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  1. Berlin Restaurants

    The first time I visited Berlin was more than 10 years ago when one of my best friends still studying there. Then I made a return here (1-night transit) last May … I thought Berlin has undergone the biggest improvement among major cities in Germany in terms of top restaurants, hotels etc. (both quality and quantity). I didn’t really expect such dramatic ‘upgrade’, so it was not that easy to pick where to go for my only dinner opportunity here – note that there are currently 7 2-star Michelin restaurants in Berlin. Tim Raue would be the most popular and common choice but I skipped it since I found the food was “too (Southeast) Asian” – given I’m from that region. I prefer something more German/international and the choice fell into Lorenz Adlon Esszimmer as it’s also strategically located near Brandenburg gate area. The dining room of Lorenz Adlon was small (could accommodate at most 30 people) and divided into 2 rooms; I was seated in the ‘inside’ room, designed like a private library, near the corner and far from the window. The ceiling was not too high but the interior exuded luxury and intimacy; the space among the tables was comfortably distanced. The restaurant was nearly full; perhaps it’s of no surprise given the food quality and the fact that it only serves 4 dinners a week … even more “relaxed” than L’Astrance! The meal began with a pour of sparkling wine (sans alcohol), complimentary from the house. The bread had gorgeous presentation (served among the colorful stones inside a big bowl) and they’re delicious, pretty much all of them – pretzel, honey muffin, thyme roll and sourdough. The bread was served together with truffle mayo and chives salted butter. For the meal, I ordered a longer tasting menu but without the cheese (7 courses in total). The cuisine was a combination of traditional German with French technique and contemporary flavors using top produce. I found many of the appetizers often used too many ingredients on the plate hence lacked focus, but I admired the chef’s boldness. I liked it better when he put fewer things on the plate and let the main ingredient shine such as what happened in the main courses. The baked pork’s chin was flavorful, crispy outside and tender inside; it was nicely complemented by the glazed onions and potato cream. Likewise, the beef filet was perfectly executed and enhanced by the ‘yellow’ sauce and dark gravy containing its jus. Maybe since Hendrik Otto, chef de cuisine, is still “young” and has been here in less than a decade, he would still need to tweak the recipe and try to find his perfect style. The service was warm, friendly, and professional even though I was never served by the manager. Although at first, the basic was similar to what I often experienced in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong); I generally liked the hospitality I received in Europe better. Probably, it’s the tone, the body language and the face expression of the staffs here that I found to be more genuine, passionate and smooth instead of being robotic despite the young age of the staffs taking care of me. By the way, I also received an equally impeccable service by young gentlemen at Aqua. Overall, it’s a satisfying 2-star meal; great service and tasty food. I think Chef Otto’s creations were still work in progress … one day maybe he will receive the 3rd star? Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157688387502275
  2. Le Grand Vefour

    My journey to visit more 2-star restaurant in Paris last spring continued with a dinner at Le Grand Vefour (GV), one of the oldest restaurants in which chef Raymond Oliver made his name as one of the best in France especially during the mid-50’s until late 70’s. These days, the restaurant is probably more well- known because of its history and beautiful dining room. Under the current chef-patron Guy Martin, he tried to make the food to be more up-to-date such as the use of foam and re-interpret some traditional dishes. Initially, I was tempted to order “menu plaisir” but after learning that it’s not necessarily about Guy Martin’s classic and it had nearly 10 dishes … I decided to go for an a la carte. I ordered 2 half portion appetizers, 1 main course and 1 dessert. My favorite was the main course: the whole pigeon (Prince Rainier 3) – no way to serve this as part of the tasting menu; also another excuse to skip the degustation menu. The bird was deboned and stuffed with foie gras, black truffle and veal forcemeat. I thought the pigeon’s meat, with its jus and truffle sauce, was delicious whereas the additional stuffing was ‘too much’ for me and I could not finish them. It also came with some seasonal vegetables + tasty mashed potatoes. You can see the rest of the dishes from the link’s below – there were generally above average but nothing memorable. I’m afraid that Le Grand Vefour, at the current state, would never re-gain its status as a 3-star restaurant The restaurant was quite busy filled with the locals and foreigners alike (the table next to me was 2 couples from the US; there were also a big group of Japanese occupying the private room upstairs). So, business-wise, this institution was doing fine. Guy Martin didn’t come to the kitchen until after 8 PM. In spite of the elegant dining room, many people were (surprisingly) dressed casually – some were in jeans, or shirt with folded sleeves and no jacket. Except the hostess, all of the service staffs were men dressed in black. Like the food, the service experience overall was ordinary. Water was often not refilled until I raised my hand, napkin was not replaced (or even folded) after leaving the table – not sure if I have to “blame” this because I was seated at the far corner from the entrance and the dining room was kind of tight / crammed. Apparently, I have similar taste with the Michelin guide. Among the 2 star places (Rostang, Roth’s Espadon, Carre des Feuillants etc.) I’ve visited in the past decade; only at Le Bristol (in ‘06) and this year’s Taillevent I found the meals to be really satisfying. That being said, I will possibly still continue my quest to visit more of Paris 2-star restaurants particularly the ones I’ve never dined there before. Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157685496596633/with/36655086416/
  3. Alain Ducasse -- Plaza Athenee

    In general, I like the restaurants that Alain Ducasse owns and runs especially the ones bearing his name. Although I was not too impressed with his dining places at Le Meurice and Dorchester, I always had wonderful experiences at Plaza Athenee (I have not dined at Le Louis XV for nearly a decade now). No doubt that the restaurant’s cordial service and my friendship with Denis Courtiade, the recipient of many hospitality awards including “Le 1er Prix de la Salle lors des Trophées Le Chef”, made a different. I returned here again last May – it’s been a while that I’ve never eaten at Ducasse Plaza during Spring. It would also be the 2nd time I savored Ducasse food under the new concept of ‘Naturalness’ The food, once again, was delivered and executed at the high level. I ate a few half courses dishes and really loved the following: -Gelatinous and pleasantly chewy vesiga (Sturgeon bone marrow) served with nutty + grainy chickpeas and briny + high quality caviar. All of these elements worked together in harmony. Alain Ducasse was very good indeed when creating a caviar-based dish -Besides the one at Taillevent, I was spoiled with another spectacular Turbot dish for this trip. The thick turbot ‘filet’ (perfectly cooked with the bone) was fabulous, having succulent + flaky flesh and deliciously fatty. The fish was accompanied by sea cucumber, fresh & sweet peas and beans. Outstanding! I opted to try cheese this time and was pleased with the selection (3-year old comte, stilto, salers and sheep cheese). Denis also recommended me 2 excellent desserts: natural and iced Rhubarb with fennel cream and cake, also consisting of tart acidic rhubarb & versatile fennel. The other dessert was a deep & bitter dark chocolate with nutty barley and (quite) intense whisky-flavored sherbet The service was, once again, exceptional and even better than the food (seriously). The (large number of) staffs delivered attentive, amiable, polite and discrete service. I didn’t have any particular assigned maître d’ this time, but anyone who served me was professional and knew what he/she was doing. I did not arrive until 9 PM and truly appreciated when Mr. Courtiade was waiting at the entrance. He came to my table nearly every hour; even we chatted and walked around the hotel when I left the dining room to take a break. Before midnight, we were talking one final time and then he said that he had to finish up his paper works at the office and would not return to the restaurant again for the day. I was glad to return here to have a wonderful meal with delicious food and superb service. Thanks to Denis that the house gave me free drinks, including a few glasses of wines. The restaurant was full house even though it was on Monday. I was told that the return of Ducasse Plaza in the top 50 best restaurants list this year might have been the reason. A couple or a group of people who celebrated special occasions; the restaurant gave them instant pictures they could take home (some kind of polaroid photos). A new thing I noticed here was that Ducasse gave bigger opportunity for female staffs to hold important positions at his flagship restaurants such as the current head pastry chef and the assistant sommelier were women. 5th visit to this restaurant is certainly not impossible. Given, Alain Ducasse’s habit to always evolve / find something new, perhaps I should not be surprised if several years down the road, the content of my meal at the Plaza Athenee would be filled with something very different. More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/08/alain-ducasse-au-plaza-athenee-4th-visit.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157683893786741/with/35551069350/
  4. Nearly every 2 years, I made an effort to visit Joel Robuchon Restaurant (JRR) in Singapore. I think it’s arguably the best French restaurant in the areas and I am (still) in the quest to savor Chef Robuchon’s specialties as many as possible in particular the main course served for 2 – normally presented and carved table side. Earlier this year, I re-visited the JRR with my wife. The ‘biggest’ changed I noticed was that the price had been increased dramatically (by 20% or more) – the negative effect for the customers from a restaurant receiving 3-star Michelin; it seemed to be almost automatic for JRR to get the 3rd star for his fine dining places (not l’atelier) all around the globe. Similar to our last visit, we ordered the least expensive menu since we know the restaurant offered lots of delicious bread selection and dessert + sweets trolleys. The kitchen generously offered us an extra dish in the form of crispy Amadai. The main reason we came here: La Canette (the duck was from a special farm in Malaysia) and it was superb. The slices of duck breast were of good quality, tasty and relatively tender. It was enhanced by its jus, sweet honey, crisp and a bit spicy coriander as well as the flavorful rounds of glazed turnips and foie gras. The 2nd preparation was also solid. Sauté duck thigh / leg (lots of meat) were served on lettuce with coriander seeds. They were really flavorful. The hot broth would neutralize any unpleasant / excess 'oily' stuffs. I believe it would’ve been even better had the restaurant used Challans duck. I will let you see the link below for the rest of our meal. The wine list was insanely expensive. While I get used to a mark-up of 2-4x, here most bottles (across the spectrum) can be 5-7x pricier than you would find outside. I just had a glass of Bordeaux red wine (2012 la dame de montrose) The service at JRR has been in decline when Thomas Raguzzi left; Fabien, the sommelier and acting manager during the transition period, lacked in communication skills and did not seem too passionate when serving the customers. Fortunately, the RWS decided to recruit Sebastian Noyelle to be in charge of the hospitality of both Robuchon restaurants. He’s an excellent replacement for Thomas – friendly, knowledgeable, easy going – made guests always at ease. The downside was that somehow most of the current staffs (many of them from Malaysia) were (too) relaxed and casuals. As I used to live in Singapore and am familiar with the island service culture and style, I had no problem to adapt and relate to them – in fact, my spouse liked this kind of ‘flair’. However, foreign visitors who often expect more professional, a bit formal and refined service at 3-star level restaurants might be (slightly) disappointed. Overall, it was a satisfying meal. The food quality has improved when compared to my first visit of JRR under Michael Michaelidis. He was very confident and comfortable when talking to us during the kitchen tour. His skills, passion and desire to please the customers will be the key to the success of the restaurant drawing more customers and making regulars coming back. Safe some money and I don’t mind returning here again in the future. That being said, I still could not say that it was an absolute 3-star quality meal especially when compared to my experience in Europe. 2 ½* experience in my note but given Chef Michaelidis talent and young age, his cooking should be better and better … Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157683794778986/with/34534285582/
  5. Among the “big 4” fashion capitals in the world … Milan rather lacks in terms of top fine dining restaurants; there were no 3-star Michelin dining places and in the past several years, no new restaurant there that could catch the attention of ‘hard core’ foodies. However, things changed about 2 years ago when Seta, located inside the new and fashionable Mandarin Oriental hotel, opened and led by the talented Antonio Guida. Within 2 years, Seta was among the most talked about (new) restaurants in Italy and Europe. More importantly, it received 2-star Michelin and this was a good excuse for me to visit this place when I was in the area this Spring. Seta’s cooking is undeniably Italian but don’t really expect to see the traditional preparations. Chef Guida loves to re-work and re-fine the classic dishes; also whenever possible he would use local ingredients from nearby areas. As someone who used to work under Pierre Gagnaire, he applied some unusual produce / combination at his dishes – a few of them worked well. I opted for a la carte this time and my favorite dishes happened to be served at the beginning and at the end: -Roasted blue lobster with mushroom zabaglione, cardoon and trompette powder. This was most delicious thing I ate during this dinner. The perfectly cooked lobster was tender and delicious; it was enhanced by light / airy but flavorful mushroom sabayon and cardoon (having artichoke-like flavor). An excellent appetizer -Liquorice parfait with crystallised Kentucky tobacco leaves, spiced pear and coffee cream. All elements worked together in harmony; well-balanced of sweet and bitter flavors. It was also fragrant, velvety and smooth. Seta has a very solid pastry team under the guidance of Nicola di Lena. A big fan of sweets should probably sample 2 desserts or more here As this is in Italy, ordering pasta is a “must”. I had 2 half portions of ‘risotto’ and sagne (Puglia pasta) – inventive but not as good as I expected. My main course was suckling pig – well executed & flavorful but the side dishes did not work too well with the pork. You could see them from the pictures at the link below The service was arguably the best one I’ve ever experienced in Italy. Staffs were attentive, friendly and knowledgeable. My maître d’ patiently helped and explained the menu - it took me sometimes to decide what to order. He used to work in London (Gordon Ramsay and Le Gavroche) and hence spoke fluent English. I think Seta’s 2-star was somewhat justified; the 3rd one may not come very soon but it should become the most probable candidate in Milan to receive the red guide’s highest honor (IMHO better than Cracco and Aimo Nadia) Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682467296622
  6. Gastronomy in Germany … it’s known for to have the most 3-star restaurants in Europe after France; there are 10 of them. In the Fall of 2008, I went to eat the creations of Dieter Muller and Joachim Wissler (Vendome was excellent) – then, didn’t know why, I just never return to Germany until last month. Although initially, I intended to visit the black forest area, the logistic of the biz trip made it easier for me to go to the “upper” Germany and this how I ended up having dinner at Aqua, the first 3-star Michelin in the Northern region. Aqua’s location is unique, inside the Ritz Carlton hotel that was situated in the Volkswagen autostadt ‘theme park’. It was not too secluded and can be reached quite easily by a fast train from a major city like Berlin. It was a small restaurant whose capacity was only around 30 people and it was very busy that evening. Surprisingly (or not?), there were plenty of French people occupying 3 different tables. I liked the minimal décor creating a relaxing atmosphere and there’s full windows providing views of old factory, water and the lawn. The table was big and widely spaced between tables. Nearly all of the German top restaurants have strong French influence in their cooking and in fact all of the head chefs are skillful in executing French cuisine technique. For the case of chef Sven Elverfeld, he belongs to the “young” chefs of the New German school. Additionally, his cooking was playful, and full of surprises. He likes deconstructing and distinctly re-interpreting traditional dishes in modern ways. These can be seen from many of his creations. For this dinner, I ordered the middle option of the grand journey menu. Some memorable dishes were: -velvety and scrumptious ‘chilled’ foie gras was balanced by grapes’ tartness, ice cream & goat cream cheese. The crunchy walnut was in contrast to the creamy liver. An outstanding beginning and awesome foie gras dish especially coming for someone who arguably never ordered any foie gras dish from the a la carte menu ever -the kitchen prepared 4 different fish dishes that evening (unfortunately with zero seafood item) and I had 3 of them. Among these, my favorite was a superb Brittany Sole that was carefully executed and covered with tasty pistachio-hazelnut butter. The salsify, with its vague oyster flavor, nicely supported the fish flavor -my main course was a wonderful local saddle of wild Venison (covered with thin ‘crumbs/batter’). It was slowly cooked at low temperature resulting in succulent and delicious meat without any unpleasant gamey smell / taste. The jus was also flavorful and the venison was served with cabbage, mustard and berries. It seemed that Germany may have different (and longer) hunting period than France There were plenty of innovative and tasty dishes that readers could see from the link below. Moreover, at the beginning, we’re given 5 small snacks and at the end, the pastry team delivered 3 mini sweets after the dessert. Service has been friendly, charming and almost flawless. My waiting staff was always ready to do his job yet often not visible to ensure guest’s comfort and ‘privacy’. Food and service were at high levels and very precise – a typical of German engineering finesse. Aqua, along with restaurant Vendome, easily becomes my best restaurant in Germany and the 3-star award was not surprising at all More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/06/aqua-sven-elverfeld.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682545862183
  7. Le Cinq in the George Cinq

    Le Cinq is a new but old (experience) for me. Even though I’ve been visiting Paris every other year recently, I have never visited this grand restaurant. Yet, as I entered the restaurant, I’m familiar with some aspects: I ate at Christian Le Squer’s Ledoyen before, in fact twice - hence, I also somewhat recognized nearly half of the dishes in the menu. Moreover, I saw Patrick Simiand (a former restaurant director of Ledoyen) leading the dining room that evening. Initially, I was convinced that I would order the degustation menu here. Unlike in Ledoyen, the tasting menu is not exclusively about Le Squer’s classic all the time such as langoustine with ‘mayo’, turbot with potato, sweetbread as well as the grapefruit dessert. Somehow, as I reached the restaurant, I did not feel too hungry and was a bit tired. Thus, I went for a la carte. After learning the menu, I could not find new stuffs I really wanted to try. I went for relatively safe choices and they turned out well -Being a Breton chef, Chef Le Squer was really good in cooking seafood. So, for my ‘appetizer’, I had blue lobster with creamy coral emulsion. The well-executed lobster was tender and flavorful. The creamy sauce was somewhat tangy and lingering pleasantly in my palate. This dish also had some vegetables on the side. I wish the staff would pour only half of the sauce, and put the rest on the table (see the picture, then you will understand what I mean) -I hardly repeat having any dish especially for an a la carte when dining at a high end restaurant. But since I could not see any appealing new dishes by Le Squer, so I ordered his signature dish again: Spaghetti timbale with ham and morels. It has always been a superb dish and that night was no exception! Delicious ingredients, impressive sauce (black truffle + veal reduction), and beautiful presentation. Everything simply worked together in harmony. I think this spaghetti nest was one of the best dishes in the entire Parisian world of haute cuisine Dessert and (pre-dessert) was also really good here but the mises en bouche were forgettable. The hospitality was professional though nothing truly special about what I experienced. However, I was impressed with how my maître d’ handled diners next to me. Although based on my observation and how I saw the husband’s expression, the staff was not really wrong – he never blamed the madame and did his best to communicate with the kitchen to solve the issue and fulfil her wishes. Too long to tell all; essentially the wife wanted to create her own tasting menu in which for each serving is half portion divided by 2 (yes, you’re right if you think it was ¼ portion or smaller per person) Do I need to say about the opulent dining room? Well, plenty has been said and you can see a picture with the description below. While my meal here might not reach the high of the previous meals at Ledoyen, given that Le Cinq opens 7 days a week and Sunday is Christian’s off day, it’s a very satisfying meal. My 2 a la carte dishes were fantastic. I think I will return here … someday Pictures of the meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157682233271833/with/35303633516/
  8. Taillevent vs. Grand Vefour

    Taillevent is a dining landmark in Paris and has been respected for years, even now. However, people hardly talk about it anymore ever since this iconic restaurant lost Michelin’s 3rd star about a decade ago, albeit it’s still quite reputable and managed to maintain the 2-star awards. I visited Taillevent, located not too far from Champs-Elysses, last May. The restaurant used to be a private mansion and it has a classy entrance and elegant dining room design. I was seated at the Lamennais dining room – the one with plenty of wooden panels and some modern artworks. The atmosphere was comfortable and soothing; the dining room was only half filled and I was seated in the sofa during my lunch. I was told that it was the last week of morels season and I decided to order a seasonal tasting menu focusing on asparagus and morel mushrooms ingredients. They did not seem to be too ‘heavy’ as there was no meat course. I was impressed with: -Anjou green asparagus (crisp yet tender and delectable) served on acidic verjus jelly (like a fine ‘vinegar sauce’) and with briny caviars. The presentation was exquisite -My main course was a perfectly executed turbot. The fish was cooked by keeping the middle bone and fat; this way added unique and delicious flavors. The sauce was also tasty, made of white wine & fish bone. As expected, the side dishes were asparagus and morels but the Turbot simply outshone them -I also liked the gougeres served at the beginning. Possibly the best one I’ve eaten since the old days of L’Ambroisie The food was generally very good although Alain Soliveres was not in the kitchen that day. The 2-star is certainly well deserved. It may get 3-star one day if the Michelin inspectors were in good moods during their secretive visit … The service was smooth, respectful and polished. The staffs, all gentlemen, were always around whenever you need something; most of them spoke good English. More detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/06/taillevent-alain-soliveres.html Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157682059513233/with/35223664866/
  9. Kashiwaya, Hong Kong

    This will be the last part of my HK short trip in Nov last year. I had a lunch (by having a dinner set menu) at Kashiwaya, a relatively new Japanese restaurant. Followers of Japan kaiseki should immediately recognize the name – it’s indeed the first overseas outlet of the Kashiwaya Senriyama, one of a few 3-star Michelin restaurants in Osaka. The reservation was a bit challenging: to guarantee it, guests had to fill in the form and give your CC numbers / pictures as well as your signature. I was a bit lucky to make it here because the day before (Hideaki Matsuo, the chef-patron had an event in Macau so he brought his HK team along) and the day after (Jun Takahashi, the executive chef of Kashiwaya HK would attend a Michelin ‘party’) my lunch, Kashiwaya was apparently closed. I perceived it that the restaurant wanted to make sure whenever they open, they would serve the best food to their customers by having the full team around. Kashiwaya is located on the 8th floor at the On Lan Street, Central (the same building as Arcane and ON dining kitchen). The restaurant is carefully decorated and the interior was designed as if you’re transported to Japan – from the karakami sliding doors to walls painted by Japanese artists etc. The atmosphere was elegant, comfortable and discreetly ‘lavish’. I was the first customer to arrive and there were 2 others seated at the counter. However, the main dining hall was full – occupied by more than 10 people from mainland China (how did I know? From their Mandarin and accent of course; they’re also loud and carried plenty of shopping bags J). Thus, for the relatively new dining places with minimal marketing, Kashiwaya HK seemed to do quite well. Upon making a booking, the restaurant would ask you which menu to have as the kitchen got to prepare the ingredients a few days in advance. I picked the middle menu with 10 courses. Like any other overseas branches of Japanese restaurants in HK, the price here was expensive. Jun Takahashi and his team worked hard to “compensate” for it. All of the dishes were labor-intensive and carefully prepared by using premium, fresh and seasonal ingredients. Presentations were generally beautiful and the taste was delicious. I might not eat any spectacular dishes, but they’re consistently good and served at the high level. If I had to pick my favorite, a few of them were: -Nimonowan: The Amadai was carefully sake steamed resulting in tasty and tender fish; the Matsutake was meaty and delicious. The most important part was the perfectly balanced dashi with clean & umami flavor that held all elements (sweet potato, carrot and green vegetables) together. An awesome soup! -Yakimono: The grilled & marinated Ibodai was juicy, rich and delicious. The sweet potato, surprisingly, complemented the fish well. At first, I suspected they would be too strong when consumed together; the portion was also nice -Kae: 2 small dishes served concurrently. The first one - The sweet soy stewed Ayu fish and Uni brought richer tastes; they're balanced by rather mild mozzarella cheese and wasabi. The second part - The marinated Maguro was good; they're integrated by creamy ‘wild’ avocado, radish and uni as well as firm Shiitake mushroom. The dishes were meticulously executed using premium ingredients and they were satisfying For those who want to know more about what I ate, you could check out the links below. I noticed that at least half of the kitchen and dining room staffs were Japanese (including the lady manager); to ensure authenticity and the experience delivered at the high level. My hot ocha was constantly re-filled and anytime I need something, it was not difficult to find helpful staffs. The junior cooks plated many dishes at the counter, so asking any question about the food was not difficult when you’re seated at the counter. Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. I very much liked my Autumn tasting menu though I cannot say for sure that I will definitely return here on my next visit to Hong Kong due to its steep price and the fact that the island had ample of dining options. I think the 2-star Michelin awarded to Kashiwaya is a well-deserved one. More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/04/kashiwaya-hong-kong.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157679096852003
  10. The name Les Amis among foodies in Singapore (and those who’re familiar with the island’s dining scene) is identical with an old and respectable fine dining institution. Desmond Lim, with a few capable friends such as Justin Quek and Ignatius Chan, started it as a ‘lone’ gastronomy restaurant more than 20 years ago – a period when haute cuisine was not common in Singapore. Now, Les Amis group have grown as regional dining empire. Yet, the flagship Les Amis still stands tall, if not stronger than ever. Since the time when Chef Gunther was Les Amis’ executive chef, roughly I have been coming here for lunch or dinner roughly every 2-3 years. The last one took place in Nov ’16; this was also the 2nd time (if not mistaken) I ate in which Chef Sebastien Lepinoy leading the kitchen. Lepinoy was very particular about outsourcing his ingredients; he wanted the best produce (from Europe mostly) and has had a good relationship with elite supplier from his native country, France including the access to Le Ponclet butter. Some of the highlights of my degustation menu that evening were: -Pan seared of Erquy (Brittany) scallop was of high quality, plump and perfectly executed – the chef managed to keep its sublime texture and flavor. It was served with juicy clams, balanced scallion sauce and briny caviar. A very good dish -I also liked the Roasted Sea bass: tasty, meaty yet rather delicate; served with baby leeks, sweet muscat grapes and versatile sauce. The verjus du perigord sauce was mildly acidic and fruity. It worked well with the fish and its side dishes. A well prepared French cuisine -Eating a decent game dish in Singapore was a rare opportunity. Firstly, Asians usually were not too keen on the “hunting animal’s” smell, and then AVA was very strict about importing it. I was surprised and pleased when I saw Chef Lepinoy served game pie in the menu. It was a small one containing (chopped) foie gras, pheasant and served with its jus. The tourte was crisp and buttery with intense flavors of the duck liver and the bird’s meat. It was alright until I ate them together with sipping a red Burgundy (Puligny-Montrachet ‘07); the pairing was excellent. The wine cut through some ‘fat’ and enhanced the dish overall flavor -The main course was a tender and flavorful Aubrac veal tenderloin, served with mashed potatoes and caramelized onion. -Cheryl Koh was a creative and talented head pastry chef of Les Amis. Her desserts were consistently good and tasty but somehow I’ve never overblown by them. For the evening, I quite enjoyed the poached Williams pear – beautifully arranged. Inside the pear, there were caramel custard and thin biscuits The rests of the dishes (not mentioned here) were also solid and pleasant in general, but not as good as the ones described above. You can see those dishes at the link below. Similar to my meals here in early 2014, I find the food to be well executed, rather conventional, and tasty by using top products. However, I hardly experienced “wow” / memorable dishes that made me long to return here more often. Anyway, consistent with my previous dinner, this meal was at 2 ¼* level. Thus, I think the Michelin 2-star was justified but I’m not sure if it could go to the 3rd one anytime soon – certainly not in my notes I almost forgot to mention that Les Amis underwent major renovation a few years ago, especially a big ‘face lift’ at the kitchen: the customized Charvet island made the kitchen safer and more efficient (a very not-so-elaborate explanation). The dining room could fit in more people, thanks to the additional and bigger private rooms. The main dining room takes advantage of the high ceiling and well-spaced tables arrangement. The service has always been professional and amiable though sometimes mechanical when explaining the dishes especially when done by ‘junior’ staffs Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157680875546676/with/32826562550/
  11. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo, Hong Kong

    Often claimed as the best Italian restaurant outside Italy and the fact that it was November (meaning the season of white truffle) – these were adequate “excuses” for me to have a dinner at 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo when I was in Hong Kong last year. Actually, I visited this place several years ago for a quick lunch; ordering a few a la carte dishes and I thought they were tasty and well executed though I didn’t think the kitchen delivered 3-star level of food. It was a dinner on Wednesday evening and the restaurant was packed (Otto e Mezzo has been doing very well to fill their 55 seats daily). Probably, that’s why the reservation process was easy – via email and they did not ask for any CC for guarantee. I arrived nearly 8 PM and most of the diners were already there. I was determined to have a couple of dishes with white truffle at first, but ended up ordering more. Given how generous the managers and their assistant when shaving the precious fungus, I did not regret my decision. My meal started with good focaccia bread served with high quality extra virgin olive oil and not-so strong balsamic vinegar (per my request). The amuse-bouche already had white truffle in it: warm and creamy potato soup with wild mushrooms. After that, my first appetizer was roasted Hokkaido scallop; the bigger one was pan seared and the smaller one was lightly battered. Scallops were tender and sweet. I also liked the crunchy raw porcini on top, the mushroom sauce was pleasant. Now for the Alba truffle parts: In line with Chef Bombana’s principle to prepare dishes in such a way that they will highlight the intensity of the truffle’s flavor and aroma, I ordered one egg dish and one pasta dish. -Organic taiyouran egg was naturally sweet with its pretty bright orange yolk. The egg’s delicate flavor went well with the generous sliced of earthy and garlicky “fragrance” of the white truffle -Homemade tagliolini, cooked al dente, was served in the butter and parmesan sauce (the pasta nicely absorbed the not-so-strong sauce). Again, a simple dish would make the Alba truffle’s pungent smell and unique flavor shine. Another classic matching Despite the busy schedule (entertaining the media and ready to go for the HK Michelin ’17 ‘party’ in the night), chef-owner Umberto Bombana spent some times visiting and talking to diners. I had a short discussion with him regarding which main course to order. For the meat, he recommended the Fassone veal. Initially, I thought because it was part of white truffle dish but it turned out that the veal itself was indeed superb. The thinly coated Piemontese (breed) tenderloin, though relatively lean, was very tender, delicious with lingering flavor. The clean taste of the meat was integrated by more intense truffle. Lastly, for the dessert, I ordered truffle gelato with some crisp, sweet and creamy things found in Chantilly, nougat and chestnuts. The gelato’s flavor was not intense but there were plenty of sliced white truffles (again). The petit fours were also well prepared and with good variety Unlike the classic design of Toscana (Chef Bombana’s previous restaurant), the décor of Otto e Mezzo was modern, chic and sleek. There was a bar with a few tables and as you walked further, you would reach the main dining room with long windows panel, some mirrors, and some paintings. The tables and their distances were quite spacous. Asians were, unfortunately, not known to be fantastic maître d’. Here, the restaurant (in addition to the manager) employs a few others Italians (I noticed 2) to run and serve at the dining room. Generally, the service was relaxed, friendly and attentive. Some of them made effort to have a chat with me who dined solo. I was very pleased with this meal and as I saw my notes, I gave 96/100 for the food (2¾ *). This apparently ranked as the best meal I’ve ever had in HK/Macau – better than my meals at Sushi Shikon, Robuchon au Dome or Lung King Heen. I certainly would not mind returning here especially during the Fall / Winter season More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/02/8-otto-e-mezzo-hong-kong.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157679964086015
  12. Bo Innovation

    One of the foodie paradise cities, Hong Kong currently has 6 restaurants with 3-michelin star. Among them, Bo Innovation is one of the most ‘popular’ places but not necessarily because of the undisputed quality of its food. Instead for different reasons such as: the chef-owner Alvin Leung (a British born, former engineer and a self-taught chef) is the master of marketing - be it from his eccentric appearance, the bombastic mantra of X-treme Chinese cuisine with molecular stuffs and other unusual things you don’t usually find at the ‘more normal’ Michelin elite places. The main reason that brought me here was because I want to treat my aunt and cousin that I’ve known since I was really young (I used to stay at their places when visiting HK during the 90’s). The tricky part was that my aunt could only eat Chinese food without any dairy products while my cousin preferred dining something more contemporary and innovative. Thus, I thought the restaurant that might satisfy both requirements was Bo Innovation – well, I want to bring them to somewhere fancy too As you entered the restaurant, Bo Innovation was indeed very different – a bit dark, with hardwood floor and no fancy / luxurious décor. Some wall papers were a bit unique depicting Hong Kong. However, the basic things in the fine dining restaurants were still there: friendly staffs, a few of them such as the manager speaking good English, spacious table covered with good linen; overall, we felt comfortable. It was a busy evening, only about 20 guests were there. Chef Leung himself was not available since he had an engagement in Macau that day There were 2 tasting menu and all of us ordered the shorter one (the red menu HK story). Some comments about the dishes: -Xtreme “xiao long bao” was arguably Bo’s most famous dish. It looked like an ‘egg yolk’ with some liquid that managed to integrate (all of) the original xiao long bao flavors including the vinegar and ginger except it did not have the texture of its traditional version -Smoked quail egg with caviar and crispy taro was also well-known here and it’s quite good. The briny caviar and egg went fine; could’ve been better had the quail egg yolk been runny IMO There were plenty of dishes in which the kitchen combined HK’s ‘ancient sauces’ to the dishes and applied modern technique with contemporary presentation. For instance: -Sweet raw spot prawn covered by chili soy sauce powder accompanied by umami noodles cooked in “har mi” oil -Smooth and tasty pan fried duck liver with “chu yeh ching” miso accompanied by charcoal mantou filled with crunchy bamboo shoots -Shredded hairy crab in generous portion put inside ‘baby food container’ served with aged “Chin kiang” vinegar -“Pat chun” tomatoes in candied form with Chinese olives “lam kok” mayo etc. I did appreciate this original effort to utilize and respect the old days ‘ingredients’. While I was not particularly impressed with their flavors, but overall they worked relatively well. Even, my aunt and cousin (who are HK-ers) were surprised that such produced would still be applied in the present-day fine dining The dishes that I liked the most here happened to be the main courses. We all ordered the organic Long Jiang chicken with its super crispy skin served in spherical form. Inside, the meat was moist, in contrast to more chewy and earthy mushrooms. As the side dishes, we’re given tasty chicken rice (using high quality Acquerello rice) mixed with chicken stock. I was also curious with Bo’s suckling pig and decided to order an additional main course. The skin was crackling / crispy with tasty meat (and decent porky smells/tastes). The dark sauce was rather intense with some peppercorn in it and there was roasted Sichuan pineapples generating some sweet & sour flavor – it did not disappoint at all. Following my habit when dining at Chinese restaurant, instead of having any alcohol/wine, I chose to drink a tea. I had a fragrant & calming Jasmine blossoms tea supplied by Yu teahouse. Given plenty of negative reviews about this place … I thought my meal was quite good (I certainly had a great time catching up with my relatives). For me, the meal was not worth 3-star but I had no problem rewarding this place a score equivalent to 2-star by Michelin standard in my personal notes. Initially, I was afraid that my meal at Bo Innovation might have taken the place of my lunch at Le Bernardin (lunch) or dinner at De Karmeliet as the least impressive dining experiences I’ve ever had at the 3-star level. Apparently, the kitchen at Bo performed better than those 2 places even when Alvin was not around. Will I return here? Unlikely … it’s just one of those tick-the-box restaurants at the 3 star-level Meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157675451645983/with/31458866313/
  13. Finally … The famous and respectable (French) red guide book came to Singapore and shared their verdicts in the middle of 2016. Although it’s not perfect, but compared to other resources, generally I trust the judgement of Michelin the most. It’s possibly the main reason I allowed myself to have dinner at Shoukouwa (2-star) – I don’t usually visit a new high-end restaurant until it’s already operated for a year. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited the island’s ‘latest’ elite sushi-yas such as Ashino, Hashida, Mieda, Ichi & Mitsuya for their full lunch omakase but still not convinced to go all the way for their dinner. It might be ironic since after a couple of visits, I was not too fond of Ginza sushi ichi whereas Shoukouwa was supposedly its more refined version. Anyway, the booking was quite troublesome. It’s one of those places that would require guest’s CC and the restaurant really checked whether your card worked – there’s some charge to your CC but it would be removed a few days later. Andre is another restaurant I can think of that’s more detailed – you need to purchase a ticket (cost a certain fraction of your meal) thus it would discourage any lukewarm diners. I think it’s understandable for Shoukouwa to do such things given the size of sushi-ya: 8 people at the counter and 6 in the private room. And similar to Waku Ghin, it did 2 seating during dinner and I went for the later one. I arrived about 8:15 PM that Sunday and the other 7 guests were already in; in fact a local couple on my left was almost half way. The other 5 people belong to a group of Mexican businessmen/women. I would consider myself lucky to be seated almost at the center in my first visit here. You would get more chef’s attention, easier to communicate as well as enjoy lots of Masa-san’s skills live and his detailed actions Some of the highlights/notes of my meal (note that all guests ordered a bigger omakase on that evening): “Appetizers” … - Lightly seared fresh Nodoguro (medium-rare) was tender and delicious with some of its crisp skin still intact. But I found the mixed of chopped vegetables below the fish was too strong -Seasonal Hokkaido hairy crab was splendid with meaty, fresh and naturally sweet flesh -The traditional and simple ‘snack’ like persimmons in tofu sauce was surprisingly really good. The sauce was versatile and balanced while the kaki was tasty and somewhat crunchy -Deep-fried crab croquette was one of the dishes that often appeared at Shoukouwa. The crust was light yet crisp but the inside was too dense & rich with muddy crab flesh; not that suitable for my taste -Thick and tender Chiba abalone (steamed for several hours) was splendid. The sauce containing awabi’s liver, miso etc. was very flavorful with a hint of bitter tea taste. It was served with sushi rice that I used to wipe out any leftover green sauce “Sushi” … Chef Masa made an extra effort by preparing 2 kinds of rice: one with white vinegar for white or lighter fish/seafood whiles the red vinegar used for more flavorful morsels. The rice to fish ration was just right; shari cooked ‘al dente’ and not too packed (can still comfortably taste rice grains). About every half an hour, new shari was brought in to ensure the sushi rice was served optimally all the time Some pieces I liked a lot: -Buri in 2 ways (smoky in sashimi style and oily & delectable in sushi form) -Succulent and luscious chutoro, aged for 10 days -Shimofuri? This cut (between chu & o toro) was refined and smooth with the right texture & temperature -Sayori was delightful, rather soft and clean -A bowl of ikura and uni with shari. The salmon roes were generously served; they covered the whole surface of the rice. It was very decadent indeed when combined with plenty of creamy and sweet sea urchin … Service delivered by a couple of gentlemen dressed in grey suits. They’re attentive, observant yet unobtrusive. Masa-san spoke fluent English and never hesitated to speak and learn more about his guests. The “worst” part was probably the restaurant’s atmosphere – very simple, a bit crammed, no windows with minimal décor. But, it’s no big deal since you would focus on the food most of the time. It would be very rare to wait more than 5 min. without any food in front of you. Overall, it was a very good meal and Shoukouwa thoroughly deserved its 2 star. I would more likely to choose this place over Andre, JR restaurant or Les Amis assuming money’s never been an issue … More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2017/01/shoukouwa-singapore.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157675603191763
  14. Petrus, Caprice or Amber?

    Several years ago, Four Seasons hotel HK boasted itself as the only hotel with two 3-star Michelin restaurants: Caprice and Lung King Heen. Nearly a decade ago (prior to HK Michelin era), I had a good dinner at Caprice under the former Le Cinq chef, Vincent Thierry. Probably because it was not overly impressive and the fact that I don’t come to HK that often, I have not returned there until last month. In terms of “hard” materials, nothing really changes here. The 2-tier dining room is lavish and spacious with crystal chandeliers, plush carpets, central open kitchen and leather arm chairs. I was seated at the corner of the lower level in which I could take advantage of the always pleasant harbor view during this lunch. Now, I noticed Caprice also has a bar where guests can enjoy its famous cheese as well as plenty other small dishes. Given its location at the heart of Hong Kong financial district, it should not be surprising that it’s filled with lots of people doing business lunch; nearly ¾ of the tables were occupied. As I perused the menu, I noticed that there’s (finally) white truffle menu – somehow I was told via e-mail that the restaurant did not serve any Alba truffle yet even in late October. I find the white truffle promotion of 5-course set menu during lunch reasonably priced (only slightly above HKD 1,000 including coffee/tea). As a comparison, the a la carte pasta course at Gaddi’s under Chef Boyer would cost more than HKD 1,300++. Hence, I decided to go for it. Bordier butter seemed to have invaded numerous fine dining places around the world and Caprice was no exception. I quite liked their olive and seaweed bread. The amuse of (a rather tasteless) tuna belly with cucumber and its cream was average. -The real deal started with the usual winning formula of egg + white truffle. The nicely farm poached egg with luscious béchamel sauce, salty ham, and spinach leaves was flavorful. The truffle made it more decadent. -The next 2 courses were fine but not too memorable: soft poached foie gras with bitter daikon and double boiled consommé – the clear soup was the best part. Followed by Monalisa gnocchis (not airy and quite dense) with walnut and parmesan cream; the white truffle improved this ‘normal’ dish. -The kitchen raised the bar for the main course: perfectly cooked milk-fed veal fillet (succulent and delicious, simply divine). It was accompanied by tagliatelle pasta, cooked al dente, with girolle and shaved white truffle. The combination was seamless. Even I think that the pasta could be served as its own dish. It was a dish executed and tasted at 2.5-3 star level -Lastly, I requested for the restaurant signature’s dessert, La Framboise (having a highly aesthetic presentation). It’s a very suitable dessert for those who liked not-so-sweet things. Inside the giant and delicate confit of raspberry, there were lemon sponge cake, smooth mousse, and crisp almond biscuit. The 2 real raspberries on the sides was not so sweet either Fabrice Vulin was not available in the kitchen during my visit, but I think overall his kitchen brigade performed well at the 2-star level (about Les Amis’ / Gunther’s level in Singapore but slightly inferior to Amber @ Oriental Landmark). The service was impressive – attentive, friendly, and efficient. Near the end, as I about to leave, I wanted to pour the last glass of my sparkling water myself. One staff noticed it and rushed to my table, insisted to do it for me. It showed the strong hospitality commitment from the beginning until the end. I was taken care of by Timothy most of the time; he’s been with the restaurant since ‘05 Lunch meal photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/sets/72157673912761714/with/31508275012/
  15. Wagyu Takumi, Hong Kong

    It has been more than 3 years that I have not visited HK and staying there for more than 2 nights to have some proper meals in the area. This was a solo trip and it usually meant I hardly had any meal at Chinese restaurant. I kicked off with a dinner at Wagyu Takumi – a high end Teppanyaki style restaurant in which the chef skillfully and effectively blending the elements of French and Japanese cuisine. Plenty of top produce from France and Japan was scattered throughout the night. It was my first visit here last month and current head chef named Daisuke Mori (the restaurant has been identical with Mitsuru Konishi who will be a culinary director of a more casual dining place serving contemporary Italian in his new project). Chef Mori has been with Wagyu Takumi for a couple of years and both Mori-san and Konishi-san used to work at the Paris legendary restaurant, Taillevent. For dinner, there’s only one menu available: 8-course tasting menu (there were 3 main courses to choose from) and as with many other top restaurants, guests were welcome and encouraged to mention any allergy or dietary restrictions. Wagyu Takumi’s concept reminded me of Waku Ghin in which the chefs would put a show and cooking most of the dishes in front of you. There were several dishes that I thought were very good and even exceptional: -Tako (massaged for several hours) cooked with butter and red wine. The octopus’ tender texture and delicious flavor was not inferior to the tako at top sushi place such as Yoshitake. It was served with fluffy & rather sweet pumpkin espuma, slightly acidic grape as well as truffle foam. I was offered Alba truffle shaving for an extra HKD 250 that I declined -Wagyu Takumi had 2 signature dishes: the first one was a slowly pan-fried ‘mini’ NZ abalone (tasty and pleasantly chewy) put on top of French barley creamy risotto, prepared al dente and thoroughly absorbed the abalone stock. The celery foam was refreshing – an option to have it bigger than a tasting portion would be nice. The chef did not use Japanese abalone because it’s too tender and I was told that Hong Kongese preferred a chewier awabi. -Another famous dish as the restaurant’s name suggested: Japanese wagyu beef. For my case, the well-seasoned beef was Hida wagyu tenderloin (100-120 grams) – slowly grilled over Wakayama charcoal. Although it’s ‘tenderloin’, it was still very marbled, succulent, flavorful and not overly oily. I could still comfortably taste the beef’s meat – each byte was truly heavenly. The hida wagyu was accompanied by komatsuna puree, garlic, shallot and endives. Excellent! I would be satisfied in general of having 3 items above. However, at the beginning of the meal, I decided to order an additional main course as I could not refuse the temptation of having Brittany blue lobster which was also the restaurant’s specialty. I thought I made a right decision -The superb and live blue lobster (nearly impossible to find one in Singapore) was slowly cooked and perfectly executed. The result was a juicy creature retaining its sweet and original flavor; texture wise, it’s a bit firm yet still relatively tender – really loved both the meaty tail and plump claw. The sauce was also flavorful and balanced – a mixture of lemon grass, coriander and lobster bisque. The side dishes were seasonal vegetables consisting of turnip, carrot and caramelized onion In general, I am very pleased with the food. My rating was probably ‘elevated’ because I ordered the Brittany lobster that happened to be really good. I heard that someone even had all the 3 main courses in the past. All of the four dishes described above comfortably performed at the level of 2.5-3* by Michelin standard. The rest of the dishes not mentioned here was a bit uneven at times. The dining room’s décor and atmosphere was far from the lavish and expansive one at Waku Ghin; here the L-shaped counter was quite small and ‘intimate’. My seat was not good, near the back-kitchen. However, the staffs worked hard to make you feel comfortable. The restaurant manager (Don Kwok) was around; busy serving the dishes as well as having some conversations with diners. Near the end of the meal, finally Chef Mori became more relaxed and I had a chat with him as well. Consistent to Japanese culture, Mori-san and Don sent me off until the restaurant’s entrance as I left the restaurant. I really don’t mind returning here should I have another chance in the future. More comprehensive review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2016/12/wagyu-takumi-hong-kong.html Pictures of our meal: https://www.flickr.com/photos/7124357@N03/albums/72157675238235521