LoveBites Staycation: Tai O Heritage Hotel

We had a special occasion to celebrate last weekend, and I thought that a staycation was just the ticket! After reading an article on Le Figaro online that mentioned the Tai O Heritage Hotel, PB suggested that this place was worth a visit. Tai O is on the western side of Lantau Island, closer to the airport and Tung Chung than it is to Mui Wo. It seems like such a long way away, and by Hong Kong standards, it does take some effort to get there, but boy oh boy is it worth the trip!

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Green, green and more green as far as the eye can see

Tai O is Hong Kong’s oldest fishing village, and is commonly referred to as the “Venice of the Orient”. The houses are built on stilts above water, so I can see where the reference comes from – but that is where the similarities stop.  It is home to the Tanka people, a community who have lived here for generations. Tai O is local beauty in and of itself, and needs not this reference to my favorite city in Italy. Admittedly, you can’t exactly call these stilt houses beautiful – they are built seemingly haphazardly with any materials the villagers can get their hands on. Somehow, each ‘house’ is different, and the residents have added their personal touches, some colourful potted plants, structures of different sizes and shapes, ornate door decorations, and yes, even some familiar looking knomes.

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The Venice of Asia?

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The Caravan House

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The Leaning House of Tai O

The Garden House

The Garden House

The Bonsai House

The Bonsai House

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Apparently, Snow White is a desperate housewife!

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I was really struck by how much character this village has, and how they have maintained much of it’s heritage and industry. We witnessed villagers collecting sea moss for drying, and stirring huge vats of purple goop (shrimp sauce) that will be jarred and sold, fish drying on racks outside houses.  There is a real community feel about the area, from the closely built houses, the large gathering areas,  and the crash crash of mahjong tiles in the evenings. We enjoyed walking across the bridges and gangways to explore different parts of the village. The locals must be quite annoyed by all the tourists wondering into their backyards!

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A gathering area perhaps?

We took an easy hour-long walk along the Fu Shan Hiking Trail, starting just to the left of the Shaolin Wushu Cultural Center. From the pagoda, you can see ocean as far as the eye can see, and watch planes descending towards the airport on the right. Apparently you might catch a white dolphin or two from this vantage point, but I think you’d have to be extremely lucky to!

Tai O Map

Cute illustrated map of Tai O Fishing Village

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The Shaolin WuShu Cultural Center

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An hour-long stroll up the mountain

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The view of Tai O from the top

A walk through the Tai O market is lots of fun, there are umpteen shops selling all sorts of things: seashell and pearl jewellery, dried decorative blowfish (!), hats, toys for the kiddies etc. If you grew up in Hong Kong, you’ll remember those little tubes of goo, a little of which you place on the end of a stick and blow to create a big plastic bubble. Remember? Hours of endless fun!

Bloonies

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All sorts of stuff for sale at the Tai O Market

There are, of course, all the vendors selling a myriad choice of dried fish and seafood, as well as shrimp paste, the smell of which permeates the air, but you get used to it after a while!

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The ubiquitous (in Tai O) shrimp sauce

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Dried fish everywhere

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And more dried fish and seafood

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Looks very unappetising and slightly alien

Most of all, I loved stopping by all the street food vendors and trying all snacks on offer (especially after not being able to during my recent trip to New Delhi!)! Our favorite was the Pandan Egg Ball Waffle Lady, she was situated right at the end of Market Street. For HK$14 she made us these egg balls delicately flavoured with pandan, on an old manual waffle maker.

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Yummy Pandan Egg Balls

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A hint of pandan taste makes these egg balls fragrant and slightly different from the ones that are usually available

There is another egg ball waffle vendor at 59 Kat Hing Back Street, where the majority of the vendors are. He seems to be quite famous, and there was a queue stretching down the street for his charcoal grilled egg waffles.

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Egg balls cooked over an open charcoal fire

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Chinese Pizzas HK$25, similar to Beijing Jian Bing

Well that about says it all! The are similar to the ¥3 Beijing Jian Bing (fried savoury crepe) that were so unkind to my hips yet I so loved when I lived in Beijing! Comparatively, these ‘Chinese Pizzas’ just had too much stuff for my liking, and way too generous on the spring onions. The ladies who served them were super nice and friendly, and I still recommend going to check them out and ordering a pizza.

We stayed at the fabulous Tai O Heritage Hotel on a Saturday evening. Formerly housing the Tai O Police Station, this grade II listed building was beautifully restored by the Hong Kong Conservation Foundation and very tastefully converted in to a 9 room boutique hotel, which opened in 2010. It is a (I’m running out of suitable adjectives) outstanding example of colonial architecture, with it’s arched facade and French windows. They’ve kept many original features (such as the holding cell which is now used for left luggage), and placards outside the doors inform us what our room was once used for (ours was the Barrack Office). This is one example of how Hong Kong has gotten it RIGHT – preserving a beautiful building, rich in history, for us and visitors to enjoy.

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The leafy entrance to the Tai O Heritage Hotel

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Oyster craving? Check out Edo & Bibo

I write this after another wonderful date night with PB. I’m going to Sydney tonight and we really enjoyed the time to re-group and enjoy each others company before I head off for 5 days. So, I may approach the review of this restaurant in a slightly biased fashion, because above all, the company is what makes the experience truly enjoyable. We really did enjoy our meal at Edo & Bibo, if you’re on a date then the counter seats are perfect for a tête-à-tête, and larger groups are also very easily accommodated. It was certainly a good sign that on a Thursday night, there was not an empty table in sight.

The bread basket

The bread basket

We were the only ones on the counter, which was set up for groups of two. From here, you can see all the action, from the oyster shucking to the salad mixing and even the tartare making. PB had already ordered the wine by the time I’d arrived, and when I asked him what he thought of the selection, I got a shoulder shrug in response – he was not very inspired it seems. He did pick a nice Chablis however, which went well with the oysters. If you’d like to BYO, corkage is HK$150 a bottle.

The bread selection was nicely presented, but not very good quality at all – the baguette was toughly chewy (now that’s an oxymoron!). Oh well, we’re not there for the bread.

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A great deal for a quality selection of oysters

We were there, however, for the OYSTERS! If you are an oyster lover too, make sure you get to the restaurant before 9pm, or you might find the selection severely diminished. The oysters are delivered fresh daily, and E&B is one of four establishments in the same building (all opened by ET Troop) that serves these oysters. Certainly by the end of our meal, there was scant choice left on the ice.

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A wide choice of French oyster selections, not just your usual fine de claire.

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Some oysters I’d never heard of…

The Gillardeau oysters are produced by a small farm owned by the Gillardeau family, which produces only spéciales – a fleshier and thus more expensive oyster. Theirs is a very interesting story, which you might like to read about in this New York Times article.

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And a selection of international oysters..

That day, the oysters included in the buy one get one free oyster promotion were Pacific Rock, Irish Gigas, Fine de Claire, Osole, and Tsarskaya. Not being a huge fan of Pacific Rock oysters (those things are massive – I always feel like gagging when I eat them), we chose the other four plus two of the Gillardeau spéciales.

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The oysters on display in all their glory!

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Our oyster selection, clockwise from the bottom: Irish Gigas, Osole (Korea), Fine de Claire (France), Tsarskaya (France), Gillardeau (France)

We were in for a treat! I have read some mixed reviews of Edo & Bibo (Janice @ E*ting the World was certainly not impressed), but I for one was very pleasantly surprised by the variety, freshness and taste on offer here. The oysters were expertly shucked, and each one seemed to retain the flavour of the water from whence they came. I am a regular customer at Oyster Station in SoHo, and I must say that the oysters at E&B certainly are served with more care.

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Cocktail Sauce and Red Wine Vinegar

A scrumptious cocktail sauce is served, chunkier than most and although it is most likely made with canned tomatoes, it tastes fresh. The red wine vinegar is is dark and seems almost to have a condensed vinegary-ness – a little goes a long way.

We started with the Irish Gigas (HK$58 for two), which were less creamy than I remember them being, in a good way. Perhaps it was due to the fact that they were served quite cold so it made the creaminess more bearable.

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Korean Osole HK$ 59 for two

This is the first time I’ve heard about Korean oysters, let alone eaten one. The Osole were meatier, the water saltier, but for some reason, not our cup of tea at all. I can’t put my finger exactly on it, but the Osole  somehow lacked the refined taste of the other oysters.

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Fine de Claire HK$68 for two

Fine de Claires are always smaller, more crisp, and somehow more savory, and always yummy. They are fine in every definition of the word.

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French Tsarskaya

From Brittany, the Tsarskaya oyster is meant to be more creamy with woody accents, apparently. I say that because it’s the first time I’ve tried them. They are longer in shape, and these ones had a bit too much membrane for me. They were a bit on the skinny side too – the Kate Moss of our oyster selection.

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French Gillardeau HK$68 each

These babies were beautiful, and the all-around favourite. Big, but not to meaty and not too creamy, delicately flavoured with a beautiful briny taste – just perfect really. Too bad they weren’t part of the two for one offer because I could have had a whole plate of them.

Just as quickly as it had started, our oyster round was over (boo). We moved on to our second round of starters, the first we chose from their “Chef Specials”: Edo & Bibo Signature Caesar Salad with Apple Wood Smoked Bacon and Fresh Graded Parmeson (sic)”. As far as Caesar Salads go, it was definitely one of the better ones – crisp Romaine lettuce, a nice tangy creamy dressing. Using the dressing as a plate garnish was somehow lost on us, and there was not enough of that (very nice) bacon. It also rained Parmesan onto our plates when we picked up each leaf – but I love that stuff.

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Signature Caesar Salad HK$108

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LoveBites Day Out: Lei Yue Mun and the Island East Market

I woke up on Sunday with an urge to do something I’ve never done before. We hardly ever visit the eastern side of Hong Kong island, unless it’s to go to Director’s Club to watch a movie (leather reclining seats, they take your order while you sit, free hot dogs, free flow popcorn and soft drinks!), or to buy Japanese products at Uny. I had been hearing talk of Lei Yue Mun for the past week, and have been meaning to visit the East Island Market for some time now. In the spirit of adventure, we mapped out our plan for the day.

We caught the ferry from Sai Wan Ho Ferry Pier to Sam Ka Tsuen (check here for ferry timetable). At HK$6, it is a great way to experience a journey across the harbour, on a Kai-To ferry. There are only a handful of routes still served by the Kai-To on Hong Kong island.

Sai wan ho ferry

We left the Sai Wan Ho Ferry pier, and after a short 10 minute journey, we exchanged this skyline ….

Leaving Sai Wan Ho Ferry Pier...

for this one …

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Pretty neat, huh?

You arrive at the gate of Lei Yue Mun, just a short 4 minute stroll away from the Sam Ka Tsuen ferry pier.

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We walked through the narrow street of restaurants, pass the Chinese pastry vendor, the fish tanks, a local 士多, until we reached Lung Tang Restaurant at the very end. We dined by the water, and enjoyed the peace and quite (once we had gotten over the subtle stench of the nearby sewage pipe). Lung Tang Restaurant doesn’t have its own seafood tanks, so you purchase your seafood at one of the vendors near the entrance of the restaurant, and Lung Tang charges a small cooking fee to whip it into a feast for you.

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After being shown to our seats, we were then ushered to the fish tanks to choose our seafood at Ting Kee Seafood, aided by the very smiley Mrs. Yuen.

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This handsome and quite hefty fella, our Philippine lobster, was soon to be our lunch.

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Bonkers for Bivalves – Oyster Station (this branch is now closed)

Il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco

I really love Oyster Station, and although many oyster lovers know it well, there are many who are oblivious to it’s location. It’s a tiny little hole in the wall on Bridges Street, just past Oolaa. With about 8 bar seats and perhaps 10 to 12 table seats, the open kitchen takes up much of the establishment.

It’s become a staple favorite of a French girlfriend and myself for a quiet tête-à-tête over a light meal. The first time we ventured in was because Yardbird was full and we didn’t want to wait the 45 minutes for a table. Next door we had spotted this little gem – the restaurant was full, so Manager Jesse sat us on a small, rickety table for two on the roadside pavement. There we were, with a gold-coloured bottle of prosecco and a dozen oysters, feasting like queens – it was such an unlikely situation and yet so typical of Hong Kong, where every now and then you discover amazing food and incredible ambiance in the least likely of places. Continue reading