LoveBites Lunches: Aberdeen Street Social

It is considerably harder to get a reservation for dinner than it is for lunch, so the lunch menu is a great way to enjoy Aberdeen Street Social. The third establishment in Hong Kong to be spearheaded by Jason Atherton in collaboration with the JIA Group after 22 Ships and Ham and Sherry, Aberdeen Street Social is a nod to Atherton’s flagship restaurant in London, Pollen Street Social, which opened in April 2011. My my, has he come a long way since then!  After three years and with multiple restaurants in London, Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong, it’s a wonder this guy gets any sleep!

The lunch menu is very enjoyable, with a good range of choice in the starters and the main courses, for a reasonable HK$238 for two courses, and HK$ 288 for three courses. I say it is reasonable because the food is beautifully prepared, eaten in a sophisticated setting, and tastes fabulous. The menu changes every two weeks, so if it becomes one of your regular treat lunch spots (as it will with me), you shouldn’t worry about getting bored.

You can also choose from the à la carte menu as well, which is not dissimilar to his Pollen Street Social menu of ‘modern British cuisine’.  Both feature a yummy-sounding egg starter, scallops, a fowl such as quail or pigeon, a beef sharing dish and … crispy pig ears. His mains are a nice balance of fish and meat, but with no vegetarian options. Having said that, if you give them some notice I think the kitchen could whip you up something fabulous in a snap.

Amuse bouches of garlic, cheddar and rosemary flatbread, with fried chicken topped with a lovely (tomato?) jam

Amuse bouches of garlic, cheddar and rosemary flatbread, with fried chicken topped with a lovely (tomato?) jam

The amuse bouches were wonderfully moreish comfort foods, that fried chicken was served piping hot (be careful when you take that first bite!), and so very good. The flatbread is available on their bar menu if you want more, but alas not the chicken. They are in no way light and healthy things to eat, but just those small morsels of guilt-ridden pleasure are just enough to get your comfort food fix.

A nice and light starter with a sort of aubergine purée that was full of flavour.

Aubergine Caviar, Garden Vegetables

Aubergine Caviar, Garden Vegetables

Iberico Ham, Egg and Peas

Iberico Ham, Egg and Peas

They don’t give much away with the description of the dish, so my starter of soft-boiled, crumbed then fried egg, together with crispy pancetta and smashed peas was a wonderful surprise! It’s not on the a la carte menu, and am a bit sad that I might not have the opportunity to eat it again …

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Sanche – Modern Korean

Sorry that I have been out of action for the last month or so, it has been one filled with travels, work, and event planning! But now things have settled down, I can get back to doing what I enjoy best – eating and then writing about it. There is just so much to catch up on, and whilst usually all of this backlog would overwhelm me and start getting me into a food blogging panic, I’m taking a zen approach and starting with a small, straight to the point post – Sanche.

DSC02300Sanche is a small restaurant which seats around 30 people, a tidy, modestly-decorated yet modern and inviting restaurant nestled amongst the hustle and bustle of meat and vegetable market stalls on Gage Street in Soho.

Sadly this market is zoned for redevelopment by the Hong Kong Urban Renewal Authority, and this whole area is slated to undergo a huge makeover – all in the name of progress I suppose. It is indeed unfortunate, as the Graham Street market is the oldest operating street markets of it’s kind in Hong Kong, and has been going strong for 160 years.

Sanche serves ‘modern Korean’ food, and sources Jang, a traditional Korean sauce, from an artisan producer in Korea to deliver authentic flavour. Modern translates into a fusion element, mostly presented in their “Specialities” such as Bulgogi Quesadia [sic], and Cheese Buldak (chicken in a spicy sauce, with mozzarella cheese), and the use of yuzu in a couple of their dishes. Dishes are served in tapas style, great for sharing.

Quesadilla

Bulgogi “Quesadia” – spring roll pastry, minced beef, bulgogi sauce, mozzarella cheese HK$158

We started off with the Bulgogi Quesadia – apart from the fact that they can’t seem to spell quesadilla (it’s spelled ‘quesadila’ on the specials board), and that the wrap was more of a wholewheat tortilla rather than spring roll pastry, this was a fabulous dish. Hey, you can’t go wrong with minced beef and cheese, and the bulgogi sauce added a nice tangy sweetness. The frisée side salad was doused with a dressing so good it makes you want to eat more salad.

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Pepper Pancake – Cheungrang pepper, Korean leek, clam, dejang sauce HK$128

Call me simple, but Korean pancakes have got to be one of my favorite dishes in a Korean restaurant. I wanted to order this to see how it would compare to others that I’ve had, and it’s a full on 100% winner! The peppers have a hybrid taste of mild chili pepper and jalapeños, not too spicy but with some nice heat. The clams were so tasty and fresh, and the cherry on top – the pancake was fried to crispy perfection. No sogginess (like at Kaya – possibly the worst pancake I have ever ordered), no falling apart – perfect crispy edges that are so moreish that you’ll want to order … well, more.

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Grilled Melo Fish Fillet – choice of salt, yuzu dejang, or soy sauce HK$ 198

We ordered the melo fish with the yuzu dejang sauce. The fish was cooked well with a crispy sweet and sour yuzu glaze on it, another enjoyable dish.

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LoveBites Brunches: Oolaa

One of the highlights of the weekend for me is brunch, and an extra special treat is to have friends there enjoying it with me. Brunch must always include eggs, preferably poached or scrambled, and you can never go wrong with some crispy bacon and a Lincolnshire pork sausage on the side. I guess that’s the English in me, although now that I’m in my 30s and trying to be healthier, I’ve had to forgo fried toast, one of those things I devoured after a night out as a student in London, at the greasy spoon around the corner in Camden. Oh man did I love that fried toast!

To quote the great author W. Somerset Maugham, if you want to eat well in England, eat three breakfasts. Well, if you want to find a good breakfast in Hong Kong, then Oolaa is a great place to look for it! They do eggs really well, and my personal favorite is the Breakfast Bruscetta – diced tomato, avocado, parmesan cheese, red onion and basil on toasted sour dough bread, topped with two glorious poached eggs and a mean Hollandaise sauce. If you want to be healthier, you can always ask for the sauce on the side. And all of that for HK$95 – that is what I call value for money.

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Breakfast Bruscetta HK$95

 

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Tangerine – Thai Tapas and Daily Specials

If you visit the Tangerine Facebook page (like I did), you will be overwhelmed by the number of daily specials there are – quite literally every day of the week apart from Sundays. If that isn’t enough to draw you to this restaurant, then perhaps the super-friendly staff, or the decent food (at a price that is kind to your wallet) will.

Myself and a couple of girlfriends chose to go to Tangerine on a Wednesday – that would be “free welcome drink day” – Thai Mohitos that started us off quite nicely. They carried us through as well – we had two each and both were complimentary. I’m not sure if that was a normal thing, or if they just liked us. Either way, we were off to a good start!

I don’t think I have ever been served an amuse bouche at a Thai restaurant before, but these ones, small cubes of fried tofu topped with a mildly-spiced curry sauce, pleasantly piqued my appetite for more. As an amuse bouche, they served their purpose!

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Amuse-bouche: deep-fried tofu cubes with curry sauce

For our ‘something healthy’, we opted for the sizzling deep-fried tofu with basil and chili (who were we kidding, right? Ha – let’s call it relatively healthy). The portion was generous, a mound of tofu mixed with chilies, fried basil, chopped beans, lettuce and onions, thinly covered in a sweet-sour dressing.

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Sizzling tofu with basil and chilies HK$ 70

The prawns also went down a treat – what can I say, we like things that sizzle! Large meaty prawns served on a sizzling cast-iron plate, mixed in with lots of beansprouts and spring onions.

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Garlic Sizzling Prawns HK$ 88

There are a few dishes that really demonstrate just how good a Thai restaurant is in my book, and I always rate restaurants with their peers according to these dishes: Thai Beef Salad, Tom Yum Kung and Pad Thai. I know there are many, many other dishes that could be on this list, but these are my benchmarks. Why? Because they are dishes that can be made oh so well (and when they are good, they are GOOD!), but can also be very easily screwed up.

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Traditional Tom Yum Goong HK$108

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Dinner at Wild Grass

Calling Wild Grass for a reservation is hands down the most amusing telephone reservation experience I have ever had. Stephane, the manager is so wonderfully French!  Imagine a super French accent, then add a slow, sexed up tone to it – you just have to hear it. “Hellooooooo, zis is Stephaaaane. Ooooooh yessss, when would you like to booook ze table?” Don’t take me the wrong way, I am not making fun, I am simply trying to relay to you how enjoyable it was to make that reservation. I was giggling inside while I did it. And I really looked forward to meeting him in person – he is the face of the front-of-house, and the guy to ask if you have any questions about the menu or the restaurant.

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Wild Grass does a good job letting you know what they’re all about …

Wild grass do a very good job of promoting their mission statement and restaurant concept, and I liked how they make it a point to make sure you know exactly what is so special about this restaurant, right there on the front of their menu – sustainable ingredients, OBE beef, bread made in-house, and they can host your parties too! I’m a little skeptical about just how much of their menu uses sustainable ingredients … it’s a term that is easily kicked around, a trendy term.  Also, for a nose-to-tail restaurant, there is not much nose or tail. But one thing I can say for sure – for a well-priced, casual Hong Kong restaurant, it has a truly interesting and enticing menu.

There’s not just smoked salmon, it’s smoked salmon topped with radishes and wild salmon eggs! Baked fennel with creamed onions and gratinated with goat cheese (they like goat cheese on this menu). Roasted bone marrow with anchovy and herb salad. Seafood stewed with saffron and fennel. Roasted wild Iceland halibut.  Banana and marmalade trifle! Lemon curd syllabub – what they heck is that, anyway??!!

I was inspired to order at least 80% of it, which made choosing very difficult.

Although we were there in the evening, I could imagine sunlight streaming through those glass paneled window, shining down on the farm chic rustic home-style decor, and attractively mismatched chairs. At night, the restaurant looks like it could be a great place for a long meal followed (or preceded) by drinks at the bar – but when we went on a Thursday, we were one of 4-5 tables, and in such a big space, we felt a bit lonely.

And now to the food! While we waited, we were served some of that house-made bread (soft and fluffy like a pillow!) with a goats cheese butter spread (dangerously moreish). I really loved how we were given a few radishes (which went great with the goats cheese) and pickled onions to snack on – they made the bread platter look beautiful too.

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A very nice French bread board, with goats cheese spread, radishes and pickled onions

The carpaccio of amberjack was a very generous portion, but it was surprisingly lacking in any flavour other than the strong flavour of the passion fruit.

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Amberjack Carpaccio marinated with passion fruit and green onions HK$138

Goats cheese oozing over crispy puff pastry and that beetroot jelly went down a treat!

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Baked goat’s cheese feuillete with bayonne ham, pearl onions, beetroot jelly, rocket and walnuts HK$ 118

My starter of poached egg, asparagus, clams and crispy toasted brioche was a marvelously constructed dish – bravo to the chef!

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Poached organic hen egg with creamed shelled clams, green asparagus and toasted brioche HK$130

The steak was order medium-rare but was served rare. I am always a bit scared to send under-cooked steak back to the kitchen, as it usually comes back over-cooked, but the kitchen did a good job of rectifying it. While it was a very tasty piece of beef, it was a too thinly cut to be enjoyed as a juicy steak.

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Grilled wild organic rib eye steak with Merlot sauce, avocado and beetroot salad HK$ 380 (or HK$40 supplement for the set dinner)

The pork chop was simply amazing – perfectly cooked, juicy, really flavourful and well seasoned. I really loved that chive pesto too – this is a dish I would order again and again.

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Savory breaded pork chop, cider cream, chives pesto, cucumbers, courgettes and snow peas HK$ 278

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Kushiyaki Beco, and the first time I tasted yuzukosho

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The Chefs Recommendation board

I recently asked a friend, who lived for several years in Tokyo, what her favorite Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong is – and Beco was her answer. Never one to ignore a good recommendation, I booked a table there as soon an an opportunity arose. She then very sweetly sent me a list of things to eat, “in order of importance” 🙂

Butter-yaki scallops
Short rib yakitori
Tofu steak
Croquette
Goya Chanpuru
Beco Pork Miso Soup
Liver yakitori (for the liver lovers)

Opened in 2011, a collaboration between Sushi Kuu chef Satoru Mukogawa and On Lot 10’s David Lai, Kushiyaki Beco is located along one of the stairway streets off Hollywood Road, where La Cabane Cellar is. It’s a small, cozy eaterie reminiscent of the tiny yakitori restaurants in Shinjuku. With just 20 seats on the ground level and around the same upstairs, it’s casual and quite unassuming, as some of my favorite restaurants tend to be. I saw Quail Egg Skewers on the Specials board, and I knew we were onto a good start.

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Ground level dining

I was wondering what the name meant, and found out that kushiyaki means ‘grilled skewer”. I asked myself, doesn’t yakitori mean then same thing? Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Yakitori (焼き鳥, やきとり, ヤキトリ?), grilled chicken, is commonly a Japanese type of skewered chicken. The term “yakitori” can also refer to skewered food in general. Kushiyaki (skewer grilled), is a formal term that encompasses both poultry and non-poultry items, skewered and grilled. Both yakitori and kushiyaki mean the same, so the terms are used interchangeably in Japanese society.

You learn something new every day!

IMG_4336Another new discovery that evening was that of yuzukosho (yuzu paste), simply the most bad-ass crazy-awesome sauce out there. It’s a fermented paste made out of yuzu orange peel, chilis and salt. The type of yusukosho depends on the the colour of the chili used – bright green for green chilies, and orange-y red with red chilies.

The taste and mouth-feel of this paste is quite extraordinary. At first taste it is salty, but then your tongue is tricked into thinking it’s more bitter than salty, due to the yuzu peel. Then the chili kicks in, not a kill-your-palate burn, but a warm, subtle numbing heat.  Forget wasabi, I am now going to be using yuzukosho with everything! Want to know more? Check it out here.

At Beco, yuzukosho was served with the short-rib skewers and ox tongue skewers. The short-rib is beautifully tender and incredibly tasty, and whilst the ox tongue had a nice texture, it wasn’t as flavourful as I would have hoped.

Short rib and tongue

Short rib (HK$60 per skewer) and  ox tongue (HK$65 per skewer)

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Tofu steak  – HK$45 for 3 pieces

The grilled tofu ‘steaks’ were smeared with a yuzu jam and topped with pine nuts and red pepper threads, served atop a piece of lettuce for easier transfer from plate to mouth. Again, I was a big fan of the yuzu jam, but the tofu wasn’t seasoned enough for me, and it was a bit bland.

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Grilled Hokkaido Scallop “butter-yaki” HK$100 each

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Taku – overhyped tofu and killer onsen egg!

Searching for a late night bite to eat last Friday, and with a particular craving for Japanese food, we happily came across Taku after finding out that Gyotaku had already closed their kitchen for the night – I was happy to taku what I could get at that point.  I had eaten dinner here before and it was not particularly memorable. Last year however, it had been a big regret that I missed the special menu by local celebrity chef Christian Yang, so in we went.

Taku makes an effort to stands out from other Japanese restaurants in two ways, however I’m not entirely convinced with them. They make their own tofu each day, and have a nice selection of chilled, steamed and fried (agedashi-style) dishes based on this humble ingredient. I was excited to try it and although agedashi tofu rocks my world, I thought a chilled option would really let the taste of the tofu shine. It ended in unfortunate disappointment, as I found the texture of the tofu too grainy to be called silken, and with a ever so slight whiff of un-freshness. Now, I am no tofu expert, but I certainly have had much better elsewhere.

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“The way”

At Taku, you aren’t provided with little dishes in which to pour your individual serving of soy sauce. Here, you paint your sushi! There is a communal pot and brush on each table – whilst an original idea, I’m not sure whether the people before me were as careful not to get a fish roe or two on the brush before sticking it back in that pot. To be fair, I did see them take all the pots away at the end of service to be emptied. Still, its a tad unhygienic isn’t it, not to mention a bit of a waste? I still ended up asking for a little dish and pouring it anyway…

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Painting sushi…

And now, for the food!

The true highlight of our meal, and the one thing that would keep me going back for more, is Taku’s Seafood Onsen Egg – it is truly a magnificent dish. This is not just a pretty face – not only does it look amazing, it’s packed with a sweet-salty flavour of the sauce, the firm freshness of the raw scallop, the silkiness of the uni, the POP of the salmon roe, and the crunch of the scallions made this (literally) one of the best Japanese dishes I’ve ever tasted. Why have I never ordered onsen egg before??

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Seafood Onsen Egg HK$68

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La Cabane a Vin – great French small plates and natural wines

After stuffing myself full of tacos for the past few weeks, I’m over South American food, and believe I’ve found my new go-to hangout for quick bites in Soho. Last Tuesday was the Grand Opening of La Cabane a Vin, a charming, rustic and well-situated bar/bistro on Hollywood Road.

Rustic you say, in the middle of Soho? Well, check it out…

The interior of La Cabane

The interior design, done by Elsa Jean de Dieu and Eunice Cheung from Effect, features exposed brick walls, wooden slats that resemble those used to make wine crates, swing chairs suspended from the ceiling, a small temperature-controlled cellar tucked away next to the bar, and all the small touches that make this place a really comfortable and unpretentious place to go for a drink and a (few) snack(s), a light dinner, or even a midnight snack.

Chilled Gazpacho – a rich tomato flavour, but a bit on the oily side for me $70

The local chefs, after some rigorous training, do a good job with the bistro dishes, and the rillettes and terrine are made in house.  The food is authentic, and everything is served in small plates so that one can choose to make a meal of it, or to just order a couple of dishes to accompany a bottle of wine. There are so many fake French bistros in Hong Kong (the worst of which has to be Brasserie de L’île), and it’s nice to see one that is doing it right! They are still tweaking the recipes a bit, and are tireless trying to source the freshesh and tastiest ingredients. La Cabane has tried to use organic produce from local HK farms as much as they can, but have mentioned that the quality is not always consistent; many of their ingredients are sourced from France.

You also have the opportunity to try all of their wines, it’s a huge selection, with some original names, and honestly priced. By that I mean well-priced, with bottles starting from the $200s.

“Les 3 Petits Farcis” – stuffed vegetables $90

MY FAVORITES: Beef Tartare – a wonderfully seasoned and prepared tartare, served with rustic French bread, and well worth the $110

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Chicha – a refreshing and tasty addition to the Soho scene

Chicha is a traditional Latin American fermented (0r non-fermented) drink made with maize , and it is also the name of a hip new eatery in town. I’ve been hearing whispers of “black cod at Chicha”, and all of a … Continue reading

The Monogamous Chinese

When I asked my friend if she’d like to try out this restaurant for dinner, there were two immediate replies: 1: “Huh? Monogamous?” 2: “Just as long as it’s not one of those really brightly lit clinical places.” And it’s … Continue reading