Friday, November 29, 2013

No girls allowed!

The Mandarin Oriental is a such a classic example of the British occupation of Hong Kong during the 60s. Luxurious and sophisticated, British finery with an oriental touch.

We ate there twice - the famous buffet for Jansen's mother's birthday, and again in The Chinnery.

So, the thing about The Chinnery, a heavily wood panelled bar, is that up until 1990, NO WOMEN WERE ALLOWED. Yup, 23 years ago, I wouldn't have been allowed in. Actually I wouldn't have been allowed in because I was underage, but that's not my point. This was a "gentlemen's club", a place to booze, swear and talk about women.

Today it's just as difficult to get in because it's quite small and very exclusive. It still ooozes testosterone, with its dark wood panelling and low lights. I don't doubt it is probably still very much in its original form, with deep, leather couches and original portraits on the walls, the colonial influence is everywhere.

The menu is probably very much as it was in the 1960s too, traditional British pub food like fish and chips, bangers and mash, fish pie and Yorkshire pudding. And they do it oh so well.

Today it's more famous for having the largest collection of single malt whiskeys. People seem to forget that once it was so sexist! Still, was kinda cool to experience a place of history.

Hong Kong food on the cheap

After our insanely expensive and amazing degustation at Liberty Private Works we kinda didn't have any money left for that sort of food again. Lucky there's street food and cafes that are REALLY CHEAP.

Every morning we had congee, which is about AU$3 for a really big bowl. This is the traditional breakfast in Hong Kong. My mum and grandmother used to make this (I try too, but I'm not very good at it) but we used to have it more for dinner. The Hong Kong version was so delicious, I don't know how because it's just rice.

We also had won ton noodles at the famous Mak's Noodles. Simple and delicious and AU$5! Yep, awesome!

I'm OBSESSED with these traditional custards tarts, both here and in Australia. The difference is that in Oz they're AU$3.50 each. In Hong Kong they're 80c each and they make so many that you can go anytime of the day and have them fresh.

Crusty, flaky pastry with creamy egg custard....I had at least 2 a day. And now I'm back in Oz...I only get one a month :-(.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The most AMAZING night of food ever!

There are some meals that you have that are so amazing you remember minute details about it and talk about it for the rest of your life. While we were in Hong Kong, I can confidently say, I had said meal and it was incredible!

I had a 'hot tip' from a cousin about this 'super exclusive' place called Liberty Private Works that only had limited places and you had to book a month in advance. Actually a month isn't that long (I thought), but in fact they only take bookings from a month in advance, via their website, and the places become available at 12.01am 30 days before.

Like the sad, desperate foodie that I am, I set an alarm in my calendar and at 12.01am Hong Kong time (2.01am in Oz!) made my booking. I got it, but noticed 20 minutes later the rest of the places were booked out. Phew. This was really the only night we had available. The whole process was pretty full on. They send you a confirmation email, then a couple of weeks later you have to send them a copy of your credit card so they can take a 50% deposit. (This was either super exclusive, I thought, or I'm being SCAMMED!)

Turns out, I wasn't being scammed, and the place was on the 26th floor of an otherwise unassuming office/residential/retail block in Central Hong Kong. was a 10 course degustation with a menu that wasn't particularly Asian, not even fusion, probably more just contemporary.

There's only 26 places, all on a high bench with a central kitchen. The chefs prepare the dishes in front of you and as each dish is presented, Head Chef Vicky Cheng explains what the dish is, the ingredients and how to eat it (eg, have the grape first to prepare the palate...very fancy). There was also optional wine pairings, which we took (aye, when in Rome), so after each dish presentation the Sommelier explained the wine and region and ingredients. I never really understand that stuff, but he was so enthusiastic about it, I couldn't help but smile and be enthused with him.

Angelica oysters with pomegranate.

The tuna and sea urchin on rice (and that's a frozen grape on the left).

Shellfish, avocado, finger lime and dashi.

That poor little crab in the middle looking really angry and annoyed had actually been sitting in a tank next to us on the bench. I didn't see it taken out or cooked, but I was a little shocked and had to remove it from the plate immediately before I could continue.

This was cute - the little white tablet on the left is actually a compressed napkin and when you pour the lemongrass infused water onto it, it expands out to a full size, well, wet wipe. Kitschy...but cool.

Dover sole, bone marrow, porcini and chestnut.

Egg, truffle, parmesan, caviar.

With this one we had the option of adding MORE truffles. It was HK$280 extra per person but given this was a once in a lifetime experience, we thought, why not. (Actually Jansen was thinking why not, I was thinking, holy f**k this better be good...). The chef said he felt a bit like a used car salesman selling this, but they were from some fancy place in France. They'd actually been sitting on the bench next to us all night and I had kept getting a whiff of this earthy smell, not realising what they were. I'd never really had truffle (only truffle oil) so it would be a new experience for me.

Um...I think we got our money's worth! The original dish is under there somewhere. It was definitely a distinct taste, but I'm not sure I'm in LOVE with it that much that I would pay that sort of money for it again. I guess I can tick it off my list though.

Pheasant, autumn truffle, iberico ham, celery heart. This is missing the pheasant as I'd requested no chicken, but it had the awesome foam and for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

Milk fed veal, langoustine, artichoke and chervil root. When I made the booking, I had read some of the reviews on what was on the menu, I saw there was poultry and beef, so I advised that one party didn't eat chicken or beef. This dish was supposed to have veal, but instead they made me pork...oops. I probably should have just said vegetarian. They were so accommodating though, the service was excellent.

The savoury dishes were finished and we moved onto the sweet. This is pineapple, ginger, keffir lime and sweet chilli. Definitely an interesting combination of flavours...

...especially after adding cream shatters dipped in liquid you do!

This was my absolutely favourite dish - milk jam, quinoa and salted duck egg with gold leaf. This is something I would NEVER even think of putting together but it tasted amazing. Definitely the winner dish of the night for me.

All finished off with warm, just-baked Madeleines (the cookie type, not the French cartoon school girl variety) and counteract the SEVEN glasses of wine we'd already consumed.

Head Chef Vicky Cheng
What amazed and impressed me the most, aside from the food, was how extraordinarily seamless the service was. I think about the incredible mess and panic I have each night just cooking the most basic of meals for just three people and this dinner just boggles my mind.

Ten dishes, 26 people and the service from start to finish was flawless. There was the perfect amount of time between each dish and I never once heard the head chef give a single instruction to the other chefs. The whole evening was akin to watching a well choreographed play at the theatre, with everyone knowing their lines, their place and even what to say. Astounding.

Head chef Vicky Cheng was the eptomime of cool, with a calming voice but with that clear passion for food. And he was kinda cute too, with a sense of humour. Jansen had said that he is always hungry after a degustation because the portion sizes are so small. He must have overheard cause he said, "if you're still hungry at the end of this I'll make you a cheeseburger". He so didn't need to, I was ridiculously full and totally, completely satisfied.

OK...I know you want to ask so, after the dinner, matching wines and truffle upgrade, it cost AU$400 for both of us. Yes. Ouch. That may not be much for some, but for me that a once in a VERY long time meal. Totally, totally worth the experience, but it will be a very long time when we can do something that like that again.

Still...will always be an amazing memory.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Romance on the Star Ferry

A ride across picturesque Victoria Harbour aboard an historic Star Ferry is apparently one of Conde Nast's must do's while in Hong Kong so of course it was top of my list.

The Star Ferries were once the only mode of transport between Hong Kong and Kowloon Islands and it still retains that romance of that turn of the century, bygone era, despite the backdrop of high rises and neon lights.

It was really sweet. Tick that off the bucket list! 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hong Kong!!

Hong Kong!! It's been well over 20 years since I've been here and some things have changed dramatically and some things are exactly as I remember them.

We had an awesome week here - eating, shopping, eating, sightseeing, eating...

Did I mention eating? This is a foodie's paradise whether you have a $3 hawker meal or 10 course degustation (that will have its own post!) the food is amazing! We had rice congee, the traditional breakfast, almost every morning and they ranged in price from $2-$5...try and get that in Brissie!

The fresh food markets are one of the things that haven't changed. Seeing the poor live fishes in the markets was a bit disturbing. But the hustle and bustle and vibrancy of the atmosphere was amazing.

I blended a bit better here than I do back home. I'm almost tall here too!! So weird!

Friday, November 8, 2013

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Actually it's still weeks away. But I'm a bit obsessed with my Christmas decorations, so I took the fairy lights out tonight to test they were all working.

They were. And now I should really go and get a life...

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dia de Muertos

I've learnt something amazing. The Day of the Dead isn't just a horror movie, and the amazing zombie like face painting around this of year time isn't related to Halloween. Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead in Spanish) is a Mexican holiday that celebrates and remembers those who have died.

How did I not know this?

So we went to an epic Dia de Muertos at Chris and Hayley's place and they seriously went all out. The whole place was kitted out with graveyards, marigolds, flags, candles as well a professional face painter and photographer (as you do).

I missed out on the face painter, so I guess I looked much less dead. Everyone else though look INCREDIBLE!!! I was pretty happy with my Mexican attempt though, given how I look, I'm not very authentic but it is amazing how much a couple of bucks' worth of fake flowers can make you look more Latino. I'm going to call it...MexicAsian!

On a more serious and respectful note, there was an alter where people could decorate with ofrendas. Let's not forget what the night is about.

The whole event was brought about when the employer of a friend of theirs refused to celebrate Dia de Muertos at their workplace. Some people are a bit funny about death I guess, but we celebrate other nation's holidays - Halloween, St Patrick's Day, Oktoberfest...why not this? So they decided F-U and had one of their own..for their mate.

Honouring your loved ones that have passed is awesome.

Honouring your mate this way is super awesome.