Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Australian Chefs in Hong Kong

'Let's Do Launch' by Sally Robinson
Age Epicure, 30th October, pp.4-5

Most Tuesdays, while sneaking in a morning coffee at work, I have a quick browse through the 'Epicure' section of The Age Online. I always enjoy reading about what's happening in the food and wine scene back home in Melbourne, but this week was pleasantly surprised to see the feature article was about Australian chefs in Hong Kong.

The article, written by Sally Robinson, looks at the experiences of chefs who are not just working in Hong Kong, but opening restaurants here. She sums the appeal of Hong Kong by saying "for chefs from Melbourne thinking of expanding overseas - or just working somewhere different - Hong Kong is an obvious choice. It's close, it's an exciting place to live and it has one of the most vibrant dinning scenes in the world." Robinson discusses challenges identified by the chefs such as staffing, working in partnership with local companies, adapting to Chinese palates and the lack of seasonal produce. Venues mentioned with the Australian connection include Pearl on the Peak, Olive, Malouf's Arabesque Cuisine, Cecconi's Cantina, Opia at Jia and Frites.

Olive in Soho is one of my favourite restaurants in Hong Kong and I was delighted to discover that the consultant behind their fine Middle Eastern food is Melbourne chef Greg Malouf. Greg's also opened Arabesque, a restaurant at the new Elements Mall; this temptation could almost encourage me to push through the vacant eyed crowds starring at designer baubles and actually visit this new centre of grotesque consumerism in Kowloon West. Read the article.

Thursday, 25 October 2007


63-69 Kau Yuk Rd, Yuen Long
Visited 24th October

Oliva is a new Italian restaurant, recently opened in Yuen Long. We went for dinner Wednesday night and had to do some fast talking to get a table amongst the curious throng. It's a large, spacious place; the walls are chocked full of old black and white film photos in an effort to give it a bit of an Italian pizzeria feel.

Oliva has a very impressive looking bar, but - in what is beginning to seem typical of new restaurants in Yuen Long - they haven't got their liqueur license yet. We made a quick trip across to 7/11 and stocked up on beers and even braved a bottle of wine. The complementary focaccia bread and balsamic was a refreshing and welcome start to the meal. For an entree I tucked into a Cesar Salad which, though nice enough, was pretty basic and uninspiring. My main was a surprisingly good fettuccine with pan-fried salmon and a pesto based sauce. The pasta was well cooked, the flaky salmon chunks were moist and tender and the sauce was creamy, but well-balanced. In contrast Naomi's rather average lasagne was filled with bread crumbs rather than meat and covered in an overly sweet tomato sauce. Oliva's menu really shines when it comes time to find room for something sweet from their classic selection of desserts. Naomi enjoyed her apple crumble with ice-cream, while the remaining four of us shared a 'chocolate puff tower'; a huge pile of profiteroles that, though tasty, was too big for us to finish.

Our first visit to Oliva was encouraging. The food is good, a little stock standard perhaps, but certainly better than many other attempts at 'Italian food' in the New Territories; a decent dessert menu is also a huge bonus. The service at Oliva was surprisingly good, with friendly staff who knew the menu. Another plus is the that some thought has been given to the ambiance; with the old photos, checked table cloths and a prominent bar it felt like I'd been transported back to Lygon Street in Melbourne. Oliva is a welcome addition to Yuen Long's restaurant scene and a good bet if you're in the area and after Italian food.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Michel Schneider Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay, Riesling Spatlese, 2006

Michel Schneider, Bernkasteler, Riesling Spatlese
Mosel-Saar-Ruwar, Germany, $98, synthetic cork

When Naomi says she needs a drink it's often something white and sweet that gets the job; at only 8.5% alcohol this German Riesling was perfect for a 'school night'. For a sweeter style wine I was impressed with how well this went with a roast pumpkin risotto; a match I wouldn't normally think of.

Michel Schneider Riesling Spatlese is a pretty straw gold in colour. The nose is subdued; there's a bit of floral stuff going on and a slight grapiness about it, but it doesn't leap put of the glass. The palate on the other hand is certainly all present and accounted for; there are big honey and apricot flavours with red apple, pear, dried pineapple and orange blossom in the background. The wine has got a full, honeyed feel in the mouth and it has a soft sweetness about it. It does lack acidity to balance out the syrupy sweetness which starts to get a little too much after awhile. A wine that is tasty and drinkable, though perhaps needs to be a little more complete and balanced to be really good.

Snacking Taipei

Trip to Taiwan
18th to 21st October
Having a Friday off work for the Chung Yeung Festival Naomi and I packed our bags and headed across the Taiwan Strait for a weekend in Taipei. Highlights from our time exploring Taiwan's fun capital included: climbing Taipei 101 the World's tallest building, a long run along the Keelung River, an afternoon walking around the Yangmingshan National Park, the spectacular art in the National Palace Museum and of course some great food.

Mika Coffee
Anyone who has travelled anywhere with me will know that acquiring a decent coffee is very much a priority early on any day's schedule. Taiwan's coffee scene initially appeared to be dominated by the usual ugly international franchises, but after a bit of early site seeing we stumbled into the Wanhua District where we found a proliferation of small independent cafes and coffee roasters. Mika Coffee was more than up to scratch with their excellent coffee, good cakes and super service from the friendly bloke who was very busy charming the World.

When I discussed our trip to Taipei with mates they all said "night markets ... you'll love the night markets ... blah blah blah night markets blah blah". It didn't take long to concede that the night markets were definitely worth the hype.

Shilin Night Market
This huge area in the Shilin District, north of the city, is superb and we ended up here several times. A large covered area bursting with semi-permanent food stalls acts as the culinary centre of Shilin Market; elbowing your way through the surrounding streets there are numerous hawkers, tiny fashion shops, carnival sideshows and of course more food stalls. We had several meals here including: a feast were dinners sat around and ate off a huge communal grill, tasty noodles and fried rice for a breakfast, great fresh shakes and bubble teas, a peanut flavoured crushed ice dessert and a seriously delicious, gigantic slab of fried chicken. Shilin Night Market is alive; a vibrant, exciting place packed with locals it is definitely worth a visit.

Snake Alley
Situated near the Longshan Temple is the famous Snake Alley night market. In contrast to the bustling activity of the Shilin Night Market this place was devoid of locals and the domain of lost looking, straggling tourists. Snake Alley's main attraction is the snake restaurants, but personally seeing pythons stuffed into to tiny cages and snakes being publicly butchered isn't really my idea of fun. Everything about place is dodgy; terrible stalls, average food and nothing of interest make Snake Alley a tourist trap that is definitely worth avoiding.

Shuangcheng Food Street
We stumbled upon this little area returning to our hotel on Saturday night. Despite being stuffed we were tempted by the prospect of more tasty snacks; a large sugar cane juice and a serve of dumplings were a perfect late night snack. The dumplings were superb and were freshly made in front of us. Shuangcheng Food Street had a great local atmosphere; the people around us gossiped and snacked on their way home from work.

Taipei was great fun as both a holiday destination place to snack. Perhaps my only hesitation was that we were constantly tempted by the snack food and as a result we never actually sat down to experience a restaurant meal, oh well next time ...

Friday, 19 October 2007

Taiwan Beer

Taiwan Beer
Taipei, Taiwan, NT$52

I was in Taiwan, so I had Taiwanese beer. I bought this from 7/11, just like all the locals seem to do, and drunk it in our hotel room before heading out to the Shilin Night Market. It's made by the Taiwan Tobacco and Liquor Corporation and posses an amazing 80% share of Taiwan's beer market. Rice is added to the fermentation process which is supposed to give it a distinct taste.

Taiwan Beer is a pale golden colour with a soft frothy head. The nose is pretty vacant with nothing much but a whiff of yeast; virtually dunking my nose in and sniffing really hard there's also a slight aroma coriander seeds and citrus peel. The palate has a slight sweetness, creamy texture and a little yeastiness, but is again totally lacking in flavour. Taiwan Beer is light in colour, light in aroma and light in flavour; a drinkable but non-engaging and disappointing drop.

Visit brewery website.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Elderton Friends Shiraz 2004

Elderton Friends Shiraz, 2004
Barossa Valley, South Australia, $128, stelvin seal

I like Elderton wines. I tried a selection earlier in the year at the Melbourne Good Food and Wine Show and was impressed. The grapes used to produce this wine are sourced from growers the Ashmeads use around the Barossa and to quote both Joe Cocker and the back of the label; "sometimes you need a little help from your friends". It is 95% Shiraz with a 5% wack of Mataro (Mouvedre), sealed under a lovely screw-top and well packaged with an embossed black label.

It's a magnificent deep colour that gives a hint of things to come. The nose is intense and bursting with rich fruit; there's plenty of plums, but also sweet raspberries and a little hint of vanilla oak. The palate has big blackberry and stewed plum flavours with some jammy sweetness and a little dusting of coco in the background. The alcohol is well intergrated and there's soft, powdery tannins. An attractive and drinkable wine, packed with lucious fruit and good value at $128.

Visit winery website.


1/F, 83 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai
Visited 14th October

The card for Amici says "Pizza, Vino, Sport" and that's a pretty good interpretation of this first floor sport's bar above Mes Amis on Lockhart Rd. The bar area has the mandatory giant TV screens blaring out sport as well as a pool table and cabinets filled with an impressive display of sporting trophies. The open interior is surprisingly light with windows looking over Luard Rd and Lockhart Rd. We visited for lunch with my parents who were "passing through" Hong Kong for the weekend.

The menu at Amici is pretty simple; pizza, pasta, burgers, salads and grills, the type of stuff that goes well with beer. Dad and I went for beef burgers, with extra bacon, Mum had a steak sandwich and Naomi chose a margherita pizza and everyone was happy. My burger was good; a big, fat meaty patty, fried onions, gherkins and a good side of chips. Naomi enjoyed her thin, crispy pizza that was flavoured with fresh tomato and basil. To drink I made the most of happy hour and enjoyed a couple of Perroni beers which probably wouldn't have been the best value at $48 if it wasn't two-for-one.

Amici isn't about a refined gourmet night out, but as a place to drink beer, eat burgers and watch football it's pretty good. The service was efficient and if you don't mind big TVs it's more than comfortable. The food was good and reasonable value; just make sure you make the most of happy hour specials for drinks. If you want to escape the streets of Wan Chai climbing up to Amici for a pizza, burger or even just beer is not a bad idea.

Visit restaurant website.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Yung Kee Restaurant

32-40 Wellington St, Central
Visited 30th September

Yung Kee Restaurant is a Hong Kong institution, famous for its roast goose. We had two lots of friends visiting and figured that it was perfect for their first meal in Hong Kong; the totally unrelated fact that Lang Kwai Fong is just around the corner meant that it was also convenient for a couple of beers afterwards and even a few pre-dinner cocktails. Yung Kee is a three story monstrosity that has been around since 1942 and is in many ways a typical Chinese restaurant; busy, loud and big, with roast meats hanging in the window.

All meals at Yum Kee start with a serve of preserved eggs and pickled ginger, something that was great to watch our visitors tackle. We of course ordered half a roast goose and accompanied it with serves of braised calamari, water spinach, sweet and sour pork, beef and black bean and a roast pigeon. The food was generally excellent; the calamari was fresh and lightly cooked, while the beef was excellent; tender and well flavoured. Both roast dishes were lovely, especially the goose that was perfectly crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, while the huge serve of tasty water-spinach was simply flavoured with garlic. The only let down was the pork that was tough and cold when it arrived at the table. To drink we shared a couple of bottles of wine: the house white, an Alsace Gewurztraminer and a bottle of Bourgogne Cuvee Latour, both were good but not cheap and the red was especially pushing it at $440. Another disappointment was having to pay for water; not being able to get a glass of tap-water in Hong Kong restaurants disgusts me.

Even though I'd made a booking we had to still wait for a table, apart from this the service was pretty good and definitely a notch up from your average Chinese restaurant. Many of my colleges remark that at Yung Kee is too expensive, but for the quality I actually think it's good value as our food bill came to just over $100 a head. The wine is expensive though and not being able to get tap water makes me angry. For its location Yung Kee is a winner; tasty, good quality food in Central. Our guests enjoyed their meal and night out in Lang Kwai Fong, though one struggled to make Yum Cha the next morning and the food wasn't to blame!
Visit restaurant website.