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!

Michelin-Starred Dim Sum at Man Wah, Mandarin Oriental, Central Hong Kong

We started our first full day in Hong Kong with Michelin-starred dim sum.  As you do.  And as it was a public holiday, Man Wah Restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental was serving its full weekend dim sum lunch menu although it was only Wednesday.  How very nice!  So we took our lovely window seats (excellent view from the 25th floor), popped open a bottle of the delightful Ruinart blanc de blancs, and set about ordering most of said full weekend dim sum lunch menu…

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Screenshot from the website, conveniently featuring the table we were sat at!

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Our view over the “Fragrant Harbour” to Kowloon; note well-timed passage of the red-sailed traditional Chinese junk.

Our friendly maitre d’, Mr Richard Leung, very much added to the excellence of our Man Wah experience.  Richard took the time to explain all the dishes’ ingredients, note which sauces went with which dumplings, and generally give us an insight to Hong Kong cuisine.  He’d previously worked at Flower Drum in Melbourne and it was interesting chatting to him about how the Chinese restaurant scene has developed in Melbourne and Sydney.  I told Richard I had a website and would give Man Wah an excellent review – so if you go there, please let him know you read about him as I promised!

We ate all of the page below, minus the Assorted Platter.  There are obviously cheaper dumplings to be had in HK – these were AUD$12-15 per basket of four – but the quality & luxury of ingredients, the totally stunning restaurant setting, and the five-star silver service made this unexpectedly one of the best value-for-money meals (if we don’t count the French champers…) we had on the trip.

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Tiger prawn & bamboo shoot dumplings and Siu mai with tobiko.  The translucent har gao skins were so delicate they were like eating fairies wings (or so I’d imagine).

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Conpoy (dried scallop) & vegetable dumpling topped with a goji berry for good eyesight, as Richard explained.

Richard also explained that the addictive red chunky sauce we I ate three bowls of was proper Hong Kong XO sauce made with dried scallops, dried prawns, ham, garlic and chilli.  Cheaper bottled versions use too much chilli and not enough seafood, said Richard.  I was hugely tempted to ask Richard for a take-away container, but I didn’t think Australian Customs & Border Protection would be best pleased re: preserved animal products.

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This was one of the winning dishes of the whole holiday: Alaskan king crab dumpling with winter melon & supreme broth.  Once bitten, the giant dumpling spilled open to reveal a huge quantity of silky white crab meat, which mixed beautifully with the broth to make it even more supreme.  Apparently the other thing was winter melon – I thought it was a piece of fried beancurd skin.  It was inoffensive, whatever it was.

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Vegetable dumpling with brown fungus & yellow fungus and Mushroom dumpling with black truffle. (And my second full bowl of house-made XO sauce.)  I think the truffled ones are contenders for my personal Best Dumpling award.

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So… Din Tai Fung’s xiao long bao in Sydney are pretty special, but Man Wah’s get the gong.  Individual baskets so you don’t break them!  And superfine flowers of carrot on the bottom of each one so they don’t stick to the individual baskets!  That’s got to occupy a large amount of some poor sous chef’s time.

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A superlative Shanghainese soup dumpling with minced pork.

Having eaten all the above – plus BBQ pork buns, which I failed to photograph but were of course the best BBQ pork buns ever – we then turned to other pages of the menu, just in case there was still room (NB: there is always room for more dim sum).  We couldn’t not have the Beef tenderloin puffs with black pepper sauce after Richard told us they were a signature dish.  The pastry is rolled out and folded 96 times.  NINETY SIX TIMES.  Four folds, then roll and turn, then another four folds, then roll and turn, 22 more repetitions if my sums are right.

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Imagine the nicest, richest beef stew you’ve ever eaten, encased in the lightest, crispiest pastry you can possibly imagine.  That’s a Michelin-starred Man Wah black pepper beef puff.

Our last dish was from the cheung fan page of the menu.  A whole page of rice noodle rolls!  I could have easily ordered all the different types, but was very restrained just with the scallop & asparagus, which were so prettily presented on what appeared to be a made-for-purpose platter.

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Third personal bowl of XO sauce. I treated it as a side dish rather than a sauce.

We drank endless cups of jasmine tea and declared we were too full for pudding… then Richard came out with a surprise for The Other Birthday Girl and I!  Someone had mentioned our Upcoming Auspicious Days when making the booking (clever someone).  Our birthday treat was a complimentary basket of steamed Lotus longevity buns filled with lotus seed paste – not unlike chestnut paste – and a sweet egg yolk paste.  Happy Birthday and much longevity to us!

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…and then there were complimentary Chinese petits fours, just in case we were still faint with hunger. A light, almost mousse-like almond jelly with sweet red beans; little sesame paste filled puff things; and gorgeously crumbly cashew pastries (these were my favourite).  We still had bottomless tea to drink so the petits fours somehow got eaten up ☺

2014-10-01 14.31.31Thank you Mr Richard Leung and the other wonderful front-of-house staff, and of course Chef Lee and his excellent kitchen team, for an absolutely fabulous First Hong Kong Dim Sum experience!  Highly, highly recommended.  More Michelin stars for you!

Din Tai Fung, Central Park Broadway

It seemed only too appropriate (or: unnecessary overkill?) to have a Chinese meal the night before we left for our Hong Kong holiday!

I must be the only person in Sydney who’d not been to Din Tai Fung.  I’d spied a branch of it in the shiny new Central Park shopping centre on Broadway when buying last-minute travel necessities from Daiso, the Japanese supermarket where everything costs $2.80!  A visit for the famous soup dumplings ensued…

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These were the best soup dumplings I’d ever eaten… until two days later I had even more superior ones at Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong (natch).

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Heavy bottoms filled with gingery soup!  The skins were expertly thin and the pork was moist and flavoursome.  Xiao Long Bao are such a Big Thing now in Sydney, and bad ones are ever so disappointing, but Din Tai Fung’s were definitely deserving of the hype.

Hubby then had the Braised Beef Noodle Soup with extra spinach, and I braved the Vegetable and Pork Wonton Noodle Dipped in a Spicy Sauce, also with extra spinach. The beef broth was beautifully aromatic – I think I tasted star anise.  My spicy sauce turned out to be flavoured with szechuan pepper, which is such a fabulously strange taste sensation.  It’s super hot but not in a normal chilli way. Your lips go numb and tingly but it quickly wears off – not like chilli oil which coats your mouth and throat.  The noodles were excellent and I’d readily order both dishes again – though perhaps it’d be better to share them to share the spicy szechuan love!

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Dumplings AND noodles AND soup AND greens – most excellent.

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Cute sauce bottles and napkin holder.  (I suspect from Daiso.)

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Dumpling Boy! (and girl…)

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Cool light fittings in the mall.

Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

Curry at The Chapel Bar, Happy Valley, Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong at 4:30pm with the plane ahead of schedule; were with our gracious hosts with corn chips and whisky sours in hand by 6pm (made from duty free Ardbeg – smokey and delicious); and were drinking cocktails and enjoying amazing night time cityscape and harbour views from the rooftop of the Excelsior Hotel by about 8pm. An excellent start to our holiday!

I’d not eaten on the plane due to nerves (damn flying phobia) so by 9:30pm or so I definitely needed more sustenance than crisps and strong liquor.  We returned to Happy Valley (our happily adopted ‘hood which our friends now call home) and made a beeline for the local British pub, The Chapel.

Our host had been raving about this place in the lead up to our visit, and whilst I certainly enjoy the odd curry with a pint, I was not convinced this would be a highlight of our Hong Kong food adventure – more just some good pub grub with our friends in their local.  But! I was blown away by how incredibly good the food was – and also by the strong feeling of déjà vu.  I’d not had curry this good since the Bengal Lancer in Kentish Town (as recommended by one Giles Coren) almost exactly two years’ before.  I was instantly transported to that Autumn night in NW5 (significantly less hot and humid, mind), with two other dear friends, after a similarly excellent evening of gadding about a different town.

So objectively, the curry at The Chapel Bar is superb, and the internet tells me it’s the best Indian food on the island.  But moreover: personally it was a superlative meal because of the connection between the earlier experience and the new one, and the enhancing of that old memory of a lovely evening with a new and same-same-but-different one.  Cheers to that!

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Eating our greens: palak paneer and chicken sagwala (same colour, much spinach, totally different flavours, most excellent); plus raita, garlic naan and chicken tikka masala. You can’t drink beer (or cider in my case) in a British context involving curry and not have chicken tikka marsala.

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Pilau rice with saffron, vegetable biriyani (I ate most of this; it was fab. Remember I’d not properly eaten all day…) and lamb madras. I eschewed the ickle baa lamb but spooned some of the sour-sweet tamarind and coconut sauce (plus mega chilli) on to my rice. So good.  No plate was left unclean.

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Indian food on the menu, (mostly) English beers at the bar.  And Weston’s cider.  A most auspicious first meal in Hong Kong!

Hallooo Hong Kong!

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One valium, two G&Ts, and three episodes of ‘Sherlock’ helped with my flying phobia. The daytime flight somehow made it less scary too. As an avid traveller I wish I weren’t so terrified of planes.

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Hallooo Hong Kong! View from the rooftop bar of the Excelsior Hotel.

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The Fab Four!

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Sneaky camel midway up our friends’ insanely steep, hairpin-bended, multi-staged, hillside driveway. All dumplings walked off.

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So Frenchy, So Chic.  One of [too] many nice bars we visited…

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A ‘Pealini’ at the Aberdeen Street Social at PMQ. My new favourite bar in the whole world.  And this drinky gives Cazador’s ‘Peahead’ some stiff competition!

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Extreme tube lighting artistry!

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Beautiful orchards in the Nespresso ‘Boutique’ at the fancy IFC shopping centre.

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Wimpy call-myself-a-food-blogger me ate no street/market food except for one well-cooked egg waffle. Could not deal with the thought of unrefrigerated and exposed meat and fish in 30°C heat and 90% humidity…

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…but I could readily deal with $2 giant beers from the 7-11, consumed whilst wandering through the hot, hilly streets of Central. Kirin’s Aki Aji beeru (Autumn Flavour, like a golden ale) + Chanel ‘Blue Boy’ nail polish, taken mid- Mid-Levels Escalator ride.

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Gambatte, protesters! So polite, tidy, and respectful. Though the traffic disruption did get pretty crazy once people were trying to go back to work and school.

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I never tired of the mixed-bag views of futuristic buildings, colonial buildings and precarious-looking bamboo-scaffolded buildings, plus a canopy of trees everywhere and the backdrop of mountains. Snapshots like this could be taken anywhere on the island.

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See?

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Bamboo scaffolding close up.

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Primary colours primary school on a very steep road in Happy Valley.

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Happy Valley in pastel.

And now for a truckload of food posts… ☺

The Hong Kong Birthday Bonanza Begins…

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So the “Travel” aspect of this blog has been a little lacking of late.  But the next 47 or so posts are going to be all about Hong Kong, just to make up for it!

We are recently returned from a fabulous week-long trip staying with dear friends there (they who used to host the Best BBQs in Sydney).

The holiday involved my birthday (hence the champagne and Chanel), our hostess’ birthday the next day (such good timing!), several public holidays, many cocktails, and All The Dumplings.  

I am hungry (and thirsty) and nostalgic already, just editing the photos.  Stay tuned…