Tokyo is quite interesting...a rose amongst the siphon community, where expensive beans are the order of the day, and not many spend time to make espresso. A few establishments in Seattle, New York City, San Francisco are also good.

My own coffee journey, sometimes seem to be a struggle for good espresso has its interesting experiences and tastings. My Italian friends, originally from Firenze (wow, what a beautiful city if there ever was one) but now teach at SMU, offered to take me to an espresso place in KL, right opposite the hotel we were staying where we were part of the judging panel of the Journey Through Time Watch Exhibition in Starhill.

We crossed over to Pavillon - a spanking new shopping centre right where Bukit Bintang Girls School used to be. Right smack in the middle of KL's Golden Triangle. Espressamente - an shop which is run by the famous Italian coffee roasters Illy. However, amongst home roasters, who have super fresh coffee (consumed between 2 days and 8 days of roasting) at their disposal, this usually means stale coffee...roasted in Italy...who knows how long ago.

But the barista in Espressamente know their stuff. Clean machine...La Marzocco, no less...ground in a Mazzer...but alas not on demand by the cup...the ground coffee sat in the dispenser...I am not sure how long it sat there since being ground. But this shop has a rather high turnover..so perhaps an hour. I know my Coffee Green buddies are cringing...as am I...an hour of grounds are stale.

The menu was quite interesting...with many variants based on espresso only found in Italy. Massi had a kind of macchiato...and Francesca had a cappucinno. I ordered a espresso doppio.

The latte art was reasonable...that they even attempted is an achievement. But the image was not defined, or clear. Well...Francesca enjoyed her cup.

My espresso had a great big head of crema. And it was a rather huge cup...larger than a doppio should be.

The color of the crema is light brown...hmm...would have preferred a deeper shade, and some molting - tiger stripes as observed if one has a naked portafilter. My first thought was that, ah...the Illy beans have Robusta in them...so big crema, but large bubbles, will dissipate quickly...but I was wrong. The crema sat for quite a while. Even a spoonful of sugar took a while to settle...impressive.

A quick whiff before drinking...on the nose, not particularly intense...kind of standard espresso. On the palate, it was typical commercial blend...a bit bitter, with a small undertone. A bit two dimensional. The mouth feel was fair...no thick, liqourice mouth feel. Medium body, slight acidity. Very little after taste. Not bad...much better than Starbucks, or Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, but this was no Mecca or Paul Bassett.

Ground Floor
The Pavillon
Bukit Bintang Road
Kuala Lumpur
AFAIK, they have only one outlet in Singapore...a kiosk outside Tangs.

Photonote: don't know why the colour of the crema is different in the two espresso pictures. I think the WB is correct for both, as can be seen, both cups are similar. The colour of the crema was more like the first picture of the espresso than the second.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Macau Restaurant, Tsim Tsa Tsui, Hong Kong

with family in Hong Kong

I hope you are enjoying the notes on Hong Kong restaurants. I had been to HKG countless times for work and leisure. Like my favourite foodie town Penang, I find Hong Kong to be such a foodie paradise...so much to eat and experience. But for this trip, I consulted a foodie friend Bernard for his recommendations. He wrote a long treatise, complete with capsule reviews and how to get there of many of his favourites. Macau Restaurant is one of them.

I understand from a local HKG friend of mine that this restaurant was set up by the famous Stanley Ho family in Macau...don't know if its true, but not a surprise.

Open till late, the place was buzzing when we got there at about 10pm. I went straight to the dishes recommended by Bernard.

Curry beef. Interesting methots...I won't normally associate curry with Hong Kong...I get the impression that the natives are somewhat shy when it comes to spices and hot chilli. But this dish was a revellation.

Wonderfully rich, it tasted like a mild Indian curry...full of spices, but not very hot. Potatoes which I think were boiled and cooked in the curry was very nice...it had spent sufficient time inside the spices to have taken on the spiced flavour. The beef was extremely tender, still retaining some beefiness despite the spices. There was a little fire from peppers rather than chilli...Very nice.

We next had a very traditional Macau favourite - baked rice with pork chops and cheese.

This was a winner. A fairly large slab of deep fried pork chop adorns atop a claypot full of fluffy flavoured rice, and then smothered with a tomato based cheese sauce. And baked.

The pork was nicely done. Roughly medium in doneness, it must have been deep fried in super hot oil, so that the outsides are crisp, but so fast that the insides are still uncooked. And the final process to medium is done in the baking with the rice and other ingredients.

The rice was very nice. It was fluffy, a bit on the firm al-dente side, which is how I love my rice. And had a beautiful flavour reminding one of pork, tomatos and cheese...a wonderful combination.

We also ordered the crispy pork buns...a house special.

This one didn't do it for us. A bun is sliced open and a slice of fried pork with onions are inserted like a sandwich. While as a sandwich it was ok, edible...tasty even, we didn't feel it was any special or particularly interesting.

Bernard also recommended the roasted squab.

The last time we were in HKG as a family was in 2005 with my mother...and we tried squab...having heard great things about this particular speciality in HKG. We didn't quite get it. Tasted like a more gamey version of a very small spring chicken, we thought.

But this version served up at Macau was different. Edward took an immediate liking for it. I would describe it to taste like a cross between chicken and duck meat, but slightly more gamey. The squab, understandably was smallish. And a whole bird was served.

Overall I think the restaurant is a winner. Great food, and excellent prices. The entire meal for the 4 of us came up to less than HK$200. For a restaurant right in the middle of everything in Kowloon...quite a deal.

Macau Restaurant
25-27 Lock Street
Tsim Tsa Tsui
Kowloon, Hong Kong
open till late (2am)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jimmy's Kitchen: superb steaks.

with family in Hong Kong

Why oh why don't we have estabilshments like this in Singapore. Good steaks, reasonable priced. As I continue to lament, I watched Hestor Blumenthal's excellent series on BBC - In Search of Perfection. I must admit, I always admire people who are totally obsessed with their pursuit, and in Hestor's case - perfectly cooked food. Owner and chef of The Fat Duck, a Three Star Michelin restaurant in UK which was once voted Best Restaurant in the World, Hestor will go to the ends of the world to cook it right. See his treatise on the perfect steak - 24 hours to cook, and needs a blowtorch! Certainly worth a read, if only to understand what goes into making a prefect steak.

I am not expecting a Blumenthal style perfect steak in Hong Kong...I have eaten at Morton's in Sheraton Towers, and at both Ruth's Chris (I like the one in Lippo Center better), but wanted to try something else. I heard from a review elsewhere (oops, I forget where I read it, but likely another foodie blog) that it served air dried USDA Prime beef.

The restaurant has been around since 1928, and the interior reminded Kin and me instantly we stepped inside of the now long gone Singapore establishment known as Cairnhill Steak House, complete with old waiters dressed in suits with short jackets, and dark interior.

Of course I had to order a steak. I told the rather elderly waiter that I wanted it Chicago medium, fully expecting him to go "har?", but he just repeated medium inside, charred outside...Perfect.

When it arrived, it looked wonderfully promising.

Charred on the outside, this was a nice slice of sirloin. 14 oz...a bit on the small side for a serious steak eater, but sufficient.

Cutting into the steak was easy...the knife glided like a hot blade into butter...tender! and the insides were pink.

Beautiful. I had asked for the sauce to be on the side...in fact, I didn't touch it, and Edward ate it up with his steak...more on that later.

The meat could do with a little more marbling, but on final analysis, it was still was juicy, very tender, and bursting with flavour...a testament to the air drying, I suppose. As I chewed on the beef, these qualities were apparent, the charring provided a smokey flavour and the beef had a rather intense beefiness. As I swallowed the mouthful of beef, a velvety note...almost sublime, hinting of foie gras appeared on the palate. I am not sure where this foie gras flavour comes from...possibly from the dry aging or the Maillard reaction caused by high heat to char the outside to Chicago style doneness. But also due to the breed of cattle I would imagine, as I had the same tasting notes with Peter Lugers and Mamou's, except the Luger experience was more intense and the Mamou's though also more intense than Jimmy's, lacks the final punch offered by Luger. This is excellent steak.

The beef sat atop a bed of very nicely done cream spinach. Something about creamed spinach agrees with char grilled beef...I always have this if given a choice. Jimmy's was done slightly al dente, but very nice.

Edward had the Steak Diane. This is a 8 oz cut of ribeye, rubbed with ground black pepper and garlic and quick fried over a hot pan with butter. A sauce is then made from the juices left over, deglazed with more butter, garlic, beef stock and Worchestershire sauce.

The ribeye was tender as well. The cut was a little on the thin side, and almost drowning in the rather tasty sauce, the taste of the beef was less apparent. Hints and subtle notes like the foie gras flavour, it the cut had any was lost. This is why I prefer steaks san sauce...only seasoned with freshly cracked pepper and some sea salt just before serving. With a good sauce like the Jimmy Steak Diane's, the taste and quality of the beef is overtaken by the taste of the sauce.

Kin had the Veal Cordon Bleu.

A thin slice of veal is stuffed with two kinds of cheese (a Swiss Gruyere and another one I forget) with sliced ham, breaded and deep fried till crisp on the outside.

Cutting it open, the melted cheese oozes out. Quite charming. Kin found it very good, but not exceptional. The veal was very tender and light tasting, and the crisp outside provided good bite and crunch. The cheese provided a rich, creamy compliment, and may be characterised as slightly overpowering. I thought it all came together quite well.

The coffee was very bitter, perhaps over roasted, and possibly a mix of robusta with arabica, and was not remarkable in any sense.

Overall, a very enjoyable evening. We should have ordered some wine to go along, but did not feel like wine that evening.

I was told by a friend that Tavern's in River Valley Singapore also serve air dried steaks...I will go and try this out soon. If I am able to replicate the Jimmy's experience, I will be a very happy man indeed.

Jimmy's Kitchen
Kowloon Centre,
20 Ashley Road, TST
Tel: 2376-0327

Monday, December 15, 2008

Tai Cheong Egg Tarts

with family in Hong Kong

One of the most famous Hong Kong establishments selling egg tarts. Touted to be former Governor Chris Patten's favourite, this bakery has been serving egg tarts for more than half a century.

Served piping hot...really! The filling is very hot, but very shiok.

The pastry tastes like it is made from crushed cookies, unlike the layered, fluffy pastry in ordinary egg tarts...it crumbles on the slightest touch, but just right to contain the yellow egg custard. The custard itself is almost in a molten state...very nearly solid and at the same time almost liquid. The taste is sublime, hard to describe, but unlike any I have ever tasted. The sweetness is just right, as is the texture and consistency. The fragrance of the egg is superb.

And there is nothing like buying the egg tarts straight out of the oven, and eating it on the street...as demonstrated by Edward here:

Wonderful stuff. Super Shiok. And even though possibly thousands of Hong Kong bakeries serve egg tart...this one is special.

Tai Cheong Bakery 泰昌餅家
35 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central
Hong Kong

中環擺花街 35 號地下

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mak's Noodles: World's best Wanton Noodles? or just Wold Famous?

with family in Hong Kong

Noodle shops are ubiquitious in Hong Kong. As it should be. If I am not mistaken, wanton mien wass invented there. Every street corner, or so it seems, a dingy noodle shop would be serving piping hot bowls of noodles. But Mak is a cut above...it's made it even into the Michelin Guide's 2009 Hong Kong/Macau edition as a cheap good eat. Even Anthony Bordain visited to eat at its hallowed halls. And not wanting to be left out of a culinary adventure, I too tracked my way up and down Wellington Street to this little noodle shop.

Mak Kee (as the place is known in Cantonese) serves the traditional wanton mien in very small bowls...about the size of a regular rice bowl. Even the name Mak Kee...in Chinese a play with two words conjuring up the meaning stingy noodles - a tongue in cheek reference to the small portion of the serving.

The reasoning is that because noodles will absorb the soup and swell, and a small serving allows only a very limited the amount of liquid which are absorbed, and keeps the noodles from going soggy. I am not sure if I buy the argument, but the noodles were not soggy. They were wiry, thin as is typical in Hong Kong. And it was firm, al dente to the bite. In fact very firm, and had a distinct kee taste, which can be addictive after a while. It did absorb some of the wonderful piping hot broth, and tasted heavenly.

The soup base is made of powdered dried flounder, dried shrimp roe and pork bones. One can taste the dried fish and shrimp roe in the soup...a hint of salt and smokiness, but just so. The balance of salt is just perfect. The broth was robust, but at the same time had a delicate, almost sublime flavour.

The wantons were about the size of a quail's egg, and the skin was thin, but offered sufficient protection to keep the contents from spilling. The treasure within is made from two whole shrimps tightly wrapped and no meat filling. The texture biting into the wanton was springy...it provided some resistance to the bite, but just so...the prawns were very fresh. The taste was excellent. Certainly the best wanton I have ever eaten. Shiok Hochiak!

We also ordered some stewed beef brisket. Known as Ngau Lam in Cantonese, this is a quintessential dish, much like wanton mien and offered by unknown numbers of eateries around the territory.

Brisket is the soft, flabby bit hanging under a cow's neck...comprising mainly of fat and collagen. This was stewed in the traditional Cantonese fashion with turnips and star anise. I would imagine the cooking would be a long involved process, the result is a brown, sticky, slightly slimy, super tender brisket...and oh so yummy.

Note the near translucent connective tissue. Wonderful mouth feel, and really excellent taste.

We had the obligatory vegetables in oyster sauce.

Nicely blanched, perfectly cooked.

The cooking station is right at the front of the shop - this is an open plan display kitchen...one can view the cooks doing their magic from the street.

Mak's noodles is my personal best for a wanton mien, and possibly ngau lam. I already miss it. I wonder what is so special, that the same texture, taste, fragrance is not replicated elsewhere.

Mak's Noodles 麥奀雲吞麵世家
77 Wellington Street, Central
Hong Kong


Some links:

Another review of Mak's Noodles, with a video of Anthony Bordain's eye opening experience of how the noodles are made in Hong Kong. See the video, about 2 mins into the video.

Teczscape's review of Mak's containing the video on youtube.

See also ieat's account of a bamboo noodle place in Singapore:

ieatishootipost review of bamboo noodles in Singapore