Souvla’s Cypriot Grain Salad!!!

If you have been to Souvla, you’ll have tried their Cypriot Grain Salad. They have some fantastic salads here, but the Grain Salad is the best and a signature dish if you ask me. It’s a unique, healthy salad packed full of goodness. Even if you aren’t a believer in ‘health food’ per se, this salad will alter your perception that everything that’s good for you tastes bad (this was also my perception, up until not too long ago).

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This is a fabulous recipe for anyone doing the Wild Rose Herbal Detox, just omit the yoghurt, raisins, pomegranate, vinegar and honey. I’ve included a Wild Rose-friendly dressing recipe below.

Imagine my surprise and absolute glee when I found a video of Chef Michael van Warmelo demonstrating the recipe on their Facebook page! It easy to prepare, easy to assemble, and a real crowd pleaser at a BBQ or dinner party. It’s great served with grilled meats, chicken, tasty grilled fish, or even as a by itself.

Souvla’s Cypriot Grain Salad

You’ll need:
(Serves 2 as a large side dish)

1 cup bulgur wheat
½ cup green Puy-style lentils
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 cup natural Greek-style yoghurt
1 tbsp honey
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp chopped almonds, skin on
2 tbsp pine nuts
large handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
large handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 1/4 red onion, very finely chopped
2 tbsp salted baby capers, rinsed
½ cup raisins, soaked in orange juice (or warm water), then roughly chopped
1 1/4 lemon, juice only
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Pomegranate seeds
sea salt flakes
freshly ground black pepper

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Akrame – Trying to make the fleeting, unforgettable

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Putting trust in the kitchen

Firstly, before I start, I shall issue a spoiler alert! Akrame is like a good movie that loses a bit of it’s charm if the movie trailer is just a bit too informative, or if there is too much expectation riding on it. I know the whole idea of a restaurant review is to give you an idea of what you’re going to be eating, and help you decide whether or not it’s worth shelling out some money for, but let me just stop you there and assure you – Akrame is worth it. Secondly, whilst all of the photos really do showcase the creative thought and attention to detail in each Akrame dish, the menu changes every two weeks, thus it may be that the dishes you see here will not be served when you visit.

Menu Planning, by Akrame

Menu Planning, by Akrame

As we sat down at our table, PB told me a little story about the chef Akrame Benallal, which I shall now tell to you. He had a very modest childhood and growing up without his father, he learned quickly to take care of himself. When Benallal was doing his restaurant apprenticeship at the tender age of 14, which was 25km away from his home, he used to hitch hike every day without other means to get there.  In 2004, he wrote to Ferran Adrià explaining that he had a lot to learn, and he wanted to work under him at El Bulli. After a stint there and also working with Pierre Gagnaire (who Benallal calls “Beethoven in the kitchen”), at the age of 25 he opened a restaurant in Tours, but his food was so molecular, too complicated. One day, some of his regular customers walked in, and Benallal decided that instead of making his deconstructed molecular tomato dish, he plated a black Krim tomato with salt, pepper and some olive oil … and the customers said it was magnificent. Sadly it was too late as his restaurant went bankrupt, but so the story goes from there …

To read more about the inner workings of this dynamic young chef, this SCMP article is a good one.

There is no menu at Akrame, you are simply offered a choice of a four-course (HK$788) or six-course(HK$998) menu, with optional wine pairing for both (HK$368 and HK$528 respectively), making this the simplest ordering experience you will every have (even simpler than at The Principle).

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Amuse bouche – Olive crisp and greek yoghurt

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The amuse bouches – squid ink ‘paper’ with smoked eel, parmesan cookie with fish roe, turnip with anchovy and brown butter

After being served a yummy walnut and raisin bread with a tonka bean and lemon butter, we are given a selection of amuse bouches. The eel, served on the thinnest of thin wafers, and the turnip disks with anchovy sandwiched in between, were particularly memorable.

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In waiting for the soup course …

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Pumpkin soup with mandarin orange and rye bread crumbs – Paired with Delamotte NV champagne

The serving of the soup always seems to follow the same protocol – the soup dish is brought to the table with flavour components on display – in this case, mandarin orange slices and those wonderful rye breadcrumbs. They really added a nice texture. The soup was served HOT, smooth and silken. The dish was really a sum of its parts, and would have fallen short had it not been for all of its ingredients.

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Braised razor clams with spinach and spinach mayonnaise – paired with Domaine Schlumberger Riesling Grand Cru

The razor clams were tender and tasted of the sea on a sunny day! The spinach was so very fresh and the riesling was very well paired.

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Raw oysters with passion fruit foam and oyster jelly – paired with Christian Moreau Chablis

We felt like the passion fruit foam over-powered the taste of the oysters, and both agreed that this was our least favorite dish of the night. The chablis was very mineral-y and complemented the tartness of the passion fruit perfectly however.

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The lobster is served raw, in a mason jar, then poached in a lobster and tarragon broth

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Poached lobster with celery root puree, chopped green apple and celery root, and a green apple compote – paired with La Moussiere Sancerre

At this point, the meal just kept getting better and better! Raw lobster tail poached at the table and served on a lightly-flavoured celery root purée, which really let the lobster shine. What a fantastic dish.

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Magnolia’s Jalapeño and Cheese Cornbread Muffins

As an accompaniment to my Oven-Cooked Baby Back Ribs, I make these tasty little morsels – I have always loved corn bread and never would have thought that it is so simple to bake, and the turnout is quite professional. I first tried the recipe when I was tasked to cook an American-themed meal for foodie friends, starting with Crab Cake Sliders, followed by Cioppino (fish stew) and ending in Pecan Pie.

I was lucky to find the recipe in Hong Kong’s Crave Magazine, which ran a feature called ‘Our Best ever Recipes’ in it’s 33rd issue. It featured recipes from their chef panel and other local Hong Kong chefs, one of which was Lori Granito (read this super interesting article about her culinary kickstarter company, Kitchen Sync) of the private kitchen, Magnolia, and also catering company, Go Gourmet.

Many may find Magnolia’s food quite heavy (it is after all New Orleans style Cajun and Creole cuisine – think ribs, seafood gumbo, jambalaya and pecan pie), but I have always LOVED their ribs and their corn bread. Lo and behold, I found the recipe in Crave magazine  – and it works like a charm.

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Magnolia’s jalapeño cornbread cheese muffins

You’ll need:
(makes 10 regular sized muffins)

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal **
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup grater cheddar cheese
1 chopped jalapeño (2-3 if you like them spicier) **
3/4 cup milk
2 slightly beaten eggs
1/4 cup cream style corn
1/4 cup oil
Butter (for preparing the muffin pan)

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Cioppino – San Franciscan Fish Stew

PB and I are part of a fantastic group of foodies who love anything to do with good food, and we’ve combined spending time with close friends, the love of cooking, and the love of eating into a fabulous dinner party circuit! We all take turns to cook dinner parties for the 8 of us, and each time a different theme is chosen. In the first round of dinners, we determined the theme should be food from each of our cultural backgrounds, and so mine was a mishmash amalgamation of Chinese, Indonesian and English. We are now on the 2nd round, and this time, we put countries into a hat and tried our luck.

I managed to pick America, and at first I was uninspired by it. Rather, the idea behind our parties is that we go all out, we create and print menus, we cook for hours, and we choose to make dishes that create a lasting memory of the evening  – hamburgers, fried chicken and nachos just weren’t going to cut it.

I found this CNN article listing the Top 50 American Foods, and it was a great inspiration – some of the things on the list I hadn’t even heard of, the most tasty looking one being #28 – cioppino. Judging from it’s name, it has no place being called an ‘American dish’, but it is indeed an Italian-American dish invented in San Francisco in the late 1800’s. The dish is comparable to a French Bouillabaisse, and was apparently created by a famed Italian fishmonger, who would make it from any leftovers of the catch of the day.

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Cioppino – Seafood Stew

Typically, cioppino is made with a firm white fish, some mollusks (mussels, scallops or clams) and shellfish (crab, prawns or even lobster if you’re feeling generous). The recipe below was with halibut, prawns and clams, but next time I’ll try to add some scallops too, as well as increase the amount of the cooking broth to have a more soupy consistency.  Basically, you can throw whatever you want in there – this recipe is simple, easy and super tasty. Believe me.

The broth can be prepared in advance and then finished 15 minutes before sitting down at the table.

Cioppino  – San Fransisco Seafood Stew
(adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com)
Serves 8 as a starter, or 4 as a main course

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 1/2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes
1 fresh bay leaf (or dried if unavailable)
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled plum tomatoes with juice, crushed
1 3/4 cups dry white wine
1 3/4 cups water
1 cup bottled clam juice **
24 littleneck clams **, scrubbed well
450g halibut ** (or other firm, skinless white fish fillets such as red snapper or sea bass), cut into bite-size pieces
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
24 large shrimp **, peeled and deveined, tails left on if desired
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

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A birthday dinner @ On Lot 10

It was a Sunday, and our mission was to find a restaurant to celebrate my dear friend DL’s birthday three days later.  At first we booked Tango, but when they asked us for a deposit (which is understandable, considering it was a booking for 14 people), AND a minimum spend of HK$750 per person (which I thought was utterly preposterous), I decided to find another option. Regardless of the fact that we most likely would have spent that much anyway,  Tango is not fine dining. It is not a private kitchen, nor were we booking a private room, and it was a rather hoity-toity of them to ask this of us!

The table setting

The table setting

I called around and amazingly, On Lot 10 was able to seat us! I’ve been there once before and I had good memories of it, but I must say, this visit really secured it a top place position in terms of favourite restaurants in my mind.

Spread over two floors decorated in clean whites and chocolate brown, On Lot 10 is an unassuming and understated gem serving French cuisine in large portions made to share. I am a fan of David Lai’s restaurants, and whilst Bistronomique in Kennedy Town is a bit far away for me, I always have to pop by Boulangerie Bistronomique whenever I am in the area, and I’m a regular at Kushiyaki Beco, one of my favourite places to go for a fun dinner with friends.

The menu is seasonal, and consists mainly of classic French dishes with a focus on what is in season and freshly available on the day. As a result, there are always daily fish and meat specials which are not on the menu, and other daily specials that can only be pre-ordered because of the longer cooking times.

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Beef Sirloin Tartare “Batutta” – foie gras, mushroom, celery, anchovy, parmesan HK$165

Hold the celery and this is one of the best versions of beef tartare that I’ve seen (the one at Upper Modern Bistro is pretty original also). I love the mandolin-sliced champignon de Paris, and the fresh foie gras adds an element of irresistible over-the-topness that is just so deliciously tempting!

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Boudin Basque “Christian Parra”, pimente d’Espelette HK$140

A little birdy told me that On Lot 10 uses the same boudin noir as La Cabane a Vin. Some interesting facts were gleaned from my further research – I found that Christian Parra is a 2 Michelin-starred French chef of restaurant Auberge de la Galupe in Urt who is famed for his boudin recipe, which is sold commercially and … it’s canned! I can’t wait to get my hands on some the next time I go to Paris.

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Bone Marrow Risotto – shallot, beef jus, aged “Acquerello” rice HK$170

This was just bursting with so much rich flavour and a perfect combination of textures that I could have ordered it for a main and been perfectly content for the rest of the evening. It was a favourite of the table – big chunks of marrow, creamy Acquerello risotto topped with a wonderful beefy sauce and crispy shallots.

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Scallops Crudo, preserved lemon, horseradish, watercress HK$165

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Whole Steamed Breton Artichoke, truffle anchovy dressing HK$150

Next came the main courses. The menu states that the large dishes are for two to share, but really by two they actually mean three (and for the whole roast chicken, even four).

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LoveBites Lunches: Bellbrook – Bistro Oz by Laris

The covered balcony section of the restaurant. Nice at first and then unbearable with the direct assault from the sun

The covered balcony section of the restaurant. Nice at first and then after a while unbearable with the direct assault from the sun

I visited Bellbrook with my mum in an attempt to get her out of her comfort zone and try something different from her usual lunch spots. We had both enjoyed the previous Laris restaurant on separate occasions, and Belbrook sounded interesting. It calls itself a ‘Bistro Oz’, and I hoped it would combine the best elements of casual, fresh Australian food with a bistro vibe.

The space is cheerful and bright and we sat happily at one of the high tables on the enclosed balcony. The bread was served warm, fresh and delicious, with a tiny pail of butter covered in an olive crumble resembling soil, with a spring of parsley as decoration. I loved that, and am always happy to see a restaurant make an effort with something seemingly insignificant such as butter. The twisties are also a pretty fabulous way of servings potato crisps.  But this is where my admiration of Bellbrook stops. Usually, I’m not one to write bad reviews, but unfortunately this has to be one of them.

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The ceilings are covered with blackboard, allowing for some cute photos and messages from the staff and I suppose some patrons as well

For a restaurant that is trying to re-invent itself, there is not enough there to draw people in, especially with the number of exciting restaurant openings these days.  I felt that nothing on their lunch menu jumped out at me. Perhaps I would have had the roasted chicken, but it was “not available on that day”. With only 3 (regular priced) main course options, it’s a bit silly not to have one of them available.  Instead they offered ‘Turkey a la king’, and their description of it left little to be desired – turkey in a cream sauce. No thanks. Their starters are served on scratched, shallow tin pans that are either meant for baking a cake or serving food to your pet.  No effort was made in the presentation of my pasta dish, which was very underwhelming, and something that I could have made a home in a flash.

For me, Bellbrook is one of those Hong Kong restaurants that feels dated before it’s begun, which seems to lack the passion for offering an enjoyable dining experience, and as part of the Dining Concepts group, perhaps it wants to ride on the coat tails of it’s better restaurants. David Laris should reconsider whether or not he wants to put his name to this establishment.

Sorry Bellbrook, perhaps the lunch menu has no bearing on the dinner menu, but you already lost me at lunch, and I have absolutely no desire at all to give it another chance at dinner.

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The weekday lunch set

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Nice bread and original way of serving butter

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Zucchini Carpaccio, thyme pesto, hazelnut, goats cheese, pmegranate

 My zucchini carpaccio was pretty and colourful, and I loved the crunchy roasted hazelnuts, but the way it is served leaves much to be desired.

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