Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nothing to envy (Barbara Demick)

Los Angeles Times journalist Barbara Demick spent several years in the US, Seoul and even North Korea itself, interviewing North-Koreans and defectors and collecting first hand accounts of the daily life in what is still, today, the most reclusive country on the planet: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The individual stories she recounts are heartbreaking: living conditions of unimaginable poverty, lives of hardship dedicated to the regime, mind-numbing propaganda, ferocious repression… and everywhere, the same absence of questioning of the party line and the legitimacy of the “Dear Leader”. I hope there comes a day when the North Korean people will rise against its oppressors and be reunited with its brothers in the South. Barbara Demick’s book is not only an outstanding work of journalism, it is set to become a contemporary history reference.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

15 seconds of fame

The M Word was featured in the South China Morning Post!!

My somewhat hectic lifestyle does not afford me the luxury to read the papers every day, but reading the Sunday papers over a caramel soya latte at my neighbourhood Starbucks is one of my favourite things to chill on a Sunday morning. When I opened my copy of the Sunday Morning Post today, I almost had a heart attack...

Here it was, my humble foodie/bookworm blog, featured in Susan Jung's "" column in the Food & Drink section of the Post Magazine!! I am honoured and humbled that she found this modest effort worth writing about...

Merci, Ms Jung, for your coverage - this Frog is a big fan of your articles too :-)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Meet Jimmy

Jimmy's Kitchen (G/F South China Building, 1-3 Wyndham Street, Central) is one of these classic Hong Kong restaurants which have been around forever - more specifically, since 1928, which at the going rate of mortality in HK food joints is like the dinosaur era. It whips up some "Western" classics and also has a decent selection of more Asian offerings. The service is so slow it is an absolute torture if you are really hungry, but for what I could tell, the food was well worth waiting for.

Gratinated onion soup

The soup came in a ceramic bowl with a very generous layer of fragrant gratinated cheese...

... and was everything you would expect from a French bistro under the cheese crust (note the nice brown colour). Delicious and warming  - true winter comfort food.

Oxtail stew

Without question one of the best I have had in a long time. The tender meat came in a very generous portion. Plenty of sticky collagen and also a few small fat bits made the dish very tasty. The jus was flavoured by the sweet and almost fruity carrots and was absolutely delicious. I barely touched the tagliatelle (pretty good, cooked al-dente) to focus on picking the bones clean. This dish made my day :-)

One of my fellow lunchers ordered a Baked Alaska and I could not resist having a couple of small slices. It was very good (even though we should have put out the flames earlier to avoid burning the meringue). Creamy meringue, plenty of fruit and good vanilla ice-cream, flavoured with a good dose of rum.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Return to On Lot 10

The first time I had dinner at On Lot 10 (34 Gough Street), the Chef totally wow-ed me. Period. So I was very much looking forward to giving Boss Man another opportunity to demonstrate his fine cooking skills, and was only too happy to join a foodie gathering organised by the Queen Foodie. This time again, we were up for an absolutely amazing dinner. As game is in season, we mentioned we would love to have some wild boar, but otherwise left Chef David carte blanche on all the other dishes - amazing ingredients and faultless execution all along. Chef David Lai is a very humble man who takes pleasure in making his clients happy; that is rewarding enough for him and he does not wish for himself or his restaurant any fame and recognition beyond that. But my foodie friends and I all strongly agree that he should be up for a Michelin Star next year (Bibendum if you read this, take note). Such talent and passion deserve to be recognized and shared. So thank you, Boss Man, for giving me every time this taste of home so far away from home... I am already looking forward to my next visit in the spring.

Appetizer 1: babylonia

Nutty and slightly chewy, as they should be, and served with a slightly garlic-y dip with a texture in-between aïoli and vinaigrette. Very nice.

Bread basket: some warm & fluffy mini-baguettes. Very good. I think the quality of the bread has even improved since my first visit.

Sea urchin in the shell

I am unsure where these were sourced (probably Japan ?). Creamy and not too briney - enjoyable even for someone like me who has never been big on urchins.

Belon oyster

Let me just say... wow. Impeccably fresh, briney/nutty... the real taste of Brittany.

Mackerel crostini

Mackerel crostini

This was absolutely delicious. The mackerel meat melted in the mouth. The marinade was simple: salt, pepper, olive oil. The crispy bread was topped with a thin layer of black olives tapenade. I could have gobbled down 3 more of these - gorgeous.

Duck ham

In Froggieland, this would be called magret séché. I have had plenty of this (it is a traditional salad topping in the south west of France, sometimes with foie gras or gizzards and nuts) but this has to be one of the very best I have ever tasted. Good fat/meat balance, not too salty and not too dry. I was impressed.

Wild boar pâté

This was excellent. The meat had been coarsely ground, and tasty bits of liver had found their way in the preparation. I can only regret that there were too few of Chef David's delicious home-made gherkins as a garnish... (I love the condiments mix used on these gherkins)


Who needs greens, huh ?? Nice and refreshing for the palate. I am normally not a huge fan of red chard, which I find to earthy, but this one was very young and quite good. A drizzle of good olive oil, some crunchy buttery croutons and parmesan shavings garnished the salad. Pretty nice.

River turtle soup

Absolutely delicious. The broth, meaty and peppery, was superb, and my bowl came with chunky bits of meat and skin. I would have had a second bowl without hesitation.

Baked stuffed scorpion fish

This dish triggered a wave of "oooh-s" and "aaah-s" when it was brought to the table - quite spectacular. And the aroma had us all salivating in a second...

Baked stuffed scorpion fish

The stuffing was made of rice (probably cooked in a seafood broth) with quite a few condiments and spices (I could taste mushrooms, semi-dried tomatoes, fennel seeds, onion, a mix of various herbs including probably parsley and maybe marjoram). The turned potatoes had been cooked in the sauce and soaked up all the juices from the fish. The fish itself was tender and sweet. There was quite a bit of this dish left over (as we were all trying to save space for more boar which we knew would come later in the meal....) and I was lucky enough to get a large portion of the fish and stuffing (including the head!!) in my doggie bag. I reheated it in a pan over high flame to make the rice a bit crispy - it was even more delicious the next day. What an awesome dish!

Tartiflette with a twist

The chunky lardons had obviously been hand-cut from a large piece of poitrine fumée and were very delish. The potatoes were fondant. This was an interesting take on the original recipe (which includes normally lardons, onions, potatoes and reblochon) in that it included a very generous sprinkle of chopped black truffles and used mature brie instead of the usual reblochon, which brought plenty of ammonia in the rind which reblochon does not have. I could not stop munching on this - delicious... and part of my doggie-bag too ;-)

Leg of boar, polenta

Tender, juicy meat, plated on top of creamy polenta with sweet corn and the reduced cooking juices.

Boar loin with chards

I love chards and only too rarely get to eat any. The boar loin was stuffed with foie gras and wrapped in slightly crispy boar fat. Another delicious dish.

My plate - oiiink!!

I was feeling very full ay this point but made a point to wipe it clean to honour the Chef's efforts. Everything was so delicious, it would have been a sin to waste.

A very welcome light dessert - La France pears from Japan, perfectly ripe and deliciously sweet. A refreshing way to end a very rich meal.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dark Side Tang

Last chance for a meal with my friend C. who was leaving town tonight, and we figured a bit of local food would be appropriate. For once, I wanted to pick a place I had not reviewed before, so I chose to take her to Tang Court (The Langham Hong Kong, 8 Peking Road, TST). I had been introduced to this restaurant during a dim sum lunch with my fellow foodie Peech and was curious to try their dinner menu - it did not disappoint, despite the fact that some of my foodie friends have reported so fairly unpleasant experiences with the service at this place, and at times found the food "so-so". We enjoyed the food a lot, and found the service to be attentive and very friendly.We were (I would say surprisingly, given that this is a hotel restaurant) pretty much the only foreigners in the restaurant that night, and found our waiter to be very knowledgeable about the food and eager to advise on what to order (even if we ended up not following his recommendations). I will definitely return to this place to sample more dishes.

Appetizer: deep-fried tofu cubes in warm chicken broth

Very tasty.

The Chef's home-made vegetarian XO sauce. I could not resist trying it (despite the fact that none of our dishes required this to be added) and found it very good.

The Chef's home-made chilli sauce

Excellent - sticky, a bit sweet and hot. I wish we had ordered something to dip into this...

Char siu

Just about ok for me (my friend, who is not as picky, enjoyed it a lot). The honey flavour was good, but there was way to much jus in the plate. Tasty meat, but it came with pieces of fat between the meat rather than the meat being marbled, as is the case in other places. Assuming Island Tang's char siu is 9/10, I would give this a 6.

Double-boiled Chinese cabbage with bamboo fungus and yunnan ham soup

I have always been a huge fan of these clear, double-boiled soups found in Cantonese cuisine, and this one was right up my alley. The broth was packed with flavours from the ham. Delicious, warming and light.

Stir-fried pea shoots with garlic

The garlic had been roasted before being added to the veggie, giving a much milder and sweeter flavour. Excellent.

Crispy salty chicken

One of the Chef's recommendations according to the menu. Our waiter suggested the kitchen could debone the half-chicken for us, which we found was a good idea. Cut bones are one of my pet peeves, and I have to admit that even after a few years in my beloved Honkie, I still find it difficult to suck on chopped up poultry bones (even though whole bones have never been an issue) as I find the feeling of the hard, spongy texture of the bones on the tongue extremely unpleasant, if not off-putting. The chicken turned up on our table perfectly deboned and was very good - not as salty as I would have expected, with a flavourful and juicy meat. The skin could have been crispier though.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Creature of habits

This Frog is a creature of habits. If I enjoy a restaurant's cuisine, then I do not mind coming over and over again and ordering (pretty much) the same dishes, even within a short period of time. So when my friend C. told me she would be in town for a couple of days and mentioned she wanted to have some Sichuan food, I knew immediately where I would take her... Yunyan Sichuan Restaurant (4/F Miramar Shopping Centre, 132 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui). Yes, "Boring" some of you will say, "you already reviewed this place 3 weeks ago, Froggie!!". Well, yes, but I happen to really LOVE the food at this place, you see... and with the cold winter in Honkie these days, I bet it won't be long before I return to get my fix of their wonderfully warming food ;-)

Sichuan style roasted marinated duck

One of the signature dished according to the menu. This was delicious - the meat was moist and juicy, with rich flavours of Sichuan spices, and the skin was crispy/sticky. I will definitely order this again.

Crispy chicken dice with spicy dried red chillies and Sichuan peppercorns

Another signature dish, still as good as ever. Delicious crispy chicken, and what a kick!

Staying on the beaten track again - Ma Po tofu (tofu with minced beef and chilli).

This has always been one of my absolute favourite dishes, and as I have said before, Yunyan's version could well be the best in town. Silky, almost creamy tofu cubes, tasty minced beef, and plenty of chilli oil and spring onions. I just could not stop spooning it over my steamed rice - delish!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

♥ Joël forever ♥

Today a friend and ex-colleague was kind enough to treat me to lunch at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (3/F, The Landmark, Central). We hadn't had the opportunity to catch up over lunch in a while and it was good to see her again - I am already looking forward to our next lunch together :-)

I had not eaten at L'Atelier for some time, and my last experience at Le Café wasn't really memorable, mostly due to a slump in service quality. I was therefore curious to see what the situtation was like at L'Atelier, and honestly I could not find anything wrong with our meal today. The food was fabulous and cooked perfectly to my liking, and the service was efficient and polite, as it used to be. I guess the visit from the Master himself back in September probably put things back on track... As usual, the set lunch was fantastic value for money, and the show at the kitchen counter is still as entertaining as ever.

Guess what butter L'Atelier is now serving... ?? Bus is it really Bordier ? Similar but not identical shape... warrants further investigation, will revert in due course (as I admired more than tasted that cone...)

Amuse-bouche: cauliflower cream, foie gras mousse, port jelly & a sweet and crispy soldier

Very good - the cauliflower and foie gras preparations were very tasty, and the port jelly was pretty fragrant. I am not too sure cauliflower and foie gras pair very well together though, but I think it's rather a matter of taste as the execution of this AB was faultless.

Starter: La seiche - le blanc caramelisé au soja, fine crème de chou fleur et chou fleur à la cru au citron vert (sauteed cuttlefish with caramelised soy, crunchy and cream of cauliflower)

I am a huge fan of cuttlefish and this was absolutely delicious. The work on the textures and temperatures was very interesting  - slight chewiness of the cuttlefish and creamy cauliflower, both warm, with crunchy citrussy raw cauliflower in very thin slices, excellent olive oil drizzling and caramelised soy sauce "ring". The flavours paired extremely well together. Very, very good.

Soup: les ravioles de foie gras dans un bouillon de poule et fleurette pimentée (foie gras ravioli in warm chicken broth)

Excellent broth, tasty mini-ravioli of duck foie gras, chopped dill and a side of whipped crème fleurette with a sprinkle of chilli (the menu was not specific on this point but I think I tasted piment d'Espelette). Very light and packed with flavours.

Main course:  le pigeonneau de Bresse rôti, purée de maïs aux chanterelles, jus au Porto (roasted Bresse pigeon with sweet corn mash, chanterelles and port reduction)

I think there is a bit of work to be done on the description of this dish on the menu... the mushrooms were craterelles not chanterelles (aka "trompettes de la mort" in French) and the pigeon was baby pigeon (ie pigeonneau). The corn mash was a mix of sweet corn, thin polenta and juice from the mushrooms. Apart from me picking up on translation details again, the dish was absolutely de-li-cious. The mushrooms were fragrant, as was the port reduction, and the pigeon came cooked medium and was perfectly pink, tender and juicy. The creamy mash tasted both of young, sweet corn and mushroom jus, and the attentive waiter placed a little bowl of water in front of me to rinse my fingers - like, do I look like I pick bones with my fingers in a Michelin-starred place lol ?? That would be unheard of...  ;-)
The pigeonneau was topped with a slice of excellent crunchy smoked bacon (poitrine fumée) and rested on a bed of young greens that had soaked up the juices of the hot meat. Good they took my plate away before I licked it, because THAT would have been really unsightly... XD

Dessert: Le marron - en mousse sur sa plaquette de chocolat au lait, paillettes de cassis (chestnut mousse with milk chocolate and blackcurrant flakes)

No blackcurrant flakes in sight (rather, the berries themselves showed up - topped with gold foil AAAARGHHH, but let's not go there...), and in lieu of a milk chocolate bar (ie a "tablette") it was more a few thin leaves (with more gold foil, I must be glowing from within right now...) and a cute (and unannounced) little quenelle of blackcurrant sorbet topped the delicious chestnut mousse. I am a chestnut junkie, so I knew this would be right up my alley, and it did not disappoint. The chestnut mousse was creamy and nutty, and with just the right amount of sweetness, and the blackcurrant sorbet was gorgeously fruity and gave a bit of balancing sharpness to the sweet chestnut. A light and excellent dessert.

Petits fours: mysterious green macaroon, chocolate pearls and pâtes de fruits

The macaroons' texture was very nice (as usual), but to be very honest I did not manage to identify the flavour. Definitely a bit of matcha in the cream, but there was a mysterious herb in the biscuit (coriander ? mint ??) which tasted a bit "green". Interesting but I would need a much bigger macaroon to analyse that taste properly ;-)

A big thanks to L. for treating me to lunch, my treat next time at Caprice ;-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 Spice Odyssey

Tonight I'm having dinner in Kingston with Wendy. Kingston Jamaica maaaan, with food author and Caribbean cuisine authority Wendy Rahamut. Since my last trip to the Caribbean last year, I had been looking all over town for plantain bananas, and finally stumbled upon them in the most unlikely place (a posh supermarket for expats that I normally only go to for very specific cooking needs, such as pancetta and now rabbit legs...). I bought a heavy bunch and patiently waited a whole 10 days for my babies to ripen. Plantains can be used green, but what I had in mind required them to be ripe and sweet...

The recipes below are very largely inspired by Wendy's excellent cookbook Caribbean Flavors.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken and herbed plantain gratin

Basic ingredients for Jamaican Jerk Chicken: onion, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, lime juice, garlic, ginger, thyme, chillies and chives. As I could not find habaneros or scotch bonnets, I used a combination of fresh bird's eye and dried ground Cayenne and chipotle peppers (and, as usual, increased the chilli content of the recipe).

Jerk marinade, after careful slicing, chopping, pounding and squeezing.

Organic chicken thighs and drumsticks, lovingly smothered with jerk marinade. Cover with film and leave in the fridge overnight.
Jamaican jerk chicken, after about 30mn cooking (turn once)

Unripe plantains

The same plantains, 10 days later, finally ripe.

Boiled plantains - if you have never smelled the wonderful aroma of a perfectly ripe, just boiled and still hot plantain, go get some now!

Herbed plantain gratin (with cheese topping)

Caribbean Flavors (Wendy Rahamut)

Caribbean cooking 101. From coo-coo to rice & peas, from jerk chicken to coconut curried goat, this book covers all the classic popular Caribbean recipes. Complete with beautiful pictures of the dishes, it also includes useful notes on island variants and possible substitutions for ingredients that may be hard to come by outside of the region. An excellent book, which I would highly recommend to anyone who, like me, likes exotic and spicy food.