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.
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.
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…).
So… this is what happens when I am in charge of ordering dim sum:
I take no prisoners.
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.
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…
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!
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.
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!
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!
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. ☺
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.
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.
Then accidentally went crazy with ordering other things to share, and ended up with a full table of food…
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!
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.
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%).