Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Homey Cafe

15 Manhattan Plaza, 23 Sai Chine St, Yuen Long
Visited 29th June 2010

I’m always keen to check out a new Yuen Long restaurant, especially if they’re serving burgers and fish and chips. Joey and I met up with a couple of mates to check out the Homey Café on what must have been one of their first nights of opening. This small restaurant is located on the corner just near the Immigration building in Manhattan Plaza. Inside it’s simply decked out, but well done; there’s a big blackboard, open kitchen and comfortable booth seating.

The food at the Homey Café is really more American diner than European café; it’s all about burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, with a few fried snacks, salads and pasta dishes. We started off sharing a plate of potato skins; topped with bacon, spring onion and sour cream these were pretty standard, but really well done and deliciously fluffy. My friends all went for burgers while I thought I’d give the lamb kebab a shot. The kebab consisted of two skewers of really tender grilled lamb, pita pockets and salad. I wasn’t expecting great things and was surprised how good this was, especially the delicious lamb. Joey’s fish burger was served in a surprisingly good white roll which was jammed with a couple of crisp, crumbed fillets; again all good though the fish was perhaps a little flavourless. My mates enjoyed a steakhouse burger and double cheese burger; big juicy pieces of meat that were interestingly served on a wholemeal bun. They hadn’t finalised their liquor license yet so we just grabbed a few beers from a convenience store.

I enjoyed my meal at the Homey Café; the food was fresh, well prepared and tasty. While the Homey Café isn’t somewhere you’d go for a gourmet meal or a date, I'd certainly recommend it as an excellent spot for lunch or a casual dinner. The guy running the show was really friendly and staff generally enthusiastic about doing a good job. At just over $75 each I'm certainly not complaining about the bill. There are no surprises at the Homey Cafe, just simple food, well done.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Myth of a Smoking Ban

Dying of Lung Cancer

I'm into the World Cup - watching Dutch games at Grappa’s, extremely satisfying English games at friends’ homes and Australia's matches at 2.30 in the morning on a computer screen. The pathetic, profit grabbing arrangement where the World Cup can only be watched on pay TV means that I've also been frequenting Yuen Long's 'local' bars in desperation to catch a game. With supposedly fairer prices and no ridiculous service charge I was looking forward to some quality local pub time. My expectations however have been shattered by minimum spending amounts, having to buy peanuts and worst of all nearly dying from smoke inhalation.

Smoking in public spaces such as bars and restaurants is illegal in Hong Kong. It has been since 1st July 2009. A visit to Wan Chai or Lan Kwai Fong will reveal the puffing hoards pathetically perched out on the street, while inside the fresh air rules. It’s probably pretty obvious I hate cigarette smoke, I understand smoking is a personal choice, however what I really don’t like is having to be subjected to clouds of foul smelling, toxic filth. I’m really pissed off about Hong Kong’s discriminatory and pathetic application of the supposed ‘anti-smoking laws’. These laws seem to only apply to those frequenting western style bars in popular areas and are blatantly ignored in every ‘local’ bar I’ve been to; whether in Causeway Bay, Tin Hau, Mong Kok or Yuen Long. No smoking means NO SMOKING and it's about time the Hong Kong Government got off their arses and did something about enforcing this so called 'law'.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2006

Alexander Valley, Napa, US$24, screwtop

The duty free selection at New York's JFK airport was extremely average; Jacob's Creek dominated and this was the only US offering. I really have no idea about North American wine, but a bit of research on the web shows that Ferrari-Carano are a family run company who have vineyards scattered across Napa. It's worth checking out their website to see the smiling proprietors looking oh so Californian.

This is pretty deep gold in colour and having a sniff the age is noticeable. There’s plenty going on with the nose; lot’s of tasty fruit – grapefruit, peach and apricot - but also a bit of late night toast smeared with honey. This is tasty stuff; the palate’s ripe and lush with tropical fruits, peaches, and plenty of melon; there’s also a nice lick of caramel on the finish. I was expecting buckets (or barrels) of oak, but was impressed with how balanced this was. The 13.5% alcohol was really well integrated. Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2006 is certainly a lovely wine; full bodied, complex but well balanced. I’m starting to get worried; the last three Californian wines I’ve tried have impressed me…

Visit winery website.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Foraging in Hong Kong?

What Can We Eat?????
Foraging - the “act of looking or searching for food or provisions" – is a concept that I’m more and more drawn to. Foraging is how our original ancestors acquired food as hunter gatherers. When practised sustainably it is a way to eat that links the food with the consumer; man with nature. Even in Australia’s harsh environment fishing, shooting roos, diving for scallops and abalone and harvesting wild nuts and herbs is pretty accessible. Yet here in Hong Kong I read blogs about foraging, I think about foraging, yet I do very little of it. Why?
What can I hunt and gather within our SAR? I do a bit of fishing and eat the occasional salt water species, though I’m too concerned about water quality to try freshwater fish. The odd papaya and mulberry finds itself into my possession. I use banana leaves for cooking, buffalo poo for compost and bamboo for gardening stakes and that folks is the extent of my Hong Kong foraging. I've seriously considered munching on the massive snails that reside here, but was scarred off by rat lungworm and have seen people gather medical herbs around my village. I’ve searched the net extensively but can’t find anything in English. Is it a language barrier and a lack of information holding me back or is the Hong Kong environment so corrupted that people have stopped bothering? Surely there must be older residents still foraging amongst villages of the New Territory? If anyone has any information please help.

Read foraging adventures here, here and here.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Mak's Noodles

77 Wellington St, Central
Visited 20th June 2010

I was hungry, hung-over and heartbroken. Bitterly disappointed with the terrible refereeing decision that resulted in Australia's World Cup draw to Ghana I was also on the lookout for hangover food. I found myself in Wellington Street and took the opportunity to try Mak's Noodles. On a street packed with restaurants this old school joint, which has been around since the 1960's, would easily be the most famous. I'm a big fan of Wang Fu and like Tsim Chai Kee Noodle across the road so was very keen to see how Mak's compared. They have also opened several other branches around town.

The selection at Mak's is pretty basic with only a couple of noodle dishes and sides of vegetables to choose from. I went for the noodle soup with wontons and beef brisket. When the dish came I was taken back - the tiny bowl was honestly not much bigger than a regular sized rice bowl. Within was a pile of chewie egg noodles, three tiny shrimp wontons, cubes of beef and a scattering of spring onions. The delicate wontons were tasty and the tender braised beef and its rich grave was really good. Flavoured by the sauce clinging to the beef and spring onions the soup was also delicious.
My feed at Mak's Noodles was extremely enjoyable, but it was so tiny that after I left I basically started looking for snacks straight away. The quality was excellent, but $40 for such a tiny bowl seemed to be pushing it, especially when the competition's so fierce on Wellington Street. The restaurant seemed to be more crowded with well presented waiters than customers and the guy who served me was helpful and friendly. For sure I loved the noodles at Mak's, but the serve was so unsatisfying that I wonder if I'll bother going back; I can't see the point in visiting a restaurant and having to order two serves to get an average sized lunch.

No website to visit, but they're famous enough to have a Wikipedia page.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Relish Noodle

184-186 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai
Visited 16th June 2010

I was talked into going to the Mika concert by a very excited Joey; surprisingly I enjoyed the flamboyant show and catchy pop tunes a lot more than expected. Before the gig started we strolled into Relish Noodle for an early dinner. Out choice was based upon the simple reason that it is conveniently opposite the 968 bus stop on Hennessy Road. Inside it was pretty basic setup with an open kitchen and single line of booths. For a 'local' style place it was pretty well decked out; simple, but clean and a touch of the funky with orange chopsticks matching the wall tiles.

The menu included a mix of different noodle dishes from places like Malaysia, Vietnam and regional China. As I hadn't had one in ages I went for a laksa with thinly sliced pork, while Joey chose la mian with chicken. We also snacked on honey glazed chicken wings and spring rolls. When my laksa arrived the first thing I noticed was that it stunk. The fish cakes floating in it were really strong and while tasting OK were just too pongy to be pleasant. The whole dish was really disappointing; the soup was watery and lacking spice and flavour, the meat was overly fatty pork-belly and the whole dish really needed some fresh herbs vegetables. Joey's soup noodles were better, but still just OK and she really wasn't impressed with the flavourless, shredded chicken they came with. The chicken wings were pretty tasty with an obvious honey flavour, though they were just too oily and the dripping fat was off putting. The couple of spring rolls we got were OK, but went soggy as dipping sauce was sloshed all over the plate. To drinks I enjoyed my coconut milk with jelly cubes, while Joey though her red been and coconut milk crush needed more than three red beans.

I obviously wasn't impressed with the food at Relish Noodles, but the service was just as bad. I can't speak Cantonese, but even I could pick up the rudeness in the manner and body language of the lady who served us. The only positive was that I didn't have to cough up too much coin to be served bad food by a surly woman; the total for both of us with drinks and snacks was $97. I had no preconceived ideas about Relish Noodles, but walked away disappointed; lucky Mika came through with the goods.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Quinta do Cotto Douro 2005

Douro, MOP105, screwtop

A Portuguese wine sealed with a screwtop!!!!! Whatever else may be said the people at Quinta do Cotto should get points for being sensible and innovative in face of Portugal's outdated, crusty, cork culture. Though they were originally a Port producer (and still make a Vintage Port in exceptional years) the winery has been focused on making table wines since the 1930s. This is their standard offering; a blend of the traditional Port varieties of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa, as well as the more unusual Sousão. The nose on this has plenty of sweet fruits, especially plum and blackberry (it's obviously been kept fresh by the lovely screwtop), there're also hints of oak with spice and cinnamon. On the palate this was initially all about plums and seemed pretty simple, but with a bit of time it opened up OK and black fruit and pepper flavours emerged. It is medium bodied with fine, chalky tannins. Being critical it does pull up a little short and I'm thrown off by the alcohol that's a tad obvious for a wine that's meant to be 13%. Quinta do Cotto Douro 2005 is a pleasant enough drop and while not overly exciting definitely gets a bonus marks for the closure.

Visit winery website.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Noodle & Congee Corner

Upper 1st Floor, Grand Lisboa Casino, Macau
Visited 13th June 2010
When I first visited Macau people referenced the Macau Tower as a certain part of Stanley Ho's body; however I'm not sure what they make of the new, sparkling shrine that is the Grand Lisboa. I visit Macau relatively frequently, yet apart from the mandatory sightseeing trudge through the Venetian I tend to avoid the casinos. Gambling in a crowded, smoke filled room holds little appeal, especially when the minimum bets are so ridiculously high. Despite all I found myself exploring the shinny depths of the Grand Lisboa, but only so we could try Noodle and Congee Corner. This place has gained a bit of a reputation with TV appearances and a Michelin 'bib gourmet' recommendation. It's a big restaurant that overlooks the gaming floor with the Kitchen proudly on display. We watched the dumpling making team, before starring starry eyed at the main kitchen were hand-made noodles are cut, pulled and in the case of their famous yi gen mian, tossed into shape.

As you can probably guess they specialise in noodles and congee as well as an assortment of dumplings. We went for poached Tianjin Dumplings, a rice paper roll, barbecue pork buns and the famous yi gen mian. First out were the tender pork and vegetable dumplings which were pretty good, but lacked flavour. The single, foot long rice paper roll was filled with scallops and enoki mushrooms; it was delicate and totally delicious. The soft pork buns were pretty good with an obvious hint of honey to the pork. Ordering the noodles are a matter of selecting the individual components and we went for stewed beef and wontons in a beef broth and of course the mighty yi gen mian. This house speciality is a big ball of fun; a single noodle that's over 10 feet long. We saw the chef making these and the impressive display involved throwing a continuous stream of dough into the pot from several metres away. The accompanying wontons were OK, but were overshadowed by some mighty tasty, tender stewed beef. The noodles itself was good; I just wish I could find the end. Joey also liked the fact that she could add her own sugar to taste to the glass of soy milk she ordered.

I enjoyed my meal at Noodle and Congee Corner. The food was well prepared and quality of ingredients was obvious, especially the tasty scallops, beef and handmade noodle. The fact you can see the dishes being prepared adds an element of theatre, especially when the chef starts throwing around a ten foot noodle. The service was good and the small army of waiters (wearing what would have to be contenders for the worst trousers in the world) were very attentive and professional. Our meal came to MOP162, which I think is certainly fair value considering the quality of the grub. Casinos aren't my favourite places, but if they don't bother you then Noodle & Congee Corner certainly presents a good value option for a casual feed. Visit restaurant website.

Lord Stow's Garden Cafe

105 Rua da Cordoaria, Coloane Village, Macau
Visited 13th June 2010
A weekend in Macau with Joey and Sunday morning we found ourselves exploring Coloane Village. While there’s plenty to see in terms of temples, dragon boat shipyards and muddy channel views, Colane is really famous for its egg tarts. The place responsible is Lord Stow’s who have built a little empire that includes Lord Stow's Cafe, the original Lord Stow's Bakery and Lord Stow’s Garden Café where we found ourselves. With an outlet at the Venetian and franchises in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and the Philippines Lord Stow’s has certainly grown from its humble Coloane roots. Though I'm always a little sceptical about "must try" and "best in Macau" style claims we decided we had to sample a couple of egg tarts. The Garden Café itself is a nice airy restaurant with a few outdoor tables.

The menu is a bit of random mix; there’s a selection of Thai dishes, but also plenty of other stuff including Cornish Pasties, lasagne, salads, baked potatoes. It actually reminded me a lot of café menus in the UK, though that could have just been the baked potato. The emphasis is on healthy ingredients and nearly everything is homemade on site. We ordered Thai fried chicken with rice for simple reason the people on the next table were munching into it and it looked good. The chicken was crisp, well cooked and tender. It came served with rice and a couple of homemade sambals. I got really old school and ordered a coke float while Joey went for a honey and fruit tea. While the float was awesome unfortunately the coffee I had to finish was terrible; weak and lacking flavour it was really disappointing. Oh and the egg tarts you ask; best in the world? Well they were delicate wee things and really liked the custard filling; however the oily pastry was a touch burnt on bottom. While I really liked them ‘best in the world’ is a big call.

To be honest I wasn't expecting much apart from hype from Lord Stow’s, but I really did enjoy my visit. The café itself was a relaxed and pleasant place for lunch, while the staff were efficient and ultra friendly. Our grub came to a reasonable $114 and there was no mention of deceitful service charge. While not really Macanese in style everything was pretty tasty apart from the appalling coffee; something that needs to be fixed if they are going to call themselves a ‘café’. Wondering Coloane is a very pleasant way to spend a morning in Macau and our lunch at Lord Stow’s Garden Café certainly went down well Visit restaurant website.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Bad Bottled Water

The Story of Stuff

For me if a restaurant serves tap-water or not is often the key factor in my decision whether or not to go back. In Australia (and many other civilised countries) refusing to serve tap water is illegal, yet in Hong Kong it's a common practise. Having safe drinking water is something many people can only dream about, yet in Hong Kong we've let fear and corporate propaganda stop us from enjoying beautiful clean water; water that's certainly a lot better than I would drink in many parts of Australia. I challenge someone to show me proof that Hong Kong's tap water is unsafe to drink.

My disdain of bottled water isn't an issue of health or expense, but an environmental concern. This little video from Annie Leonard and the team at The Story of Stuff does a good job of explaining why bottle water is such a terrible thing. Let's just hope that Hong Kong restaurants one-day get the picture and start to put the environment before profits.

Visit the Story of Stuff website.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Machiavelli 'Solatio del Tani' Chianti Classico 2006

Tuscany, £11.99, cork

No website Mr Machiavelli? From what I can gather this estate was founded in 1693 and today the winery is located in Machiavelli's old house, which also operates as a museum. This wine is 100% Sangiovese and I'm pretty sure 'Solatio del Tani' refers to vineyards sunny position, but if they had a website I could check...
It's still ruby in colour, but just starting to show hints orange around the rim. Sniff, sniff and I get aromas of liquorice and red cherry, but also hints of flowers, strawberries and something dusty. The liquorice and cherry from the nose are just as obvious on the palate, and as the wine opened up floral and spice notes emerged. It's got high acid levels, but this is balanced with intense, but fine, sweet tannin. Chianti's touted as a food wine and this bad boy is on exception; it's well structured and tasty, though if I had to nitpick the alcohol is a little obvious and the palate's not overly complex. Machiavelli 'Solatio del Tani' Chianti Classico 2006 is decent drinking.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010


48 Peal St, Soho
Visited 1st June 2010

It' a steep trudge up Peal Street, but when it’s for dinner at a private kitchen, along with a sparkling wine tasting it's definitely worth it. Our meal was at Fridge; a restaurant that's recently relocated from Causeway Bay. It's a small, thin space without four tables inside and a couple on their balcony. One wall is lined with a decent selection of fairly priced wine and the tiny kitchen occupies the back corner.

When I arrived there were a couple of big plates of cheese adorning the tables: comté, gruyere and some nice brie accompanied by a hot baguette; tasty stuff. Next up we were served 4 different types of fresh oysters. All were delicious and I was impressed with how noticeable the flavours were between the different varieties. We were given an advance choice of three mains: chicken, beef or scallops. I went for the sirloin steak and the tender meat was really well cooked. However it was squashed onto the smallest plate imaginable and only accompanied by a couple of tiny herbed potatoes; it really could have done with the company of another side or two. Desert was meant to be pavlova with fresh fruit instead I got a small white rock topped with a single strawberry and a couple of blueberries. As an Aussie I’m passionate about our national desert so took this hard, flavourless, toppingless ‘thing’ as a bit of a personal affront.
Along with a selection of American, Italian, German and French sparkling we also had an overly grassy Cullen Margret River Semillon and great value bottle of Cote du Rhone. My favourite wine of the evening was Delamotte Brut Blanc de Blanc Champagne 1999; a rich and textured wine with plenty of fruit and an interesting spicy edge.

My meal seemed to deteriorate as it went on. The cheese and oysters to start were awesome, the beef decent and the pavlova heart-breaking. To me the strength of Fridge was the excellent quality of their ingredients. I think they started life as a delicatessen and obviously have a good supply network for cheese, oysters and steak. I can't quite remember what I paid for my meal, though while it wasn't particularly cheap it was good value for such high quality ingredients. The cosy atmosphere was perfect for our group and the fact they waved corkage worked well for our tasting. I also have to give the staff a big nod for being ultra friendly and accommodating. Though not getting any points for its pavlova, Fridge offers up some tasty food and is worth visiting purely for the oysters.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fontana Candida Frascati 2006

Frascati, Lazio, $59, cork

I didn't know a thing about Frascati until a little while ago, but what I found out is kind of interesting. It's a smallish DOC in the Alban Hills 20km south-east of Rome and for thousands of years it has been supplying the pubs of Rome with booze. This specific bottle is a blend of 50% Malvasia Bianca di Candia, 40% Trebbiano Toscano, 10% Malvasia del Lazio, the very same grapes that were used to make Frascati in ancient times.Fontana Candida Frascati 2006 is a lot darker than I was expecting; it’s a lovely bright gold. It smells good, really good. There are soft fruits and tropical fruits, think apple, pear, starfruit and pineapple, but it’s surprisingly complex with whiffs of almond, summer meadows, and honey. To taste, it screams of the Italian hills; herbs, wildflowers and honey, alongside ripe red apples and pears. It’s a wine with plenty of body and a nice roundness in the mouth. Joey gave this a big thumbs up, and I enjoyed it too; good price as well. I’d drink the 2006 vintage sooner rather than later.

Visit winery website.