Friday, April 29, 2011

Redefining sublime

I have said it many times, I love Caprice, and Chef Vincent never fails to tickle my G(reed) spot and amaze my jaded tastebuds... and tonight again I sat back and let the magic operate. The food was perfect beyond sublime and each dish was delivered to our table in a carafully choregraphied ballet of faultless service. After raving about the place to her for so long, tonight I finally took patient Em out for dinner at Caprice (6/F Four Seasons Hotel, Central, Hong Kong). We were joined by Lady Dyson 2000 (as these 2 have become FB buddies but had never met) and later by Mr Dyson 3000, who ducked out of a work do to join us for cheese.

Amuse-bouche: mini-brioches with garlic & spinach and cauliflower mousse.

No matter how hard you tried, these were pretty much a one bite affair... Lady Dyson complained that the brioches should have been toasted, which IMHO would have changed the flavour and texture. I liked them just as they were...

Beurre Bordier - always a winner!

Aaaah, the baguette!! Crunchy and fluffy, as it should be. The perfect tool to scoop out that butter...

Amuse-bouche: bouillabaisse jelly, codfish brandade mousse, seasonal vegetables, shellfish coulis

Lots of marine flavours here, all brought together by a delicate spice touch and rounded up by cream. What a start!

Obsiblue Prawn Carpaccio with Sour Cucumber, Wasabi Jelly and Osetra Caviar

An exercise in finesse, all in delicate and refined flavours. The super-fresh prawn was extremely sweet and the firm flesh tasted like it had still been swimming not so long ago... The crisp flavour of the cucumber was somewhat toned down by the pickling without becoming too sour, and the wasabi jelly was flavourful without being overpowering. The caviar was obviously the real deal (read: not from China) and a few sprigs of chives finished the dish. Brilliant flavour pairing, very harmonious and balanced, and masterfully executed. Wow.

Melba toast for the prawn carpaccio

Périgord Milk-Fed Veal with Grenaille Potatoes, Green Peas and Sucrine Salad in Natural Jus

Rib for 2 

Périgord Milk-Fed Veal with Grenaille Potatoes, Green Peas and Sucrine Salad in Natural Jus

Carved table-side...

Périgord Milk-Fed Veal with Grenaille Potatoes, Green Peas and Sucrine Salad in Natural Jus


Rib bone, (very) thick cut fry, jus

Lady Dyson 2000 took care of this Flintstone-style (grunts included...)

Périgord Milk-Fed Veal with Grenaille Potatoes, Green Peas and Sucrine Salad in Natural Jus

The veal (obviously sous-vide before being braised) was perfectly pink (we asked for medium) and extremely tender and delicate in flavour. The grenaille potatoes were sweet and fondant, and the green peas and crunchy salad offered some interesting texture contrast. The jus was absolutely delicious (as always). A truly delightful and gorgeous dish. 

The cheese board - always a feast for the eyes and the palate

My cheese selection - good I asked for small pieces!! O_O

Front to back, clockwise: Brin d'Amour, Coulommiers, Colombier, Mimolette 24 months, Comte 4 years, fourme d'Ambert, Roquefort

Some pairings for the cheese: Chateau-Chalon for the comte, and Hoegaarden for the mimolette (yes, you read well, beer with cheese. Do try it at home if you can't believe it works...)

Pre-dessert: panna cotta, citrus fruits, merlot wine coulis, crumble, peach mousse

An interesting flavour pairing. The wine coulis was deliciously fruity and the peach mousse just smelled heavenly.

Petits fours: salted butter caramels, carrot cake with cream cheese topping, red berry (?) macaroon, passionfruit tartlets

The passionfruit tartlets were on a chocolate rather than pastry base, which was kind of *yawn* even though the custard itself was deliciously acidic and creamy. The pretty macaroons did not have much flavour (and what's with the tasteless coloured white chocolate decorations!?) and the carrot cake was not particularly remarkable (or carotte-y, for that matter). I passed on the chocolates. Once in a while I would like to see a good old-fashioned classic on that dessert menu, like a baba au rhum or a chocolate eclair, a good financier... I would even settle for a decent madeleine! Something old school, something unfancy, no gimmicks, no pretty decorations, no gold foil... just something traditional. Seems even that might be a bit too much to ask.

A big thank you to Jeremy E., Ludovic G. and all the dining room staff at Caprice for their amazing service and reliable advice. See you soon, guys! :-)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

No spring lamb

One more box ticked in the bucket list... Spring Deer (1/F, 42 Mody Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong) is a bit of an institution in the Hong Kong food scene, and raving reviews of its peking duck abound. I found myself in company of my fav partners in crime J&T and our respective overseas guests tonight as we headed to the place, tastebuds buzzing with anticipation... As we had some fairly unadventurous palates at the table tonight, I left the ordering to T., who would prove much better than I ever could be at ensuring every diner found fodder at its taste. As expected, the peking duck was divine, and a few other dishes were quite amazing. As we Frogs would put it, "It's in an old pot that you make the best soup", and tradition just cannot be beaten - even if that means a rather cramped and noisy dining room with an absolute lack of regard for decoration, rushed service and a particularly treacherous and slippery access staircase... So is it the best pecking duck in town? Well it certainly is the best I have had.

Appetiser: marinated pickled cabbage
Strangely similar in taste to Korean white kimchi and perfect to work up an appetite

Appetiser: boiled peanuts with sesame oil... pretty good once the initial tastebuds confusion passed. I love the texture of fresh boiled peanuts.

"Crab" egg white

This was delicious. The egg white was light and fluffy, and did not feel greasy despite (I was told later...) having been wok-fried in oil. The seafood flavour was prominent, probably enhanced by a touch of MSG-induced umami. A susprisingly good dish.

Egg fried rice

Nothing new under the sun,so I did not try this in order to save stomach space for the duck that would come later...

Stir-fried chicken with garlic and black bean sauce

Here again, I passed my turn but it did look and smell very nice.

Stir-fried noodles with  pork and veggies

Looked good but *YAWN* ...

Goo !!

Thick and delicious sauce for our duck...

Stir-fried veggies and tofu

Now you've got my full and unreserved attention... this was delicious. Tasty, with a touch of oyster sauce, ginger and garlic, crunchy veggies and mushrooms and creamy tofu. Right up my alley.

Beijing dumplings

Reasonably thick skin, and a tasty and juicy pork filling. Very good, but lacked a bit in spice for my taste, so I double-dipped mine in chilli soy sauce :-)

Peking duck pancakes

Freshly hand-made, medium thick and very floury with a slightly elactic texture. Delish. So much care put into a pancake raises expectations even higher about the duck itself...

The "pièce de résistance" - the long-awaited pecking duck, which did not disappoint... Gorgeous crispy skin with a good layer of fat, gamey juicy meat. Yum!

Stir-fried minced duck with veggies

Tasty meat, with plenty of crunch from the veggies. We were given a whole head of butter lettuce to wrap the meat in. This was very good but totally non-spicy and somehow made me crave the Sichuan super-hot version of the dish.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Froggie does Tahiti - Part 1: vanilla-scented fish

My good friend Em is in town for a couple of weeks and was kind enough to buy me some surprise goodies from good ol' London. Heston Blumenthal is launching more and more products with Waitrose supermarkets, and one of the latest offerings is flavoured sea salt, packed in the cutest jars.

Vanilla salt, by Heston Blumenthal for Waitrose UK

Of the four I got (vanilla, oak-smoked, coriander and rose and 4-spice), I would try the vanilla tonight. Ever since I went on a tastebud-awakening trip to Tahiti back 10 years ago, I have been obsessed by a local culinary delicacy - fish cooked in a coconut and vanilla sauce.

Vanilla-scented fish, before baking

In french Polynesia, where fish is plentiful and varied, the recipe would traditionally use mahi-mahi (also known as dolphin in the Caribbean), which has a tender and delicate flesh which pairs deliciously with the sweet vanilla. I did not even try to find some in Hong Kong, as I knew this would be impossible, and settled for a nice chunky cod fillet instead (halibut or monkfish would work equally well for this recipe).

Cod fish fillet, deboned & skin off

Les Recettes de Froggie – Tahitian vanilla-scented fish (serves 2)

400gr cod fillets, deboned and skin off
100gr enoki mushrooms (or other rather neutral mushrooms)
4 tbsp coconut cream
vanilla salt (or coarse sea salt flakes + seeds scraped from the inside of a vanilla pod)
a handful of young coriander leaves
aluminium foil
·       Preheat the oven at 200°C.
·       Cut 2 pieces of foil about 30 x 30cm and place them on an oven-proof dish.
·       Place the fish on the foil, slightly curbing the foil upwards to prevent liquids from running in the dish.
·       Add the coconut cream, salt and vanilla (or vanilla salt if you have some), mushrooms and a few coriander leaves.
·       Close the parcels, leaving a space of about 5cm above the fish to allow the steam to circulate during baking.
·       Bake for 20 to 25mn depending on the thickness and type of fish.
·       Serve with saffron steamed rice and a fruity white wine.

Ideal accompaniment: saffron steamed rice

My wine paring for this dish - Cloudy Bay Te Koko
Crisp and floral

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vamos a tapear

Despite the outstandingly eclectic food offerings boasted by Hong Kong restaurants, there's a few gaps in the dining scene. Middle-eastern and North-African food is hard to come by (I can probably think of only a couple of so-so places covering that space), so is a good Argentinian steak, and authentic-ish Mexican food is impossible to find. Decent Spanish food was also glaringly absent until very recently, when Fofo by El Willy (20/F M88, 2-8 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong) opened its doors last year. After a period of initial scepticism, and encouraged by my friend T.'s enthusiastic review of the place, I finally decided to pay it a visit. I have to admit I liked the place at first sight - the dining room is dotted with cute chubby white plastic penguins and piggies and looks nothing  like your traditional Spanish eatery. The service was laughably amateuristic but the place has a friendly and relaxed feeling about it which, combined with a couple of glasses of some of the excellent Riojas on offer, will make you forget about it quite quickly.
The food itself is generally tasty and flavourful, and quite carefully prepared, and the Bib Gourmand granted by Michelin in its 2011 edition is IMHO very well deserved. Their 36-months aged Iberico ham deserves a special mention. The place will not perform well by any value-for-money criterion, but if all you are after is a few tasty morcels of sunshine in casual and friendly surroundings, then this might just be the place...

Grilled Australian eggplant with a tomato dressing, spinach and manchego cheese

The eggplant was delicious, cooked until creamy but not noticeably fatty. The veggie topping had very fresh and clean flavours, the manchego cheese being pretty discreet. Yummy.

36-month aged acorn-fed Iberian ham with toasted tomato bread

The ham was excellent and the tasty tomato bread came with a drizzle of very good olive oil on top. Very nice but I wish the ham were hand-cut and thick rather than sliced paper-thin with a machine...

Crispy suckling pig with potato and mojo picon

A nice surprise. The pig was moist and fatty, very tender with some decent crackling, and the slice of potato on top was cooked fondant and coated in the drippings of the pork. Very tasty.

El Willy's Boston lobster and seafood paella

This dish regained on flavours the points it lost on the texture... the sweet Boston lobster and the seafood was (very) overcooked and the rice a bit mushy, but the saffron/seafood flavours were very, very nice. It would not take too much work to make this dish truly awesome (cooking to order would seem a good place to start - I, like most foodies, would wait 30mn for a good paella...)

Churros, warm chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream

I found the vanilla ice cream quite unnecessary, but the churros were pretty good with just a touch of cinnamon in the dough, and so was the dark chocolate sauce. I wish these came in adult size :o)

Vanilla parfait with chocolate and chilli sauce

This is a fail - the chilli kick in the chocolate sauce was not powerful or fragrant enough to balance the bland taste of the vanilla parfait, which was too thick and creamy (rather than airy and mousse-like). I left more than half of it on my plate. The biscotti were nice though, as was the fresh raspberry coulis on the plate.

Kudos to my partner-in-crime T. for picking this exceptional Rioja. Life looked noticeably better after we shared a couple of bottles among us 4 :o)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Chilli and spice & everything nice

With a few overseas guests in town, today was going to be a food marathon... after an awesome dim sum brunch, we headed for dinner at San Xi Lou (7/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels Central, Hong Kong). I had long wanted to try the place (seems I am on a mission to test all the Sichuan joints in town...), which has an outstanding reputation in chilli-addicted circles and beyond. We arrived to find the place jam-packed with happy and slightly rowdy diners, eagerly tucking at various hot-pots and other bright-red dishes. The warm and meaty smell of chillies and Sichuan peppercorns that greets you as you pass the door lets you know immediately that you are in good hands and that the food is going to be gorgeous. And it was. Overall, the chillies were used very skillfully, and the level of heat was highly manageable. The menu also features quite an extensive range of non-spicy dishes; the ones we tried were very tasty and warranted second helpings. Considering the quality and quantity of food, the bill came out rather on the cheap side, making the place outstanding value for money. I would very warmly recommend the place to anyone in need of a chilli fix... and everyone else.

Appetizers: marinated chilli beef and marinated chilli deep-fried tofu

The beef was particularly tasty, while the tofu had soaked up the spice like a sponge... delish.

Mouth-watering chicken (aka saliva chicken)

A staple of Sichuan cuisine. Not my favourite type of dish due to the presence of chopped-up bones, but the chicken was tender and the sauce very flavourful. Someone pass me a piece of baguette to dip in... :o)

Ma Po Tofu

An all-time favourite of mine. This version was interestingly different - less spring onion and sauce than at Yu Chuan, not as meaty as Yunyan's or as spicy as Da Ping Huo's. I guess each restaurant has its own spice mix, and this version veered on the Sichuan peppercorn side of the scale. Delicious.

Stri-fried beef with celery

This was one of the non-spicy dishes and was absolutely delish. Tasty, tender beef and fresh, clean celery flavours in a sauce full of umami. Yum!

Stir-fried runner beans and ground pork

Another non-spicy dish, packed with flavours thanks to a liberal use of garlic and spring onions. Very good.

Stir-fried pig's small tripe with chillies

This was wonderful. The thick tripe slices were crispy on the outside, bouncy on the inside, and quite fatty with a strong and pungent porky flavour. We had to fish them from under a pile of dried and fresh chillies, garlic, scallions and ginger. Delish.

Noodles in chilli and peanut sauce

This was medium-spicy and was so delicious we proceeded to order a second bowl straight away. The noodles looked hand-made and had retained some bite despite being rather thin. The sauce was packed with chilli-nutty flavours. Simple and beautiful.

Almond cream

Nice flavour but the texture was a failure - instead of the usual thin threads, the egg white had coagulated in rather large bland lumps that were a bit unpleasant to eat.

Fermented rice soup with fresh fruit and osmanthus

Very fruity and fragrant with a touch of acidity, a very nice way to cool down after all that spice...

Tofu and ginger sugar

I particularly enjoyed the light texture and fresh flavour of the hand-made tofu.

Black sesame rice dumplings in ginger soup

The ginger soup was a bit on the sweet side but the dumplings were very delish, with a particularly fragrant and creamy black sesame paste filling and a bouncy texture.