The Principal: Deserving of a 1 Star Rating

There are only certain occasions when I agree with the Hong Kong Michelin Guide‘s rating of a particular restaurant in Hong Kong – you know as well as I do that some of their 1 Star ratings are just preposterous. However I am so happy (and so is my belly) to say that The Principal is completely, entirely 100% deserving of it’s 1 Star rating!

Chef de Cuisine Jonay Armas hails from the Canary Islands and takes a fresh and thought-provoking approach to each of the contemporary European dishes. He applies molecular techniques to some, whilst others are more complex versions of traditional dishes, and each dish appeals to your five sensations of taste: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami.  There are three Tasting Menus available, and what is more notable is that one is of them is entirely vegetarian.

We went for the 7 course menu at HK$ 890 with optional wine pairing – some dishes are certainly more impressive than others; PB and I found that with each course that was served, we were more and more excited to be served the next. I would definitely say that this is the best of The Press Room Group‘s restaurants, and we are eagerly anticipating our Sunday Brunch reservation in January 2014 (it gets booked out weeks in advance). If you are looking for a date venue to impress, boys, this is the restaurant to reserve a table at.

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SNACKS: Passion Campari

The server will warn you not to take a bite of this, but to put the whole thing in your mouth. Once you take a bite, a cool, passion fruit Campari-laced liquid bursts out of its waxey container, much to your surprise!

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SNACKS: Mimetic peanut

This peanut buttery imitation of a peanut definitely amuses your bouche. I love how it is served on a bed of crushed peanut shells.

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Sesame Dentelle & Pâté Bonbon

These two were less impressive, but you can never go wrong with a pâté bonbon!

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UNI: Chawanmushi, sea urchin, sake, dates

On The Principal website, chef Armas says, “My aim is to respect the origins of each ingredient, to pay homage to the cooking methods that have come before while introducing my own interpretation.” Well he has certainly done this with the UNI dish – chawanmushi served in a cute sea urchin vessel and topped with uni and a date crumble (of sorts).

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EGG: Free-Range Onsen Egg, Iberico Ham, Parmentier, Chanterelles

I love, love, love onsen egg, and order it whenever I see it (here, here and here). This one did not disappoint, with potato cream and the most delicious fresh petit pois. When was the last time you ate a fresh green pea? I can’t even remember … before this dinner, of course.

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A very souped-up version of Egg and Soldiers

PB lifted up the glass bowl to get the very last bit in the bottom, and all of a sudden, we smelled SMOKE! We didn’t realise immediately where it was coming from and thought that perhaps something was burning in the kitchen, but we then noticed the wood-scented smoke trapped in the hollow space at the bottom of the glass bowl.

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BLUE LOBSTER: butternut, béarnaise, wild rice, tarragon

The wild rice was crispy like a popped rice, which imparted a smokey, burned popcorn flavour.

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COD: Black and white

The white sauce was a cod-juice cream, and I can’t recall what the black was.

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A view from the top

Bulgarian Bessa Valley Wine

Bulgarian Bessa Valley Wine

The wine list atlas at The Principal is impressive both in its size and in its range. We opted for the wine pairing for our meal (HK$400), and found it to be of excellent value and selection. We were served a new glass of wine with each course, and towards the end were making an effort to finish our glasses before the next course.

For our main course selection, we were served this Bulgarian wine, and I was intrigued enough to take a picture. I’ve never tried (let alone heard of!!) Bulgarian wine before, so I decided to do a little research. Apparently, Bulgaria is one of the world’s oldest wine growing regions, but a law voted during the Gorbachev period as a result of anti-alcohol measures called for uprooting the country’s vines. The Enira vineyard is located in the Bessa Valley region, and for those planning a trip to Bulgaria any time soon, a wine tasting there sounds like good fun!

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SUCKLING PIG: Baby endives, lemon purée, cabbage, pomegranate

Whenever I take a Tasting Menu, I always find that the main course lacks the flair and genius that the appetiser courses do. This suckling pig was nice, but not as amazing as what preceded it.

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Puy Lentil and Savoy Cabbage Soup with Lardons

My friend AB cooks the best Lentil and Cabbage Soup – she made it once when I  went over to her place for dinner and I’ve been wanting to make it since. Our focus is always more on the catch up and less on the food, so the meal is always simple, but nutritious (she is vegetarian, and rediculously healthy).

Now that winter is coming, it’s time to get our lentil soup on! I’m usually not a big fan of lentils, but in this soup, they are rich, silken and full of flavour. Gladly, I am not vegetarian, and that means – bacon! Not too much mind you, but it does impart a richer flavour to the soup, a little more oompf. You can also do it the German way and add sausages, but for me, it’s bacon all the way.

This is really an ultimate comfort soup that ticks so many boxes – feeling a bit frugal? Your girlfriend/boyfriend/housemate is under the weather? You really can’t be arsed to cook? Need a good source of protein and fiber? Lentil and cabbage soup it is!

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LoveBites Lentil and Cabbage Soup

Puy Lentil and Savoy Cabbage Soup with Lardons

You’ll need:

Extra virgin olive oil
1 pack of smoked lardons (or streaky bacon will do)
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
5-10 springs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
2 bay leaves
2 cups (or approx. half a head) of Savoy Cabbage, chopped to bite-sized pieces
1 cup Puy lentils (green lentils), washed but no need to soak
5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups of water (optional)
Salt and pepper

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Upper Modern Bistro

Having effectively been out of Hong Kong for the last month and a half, I feel like I’ve come back and ten different new restaurants have opened. Not only are they new, but they are impressive restaurants that have been causing a buzz and sending my Facebook news feed into a visual frenzy of food photography.

We were out for a nice dinner with our friends, the elegantly gorgeous KW and her ever-amusing beau BB – with company such as theirs, a meal is always off to a good start!  Fish & Meat was fully booked, and we were lucky that Upper Modern Bistro has just had a cancellation.

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The whimsical ceiling feature @ Upper Modern Bistro

Mirrors and a full glass panel façade makes the restaurant feel very roomy, whilst the soft colour scheme makes the space comfortable and welcoming.  Your eyes are immediately drawn to the fabulous ceiling feature, the design apparently is attributed to chef Philippe Orrico’s love of eggs. The kitchen is set slightly higher than the dining room, and is visible from the street so that you are greeted by the sight of chefs busying away.

At the time of our visit, it felt like the façade was not yet completed, and I had to squint and search to confirm that this was indeed Upper Modern Bistro.  But once I entered the restaurant, I was truly excited to start my meal. Our friends had been raving about how amazing the food was at St. George, the restaurant where Orrico was head chef previously to opening his own place. I had never had the chance to go, and anticipated a great meal at Upper Modern Bistro.

There’s a snack menu, a tasting menu, and the main a la carte menu to choose from. As enticing as the snack menu looked, we decided to go straight to choosing our main meal. With the 4 of us dining, I have lots of lovely food pics for you here!

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Oyster w/ Ponzu Sauce @ HK$ 58 each

I started off with 2 Brittany oysters, they were crisp and not too big with a fabulous ponzu sauce.

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Steak Tartare HK$ 168

As my first choice of moules marinière was sold out, I went for a bistro staple – the steak tartare.  It was unconventional, served on a base of avocado, mixed with pecans instead of capers, and topped with a parmesan cheese foam. If you are a tartare traditionalist, you will be disappointed, as it hasn’t the tartness or the heavier flavours of a traditional tartare. This one is light, with no discerning meaty taste as the favours of the avocado and parmesan overpowered it a bit. Still, the flavours went well together, and I enjoyed the lightness of it.

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63° egg, sauteed crab meat and Bellota ham HK$ 148

63° eggs are one of UMB’s signature components, and Chef Orrico uses them in his main dish of Mushroom Tagliatelle also.

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A bird’s eye view

KW’s starter of Chestnut Soup (no photo!) was dreamy, a rich, sweet cream of chestnut with complimentary shavings of white Alba truffle. Delicious. In fact, if you like creamy soups as I do, I would say that soup is definitely one of Upper Modern Bistro’s strong points!

For the main courses, BB ordered a delectable Quail and Foie Gras Pie. It is limited on the menu and yet it was still available for us to order. I suppose it may sound too heavy and rich for many, but I liked its traditionalism.  One bite brought me back to a meal that I had at Au Petit Riche, an old-school Parisian restaurant, where traditional recipes such as meat pies and tête de veau are predominant on the menu.  And hey, it comes with a salad!  With truffles shavings again, no less.

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Quail and Foie Gras Pie with Lentil Sauce, HK$ 328

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Accompanying salad with truffles!

My main course was the most mainstream of them all, but just as well executed. The pasta was wonderfully fresh and cooked perfectly al dente, and the 63° egg oozed its bright yellow yolk to create a smooth, creamy sauce.

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Mushroom Tagliatelle, 63° egg, cheese sauce and parma ham HK$ 168

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Oozing egg…

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Sole a la meuniere, butternut sauce and sauteed mushrooms HK$ 248

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Hungry Like the Wolf @ London’s Bocca di Lupo

Slowly but surely, after numerous trips to London, I am building up my “Must-Eat” list of places to dine when I am in this wonderful city. A melting pot of different cuisines, with a plethora of choice from cheap and cheerful to luxurious and extravagant, London’s food scene is tongue-titillatingly exciting! What I find lacking in Hong Kong are the mid-range priced restaurants that serve GOOD food, unlike so many establishments where a HK$400 spend will get you:

a) a glass of wine and a portion of two wonderfully delicious yet overly priced foie gras mini-burgers

or

b) a glass of wine, a plate of nachos and a superbly mediocre burger.

Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little bit, and I don’t mean to knock my own city. You all know that I eat out a lot in Hong Kong, and that I enjoy a lot of what I eat. In fact, if you care to participate in this debate, I challenge and invite you to comment on this post!  Let me know your favorite meals in Hong Kong in the $400 per person range (and that’s including a glass of tipple), restaurants that surprised you the first time you went, and that consistently serve fresh, tasty and (most importantly) thoughtful food. I will one day write a post about this topic, but for now will keep my list to myself.

As always, I digress.

A warm and welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

A warm, welcoming, and unassuming restaurant, located on a quiet street off the bustling Shaftsbury Avenue

One of my new London favorites is now Bocca di Lupo (i.e. the mouth of the wolf), just a hop, skip and a jump away from Picadilly Station and Leicester Square Station. No need for Scottie to beam you up to Italy, you can just take the London Underground!

BDL was opened in 2008 by Jacob Kenedy, an academic turned chef who approaches his food in an informed way. The dishes can be sampled in small and large plates, allowing diners to design their dinner experience.  Each item on the menu is classified by the region in Italy that it originates from, and other dishes are creations of the chef.

At the time of my visit, their menu featured a B.Y.O TRUFFLES OPTION! Forget “V” for vegetarian, dishes marked with a “T” are recommended as ideal to have with truffles, which you can buy at Gelapo across the street.  Genius.

All of this technical stuff aside, the food is simple, honest, fresh and so gosh-darn tasty – your appetite becomes like that of the wolf. You want to devour everything. I went to BDL twice during my 2 weeks trip to London, and I am nowhere near satiated.

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Watching the chef’s at work in their small open kitchen, from our chef’s counter bar seats

From the Crudi e Salumi section, we ordered a selection of seafood carpaccio. I am a big fan of sashimi sweet prawns, and those Mediterranean red prawns are as sweet as you can find them. The burrata came next, a creamy ball of goodness, smothered in olive oil and bursting over a bed of grilled vegetables – adding fresh mint instead of basil was an interesting touch. After this came the rose veal tartare, a delicate and flavorful meat that wasn’t seasoned like a  normal tartare, and didn’t really need to be.

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Crudità di mare – raw red prawns, sea bream & scallop carpaccio. GBP 14

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Burrata with marinated grilled aubergines, tomato, chilli & mint. GBP 9.50

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Battuto – rose veal tartare with a little oil & little else. GBP 9

We skipped the Fritti section and went straight onto Paste & Risotti. The venison and the wild boar ragús were rich and filling, with clean and crips flavours. By this point in the meal, we were getting pretty stuffed. It was the first time I had tried gnudi – (pronounced “nu-dee”), a type of gnocci made with ricotta and flour which that hails from Tuscany. They were light and fluffy, and a great match with the ragú.

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(Uncertain) Chifferi with venison ragú GBP 8 – although the pasta isn’t ‘olive leaf shaped’

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Sheeps Ricotta Gnudi with Lamb Ragu GBP 10

The star of the show for me, the dish that really blew my mind, was the Lobster Spaghettini! This is the stuff of pasta wet dreams – a succulent Scottish lobster, teeming with roe and cholesterol-y goodness, with a punch of chili, a scent of ginger, and topped with fat mussels. The ginger was really the most interesting addition to this dish – it perfumed the pasta and gave a hint of ginger flavour that was just right.

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

Spaghettini with 1/2 lobster, mussels & ginger (Large) GBP 25

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