Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon, Landmark, Central Hong Kong

The cost of drinking and dining in Hong Kong was curiously unpredictable.  I’m used to exorbitant food prices in Sydney so some things were just the same, such as AUD$40 mains and AUD$20 cocktails.  Other things were expectedly extremely cheap, such as $5 wonton noodle soup with a huge side of greens.  But $2 giant Japanese beers from the 7-11 were a surprise. The number of posh bars and restos serving mere $12 cocktails was also a surprise.  As were $6 Michelin-starred cakes from Le Salon de Thé de Joël Robuchon in a swanky shopping mall housing a Harvey Nics.

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La rose: rose scented mousse with lychee ice cream centre (with discernible pieces of lychee) and sponge cake. And gold leaf and chocolate twigs for that three-star touch.

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Le macaron pomme: giant chocolate macaron with marons glacées and caramelised apple. And a baby macaron and gold leaf (of course).

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Annoyingly everyone else was too full from dim sum to order more of a selection. Such prettiness, very good price.

Prize for the Best Restaurant Name: Dim Sum The Art of Chinese Tid Bits, Happy Valley, Hong Kong

For a “light brunch” on my birthday (with the mega Otto e Mezzo dégustation dinner vaguely in mind), we went to our friends’ local dim sum restaurant in Happy Valley.  This very quickly became my #1 Hong Kong eatery and I requested that we return on our final night (unusually yet awesomely they offer the dim sum menu for dinner).  It’s known just as Dim Sum, but its full name is Dim Sum – The Art of Chinese Tid Bits.  Superlative.

The dumplings were fantastic, but I have had just as good a dumpling selection at the Nine Dragons in Sydney.  Rather, it was the delicious dumplings combined with the traditional décor and relaxed local restaurant ambience which made Dim Sum a truly memorable experience.

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Consult menu with English and pictures. Find number on Chinese-only ordering paper. Circle number and add quantity. Laugh at the “darn tart” !!

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Off-menu gai lan with garlic (our friends are regulars; they know to ask for this good one) and un-filled but pan-fried rice noodle rolls to dip into plum and/or peanut sauce.

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Har gao; excellent scallop with spinach; mixed vegetable with crunchy water chestnuts.  Expertly thin yet sturdy skins on all dumplings; check.

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Soup dumplings at the rear (also with carrot bottoms like at Man Wah – such a neat trick!); turnip cake at the front; and glutinous rice baos, with tea-scented fluffy bun wrappers.

The soy-soaked and coriander-topped turnip “cakes” with various tasty vegetables inside were a mistaken order (I meant to circle the mushroom dumplings but got the number wrong) but I really loved them and will look out for this dish again at other yum chas. The chewy rice-filled baos were beautifully perfumed with jasmine tea, and a really unusual combination of textures. Carbs-on-carbs a little stodgy though – you’d only wanted to eat one of these (versus the 15-odd steamed dumplings I safely put away…).

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Scallop and prawn siu mai; Hubby’s dreadful “ironic hipster tourist’ t-shirt; refreshing Tsing Tao beer at the back.

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Aaaand repeat, a week later with one more friend in tow plus a nice bottle of Provençal rosé. And we got the mushroom dumplings this time; I double-checked their number! We also had some excellent beancurd skin rolls filled with crunchy vegetables.

So… this is what happens when I am in charge of ordering dim sum:

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I take no prisoners.

Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Central Hong Kong

My Hong Kong birthday dinner was a splurge at the three-Michelin-starred Otto e Mezzo Bombana, in the Landmark Alexandra building in Central. Named I assume after the Fellini film, it is the only three-Michelin-starred Italian restaurant outside of Italy.  We all chose the dégustation menu with matched wines – plus a sneaky bottle of French bubbles to start.  Because birthday.

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Screenshot from the website. We were sat in the other corner of that deluxe banquette.

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My mirror shot.

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A rather lovely drop of vintage blanc de blancs plus birthday ‘Blue Boy’ nailpolish from Chanel.

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Breads from various regions of Italy. I particularly liked the Sardinian ‘music-paper’ flatbread. Olive & tomato foccacia good too.

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An amuse bouche to start: a whole crispy fried school prawn.

The seared red tuna with fennel pollen, tomato & citrus emulsion and elite caviar (not common or garden variety, mind) was one of the prettiest dishes of the whole holiday.  All of its gorgeous components worked perfectly, as you would expect at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.  And I remember liking the matched wine – helpful – without remembering much else about it except that it was light and fragrant yet stood up to the seawater strength of the elite caviar (such a bully, those posh fish eggs).  This was a night of pre-pre-dinner champers, pre-dinner champers, and all those matched wines.  So my memories of each individual wine are not the sharpest…

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My pictures are all rubbish due to the low lighting, but just look at those colours! A veritable rainbow on a plate. And look at that elite caviar, being all snooty and above you.

The second dish – artisanal trenette with scampi and “Mediterranean flavours” – was quickly placed on my Favourite Things Eaten On Holidays list and I would have happily eaten a whole bowlful it rather than just a taster.  The handmade pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, the sauce (tomato, oregano and garlic identified) was rich and unctuous, and the scampi was so sweet and fresh and not at all overwhelmed by those “Mediterranean flavours”.

And I remember more about this wine, a 10-year-old and very leggy Batàr from Tuscany, organic and biodynamic if you please, and incredibly aromatic with lots of apricot and oak.  Again, perfectly matched to the dish. Ah, multiple Michelin stars.  They are there for a reason!

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So incredibly tasty.  More scampi pasta please.  Very delicious memory.

Then we migrated to reds, whilst daring to stay with seafood – oh my!  The third dish was roast blue lobster with porcini salad and lobster & mushroom sauce.  This wasn’t such a winner – too much strong mushroom flavour drowning the seafood star of the dish.  But I did enjoy the silky, light Burgundy paired with it, probably because of those overly dominant mushrooms.  And the 2002 is the vintage to drink in 2014, according to Hugh Johnston.  Nice one.

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Lovely lobster. I also liked the leek sheaf and the perfect peppery bite of watercress. But slightly too much ‘shroom.

The red meat course involved a choice – the girls chose beef and the boys had the lamb.  (They liked their lamb.  That’s as much as I’m getting there.)  The beef was wagyu (natch) and precisely cooked to medium as requested, with a thin charred crust, a touch of firmness, then a babysoft centre.  Whatever the “aromatic herbs and natural jus” were, they were of course perfect.  But I did not like the purple sweet potato cube (it’s not a vegetable I’m friends with) nor the cold, peeled, cooked cherry tomato.  I don’t care how long it took a sous chef to make it look that pretty – a cold cooked tomato was doing nothing for my lovely hot beef and jus.  Take away a star immediately, Michelin!

I have no memory at all of the final red wine but Hugh Johnston’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 is telling me it’s a Bordeaux-style from Tuscany and the 2010 vintage is recommended.  Good!

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Three-star beef.  No-star tomato.

The pudding – millefoglie with vanilla cream and berries – came with a delightful birthday flourish and was technically perfect in its flavours and textures.  But honestly, I was expecting something a bit more special from those three Michelin stars.  It was a faultless dish, but it wasn’t at all original nor exciting.  There was no surprisingly well-suited unusual ingredient, nor a special deluxe ingredient, nor any clever architecture in the presentation (how hard is it to lie a pastry on its side and surround it with blobs?), nor was it even an “interesting twist” on a classic.  So to be overly critical – which when paying an extraordinary sum of money for a meal, I think I get to – I feel that Otto e Mezzo could have done better.  It would have been a completely lovely pudding in any other context, but failed as part of a deluxe dégustation at a three-starred über-expensive restaurant.

The pudding wine was divine though – honey and citrus, not too cloying – and I swiped Hubby’s too as he’s not a big fan of stickies.  Wine win!

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To finish, I had a palate-cleansing peppermint tea (my perennial trick after a rich meal) and we all fell upon the petit fours: a very fancy fruit jelly sweet; an even fancier fruit ‘n’ nut chocolate; and a pistachio shortbread so delicious but so rich we wanted to take them home to properly enjoy later – and when I asked our waiter for a little box to put them in, I was presented with a full box of bikkies!  I should have enquired about that scampi pasta too, dammit. ☺

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Pistachio shortbreads accompanied our coffee and tea for the rest of the week!

So!  That was my first top-star Michelin restaurant experience.  How do I rate it?  Some of the components of the dishes were not to everyone’s tastes.  The pudding was perfectly nice but, all things considered, disappointing.  The service was impeccable without being stuffy, and the wine matching showed serious pedigree, and we loved 96% of the food.  I just think that when it’s top dollar mega stars, you really want 99-100% total enjoyment.  However, as a Special Holiday Extravagant Birthday Experience With Dear Friends, Otto e Mezzo certainly ticked all the right boxes.

Make My Magnum

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I attempted three times to Make My Magnum in the Westfield at Centrepoint. The first time I was put off by the giant queue of 13-year-olds on school holidays. I was prepared to wait, but felt silly being the only non-child, yet clearly non-parent, queuing up for a chocolate ice cream.

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The second time it started bucketing with rain just as I was poised to walk across Hyde Park, so I stayed put in my office and ate a more sensible lunch.

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Third time lucky: I was still on leave post- Hong Kong trip, but the kiddies had gone back to school. The short queue comprised a few tourists and probably some fellow food bloggers.

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I chose a chocolate ice-cream base, dipped in dark chocolate, sprinkled with pistachios and dried blackberries/strawberries/pineapple, and finally drizzled with milk chocolate.

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An excellent combination, if I do say so myself. Perhaps the strawberries plus pineapple was a tad too much sweetness and I should have gone for an even ratio of two nuts, two fruits. (A minor complaint though.)

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Magnum Made Mine.

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Sushi Sumi, Happy Valley, Hong Kong

This was the night we thought we’d just have “a light Japanese” after the Man Wah dim sum extravaganza and cocktails all afternoon at Aberdeen St Social. We were too late to get into Nigomi, our friends’ end-of-the-street local, so we walked a little further up Sing Woo Road and found Sushi Sumi in a cute laneway. Scored a private room tatami room – major score!

I had the ‘Red Tuna Pink Tuna Rose Bowl’: so pretty in both its English translation and presentation with its pink fatty tuna and red lean tuna.  Hubby had the Deluxe Chirashi-zushi: very deluxe, with sea urchin, a piece of grilled eel, a plump scallop, beautifully butterflied prawn and several different types of sashimi fish.  Our host had the fragrant beef udon soup, and our hostess just chose a few plates of sushi, including pretty negitoro done as gunkan-zushi (open-topped “battleship style”) with the minced fatty tuna on the rice “boat” and a fanfare of finely shredded green onion on top.

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Oh sushi, you are just too photogenic.

Then accidentally went crazy with ordering other things to share, and ended up with a full table of food…

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This was the dramatic Dragon Sushi, with tempura fish, avocado and tobiko.

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Tempura prawns and vegetables; double edamame and the beef udon lurking in the shadows.

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This was taken before most of the food arrived. Negitoro sushi with mad onion wigs in the background.

From memory we also had two large bowls of edamame; some chicken karaage; bacon & asparagus skewers; Autumnal red miso with enoki mushrooms (not that HK’s October temperatures were even vaguely Autumnal); and two other plates of sushi.  I think that’s all..?  Good thing most Japanese food is so light and easy to eat!  全部食べちゃった!

Aaand… they were having a special that night on Kannoko mugijochu or barley schochu. HK$720 (about AUD$11) for a full bottle, not just a glass.  At that price I was expecting pure meths, but it tasted pretty good (whisky-ish, sweet-ish, full bodied) and I’ve since googled and learnt that is IS pretty good, so a whole bottle for HK$720 was definitely a very good deal!

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かんぱい !!

Cocktails at Aberdeen St Social at PMQ, Central Hong Kong

Aberdeen St Social is the young Hong Kong cousin of Pollen St Social in London.  Different Sohos, same restauranteur.  Similarly incredible cocktails in the bar, but significantly cheaper in HK dollars than in pounds.  Excellent.  And more cocktail-appropriate weather.  We went twice: at the beginning and at the end.  And we’ll be back.

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Down Mexico Way, with added flower to put in your wife’s hair.

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My gorgeous Pealini, rivalling Cazador‘s Peahead. I maintain that all the best cocktails are green. And our hostess’ Get Lucky mocktail (sensibly easing in to the hard liquor) had a pretend ice cube with an LED light!  The garnishes were all adorable – my furl of cucumber and mini Union Jack was described on the menu as “British summer”.

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Fisherman’s Grog, Bombay Remake with poppadum, and Pretty Fly For A Mai Tai in a little bottle to be poured over ice.  The almond extract smelled amazing.

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My last for that afternoon was Just Beet-Root To Me.  Love a cocktail involving egg white froth.  Also love prawn crackers served with straight sesame oil as a dipping sauce!

On our final afternoon before the mad dash to the airport (oops) the boys and I returned for a sneaky farewell round, sitting outside on the terrace enjoying the unexpected drop in humidity (down to a mere 65%).

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I had the Pot Pouring Ketel Black, a bizarrely delicious combination of activated charcoal (?!), yoghurt liqueur (?!) and Ketel One vodka, served from a tea pot into a frosted goblet.  Tasted like Yakult and I’m sure it was very good for my insides!