Cococabana in Shek O – Sun, Sea and Rosé Wine

Whether you find yourself in Shek O for a bit of lazy suntanning and swimming, or you’ve worked up a sweat on the Dragon’s Back and have earned a decent meal, then you’ll be pleased to know that Cococabana has re-opened right on the beach where Paradiso used to be (remember that place?!). Taking other Hong Kong beaches into consideration, Shek O Beach is a relatively more happening place and whilst they’re not fantastic, there’s a pretty decent selection of restaurants with a nice laid-back beach vibe.

I’ve been to Cococabana a few times since its new opening, and enjoy the quirky and random items stuck on whitewashed walls, the plastic utensil chandelier, crisp table linens and the solitary disco ball – a nice nod to the previous occupant perhaps?

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One can never have too many Ikea paper lanterns …

Whilst the old Cococabana was more beach chic, the new one is paillote*-esk, a sophisticated beach bar of sorts.  The menu reflects this with light meals, largely seafood and salad based with some chicken and steak thrown in for good measure. They also have a beach bar menu (hamburgers, crêpes and a pretty awesome merguez sausage sandwich), so if you’re in the mood for something more casual and easier on the wallet, make sure to ask for it.

When ordering, you can either choose from the Set Lunch menu for sharing (minimum 2 people @ HK$328), or order from the à la carte menu. The Set Lunch menu for two is actually pretty generous so if you’re looking for a lighter meal, you can always order for two and share between three. Any of the set lunch items can also be ordered on an à la carte basis.

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Salade Niçoise de la Plage HK$158

The Salade Niçoise is top choice at Cococabana, thick and perfectly grilled cuts of tuna with a nice selection of greens and a tangy dressing.

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Set lunch Menu: Mediterranean appetisers

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Baked goats cheese on puff pastry with Bayonne ham HK$148

The baked goats cheese goes nicely with the Bayonne ham, but the limp puff pastry leaves you wanting and I feel it’s a bit overpriced for what you’re getting.

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Set Lunch Menu: Piri Piri Prawns on mint couscous

The piri piri prawns is a generous and tasty dish. The piri piri sauce packs some nice and flavourful heat – wash the sand off your hands and literally dig in!

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Set Lunch Menu: Whole grilled sea bream, flamed with pastis

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HateBites – Loong Toh Yuen @ Hullett House

One sunny weekend, we decided that we fancied some dim sum and that we would check out Loong Toh Yuen at Hullett House. It had already been a weekend of Hong Kong adventure, such as us lazy HK Islanders call it.  We had already once travelled over to the dark side that weekend in search of what my Korean girlfriend calls “the top place for Koreans to eat Korean BBQ in Hong Kong”. After a short MTR journey to Tsim Sha Tsui (easy enough) we proceeded to get lost on the streets of Kowloon, finally finding Won Pungwon after half an hour of walking around, only to get ordered around and given death stares by our halmeoni server. The reviews on Openrice are quite hilarious – I also had a similar experience with the service, although the food was pretty awesome.

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Loong Toh Yuen has a main dining room and a couple of separate side dining rooms, set around a beautiful courtyard

Hoping for an enjoyable Sunday dim sum experience, we sailed over on the Star Ferry and then walked to the beautiful heritage building that is Hullett House. Having heard wonderful things about St. George at the same location (although now Chef Philippe Orrico has moved on to open Upper Modern Bistro), I suppose it was wishful thinking that Loong Toh Yuen would be of a similar standard – how painfully wrong we were.

Literally – painfully … we left with a bit of a stomach ache. I don’t post too many hatebites and yet sometimes it is a social necessity. Yes, it is all you can eat dim sum, so you understand if the standard is not as high as other places. But when only three of the dishes are of a passable standard, there is something wrong.

Loong Toh Yuen

Clockwise from top left: Char Siu Rice Flour Rolls, Pan Fried Rice Flour Rolls, Baked Turnip Puff, Baked BBQ Pork Puff, Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Flour Dumpling with Pork and Dried Shrimp, Salmon Spring Rolls, Steamed BBQ Pork Bun, Shrimp Dumpling Flavoured w/ Rose Champagne, E Fu Noodles with Mushroom and Chive.

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Desserts – the lau sa bao are the best option in this restaurant

The only decent things on the menu were the steamed varieties, I imagine because they are the only things that have to be made freshly – the char siu rice flour rolls (cheung fun), the baked BBQ pork bun (char siu bao) were alright, and in the dessert section the custard steamed buns were the best thing on the menu. Literally translating to “flowing filling bun”, this bun spilled beautifully yellow, cholesterol-laden custardy goodness when pulled apart. Unfortunately, a lunch of only custard filled buns does not a balanced meal make.

All of the fried options tasted like they had been re-fried before serving. Biting into them, you are treated to the taste of oil before anything else. The e-fu noodles were a joke – they had been pre-prepared in bowls and so stuck together in one huge lump, and was completely devoid of chives or mushrooms.

This is all very unfortunate, as Hullett House is such a beautiful venue that attracts a large number of tourists. It would be a shame if someone who only had dim sum once in Hong Kong took away an oily, greasy memory when Hong Kong has such a plethora of amazing dim sum options.

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8 Neat Tips for Making the Perfect Burger and Fries at Home

We have a couple of friends who are always inviting us to splendid dinner parties at their place – amazing wines, complicated cuisine (think sous vide, foams, emulsions etc.), and so on. Naturally, we wanted to return the hospitality, but as you can imagine it was a bit daunting! So we decided that if we weren’t going to go all Heston in the kitchen, we would go back to basics – burgers and fries. Who doesn’t love a good burger? And if we were going to go down this road, then PB and I were going to make the best bloody burger that we could possibly make at home (without a barbecue)!

We set about doing research on meat cuts, fat to lean meat ratios, the American burger vs. the Aussie burger and all that jazz, plus we consulted our Belgian friend PYB on his tips for the perfect fries. After a couple of trials, we believe that we’ve pretty much got it down. All of these tips are compiled from several foodie websites, online recipes and youtube videos – to save you readers the trouble, here the all the best tips for you in one easy list!

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It’s not the best photo, but I will post another once I make my next burger 🙂

Tips for the perfect burger at home:

1. Different people advocate different cuts of beef for the perfect burger, but they generally advocate beef chuck, and that it should be 80% lean and 20% fat. I use Australian grass-fed rib eye, which is the next cut along from chuck, and yields a great taste result.

2. Do not buy pre-minced meat! First of all, you don’t know what’s in it, and secondly, once meat has been minced it has more surface area to attract more bacteria. 180g of beef mince per person will do – ask the butcher to grind it in front of you on the day that you make your burgers. We buy rib eye steaks from Pacific Gourmet and they will grind it for you.

3. When shaping the patties, try to handle the meat as little as possible. Shape it loosely and don’t pack it too much, as this results in stodgy patties.

4. Meat usually should be cooked at room temperature, but burger patties should be as cold as possible. After shaping them, put them back in the fridge to cool again completely. This ensures that the fat melts evenly when they are cooking.

5. Before cooking your patties, use your thumb to create an indent in the centre of the patty – this will stop the patty from shrinking into a ball, and keep it flat when cooking.

7. Only season your patties right before cooking. Seasoning too early with salt will draw all the moisture out.

6. Use a brush or pour some oil on a wad of kitchen towel to oil the frying pan so it is evenly covered. When the patties are cooking, resist the temptation to keep flipping them and pushing down on them. Cook on one side for 3 minutes and then flip for a further 3 minutes, for medium rare. Rest the patties (covered loosely in foil on a plate) for a few minutes before serving so all the juices don’t go into the bun and make it soggy.

7. If you are making cheeseburgers, once you have flipped the patties once, add the cheese and cover the pan so that the cheese is melted when served. We used a French cheese (Cantal, but Compte or Tomme de Savoie would be fabulous too I reckon).

8. Whilst cooking the burgers, heat another pan (preferably a griddle pan to create some nice char lines) and toast your buttered burger buns – there’s nothing worse than soft buns!

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4 loosely shaped patties, 100% Australian rib eye

Tips for the perfect fries at home:

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Griddle Pan Harissa Chicken – A Must Try Recipe

We cook a lot at home obviously, and I love a beautifully stocked kitchen. I am the sort of person that could get lost in the home-ware black hole of department stores, for hours. Our drawers are full of useful (and some not so useful) kitchen gadgets, and there is hardly any room on our kitchen counter for all the toys that we have purchased over the years. Hello, my name is Jenny, and I am a kitchenware addict.

Pots and pans are something that I can be obsessive about without guilt, however! More and more I am hearing of the dangers of using old non-stick cookware that has been heated one to many times, and perhaps some of that non-stick layer has chipped off because I used a metal spatula in a rush one day. So I have been slowly replacing all those cheap pans that I used to buy with good quality Le Creuset cookware. I’m increasingly loving cast iron because it heats evenly, and it’s easy to transfer from stovetop to oven. Ok and fine, yes, IT’S SO PRETTY!

CreusetI bought a 32cm rectangular grill the other day in Caribbean Blue, and I am in love! Since then I have been searching for griddle pan recipes to try out, and I was inspired by a recipe in Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good. The recipe calls for harissa, and I had a untouched jar of homemade harissa that I bought at a market when I was in South Africa earlier this year. If I may so myself, this is one of the best recipes I have made recently, you must try it! It’s simple and requires few ingredients (read – easy and inexpensive to make).

If you don’t have a cast-iron griddle pan, Le Creuset HK is doing a promotion for them (and other cast iron goodies) for the month of August.

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Griddle Pan Harissa Chicken

You’ll Need:

1 x 1.5kg whole chicken, spatchcocked
2-4 tbsp harissa (depending on how hot you like it!)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt, and freshly ground pepper

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Cooking The Books: Easy Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette

Living in Hong Kong and being a relatively lazy weekday shopper ( a trip to the wet market, GrEAT or Citisuper is a detour), I am always happy to come across a nice salmon recipe as it is the only fish that I would cook that’s available in my regular supermarkets down the road. A recipe also gets bonus points for being something that I can whip up in 10 minutes – sometimes we are at the office late, and other times I just cannot be arsed to spend too much time in the kitchen.

That’s why this recipe from Gwyneth Paltrow’s book “It’s All Good” is perfect. You might think that her book is all gluten-free this and vegan that (especially if you have read this hilarious article describing one woman’s effort to eat like Gwynie for a week), but actually some of her recipes are quite accessible, and you can always make substitutions or even omissions with some of the ingredients if necessary.

This recipe is simple as pie, no changes necessary. I serve it with a simple salad, or a pasta salad such as Roasted Vegetable Orzo Salad.

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As you can see, I didn’t have any parsley, so I substituted chopped spring onions instead.

 

Grilled Salmon with Grilled Lemon Vinaigrette

You’ll need:
(serves 4)

4 fillets of salmon
2 tbsp of olive oil, plus 1/2 cup for the vinaigrette
2 lemons, halved
2 tbsp finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tbsp finely sliced chives
Good quality salt and freshly ground black pepper

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Cooking the Books: Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Last summer, after watching one too many of her cooking shows, I went Barefoot Contessa CRAZY and bought nearly all of her cookbooks, including Barefoot Contessa Parties, which is where I came across this wonderful recipe. There are many gems to be found in her books – some have nice European influences and many are straightforward and easy to make. She has several good recipes available on the Barefoot Contessa website, and also themed menus (but they’re pretty naff).

This (lightly adapted) recipe would go down a treat at any BBQ party, or with a summer roast such as this boneless leg of lamb, or any grilled fish dish – I like to have it with grilled salmon and a tangy grilled lemon vinaigrette. Heck, you could eat it by itself and be perfectly content!

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Ina Garten’s Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

You’ll need:
(serves 6)

1 eggplant, 1 inch diced (don’t worry about the size of the eggplant, you can never have too much)
1 red bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1 inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1 inch diced
1 courgette, 1 inch diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3  cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
225 grams or 1/2 pound of orzo

For the dressing:
Juice of half a lemon
1/3 1/4 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

All of this colour is quite inspirational when you're cooking this dish, and the flavours are scrumptious!

All these colours is quite inspirational when you’re cooking, and the flavours are scrumptious!

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LoveBites Lunches – Cocotte

After visiting Cocotte for dinner when it first opened a few months back, I went back to this lovely French brasserie-style restaurant to try out their new lunch menu, which they introduced just a couple of weeks ago. The menu is a straightforward compilation of tasty seasonal dishes, beautifully presented with choice ingredients, and well portioned to fill you just enough but not leave you bursting at the seams.

You can either opt for the Express Lunch (starter and main) for HK$ 168, or the three course Executive Lunch at HK$ 198, both include tea, coffee or a soft drink. There is certainly a plethora of choice when it comes to lunch menus in the Central and Soho areas, but this one really stands out in terms of the quality of food and the high level at which it is executed.

Gazpacho - tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, extra virgin olive oil

Gazpacho – tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, extra virgin olive oil

 Frisée Salad - poached egg, lardons, Pommery mustard dressing

Frisee Salad – poached egg, lardons, Pommery mustard dressing

These two dishes are a light and refreshing way to start the meal. I’m not one to usually order a cold soup but this gazpacho is super refreshing, with a distinct bell pepper taste and I enjoyed the addition of whole cherry tomatoes for varying textures. The frisée salad is a simple dish with a perfectly poached egg and a grilled slice of baguette for extra crunch.

Confit of Salmon - Salt baked beet, tiny potatoes, horseradish cream, dill

Confit of Salmon – Salt baked beet, tiny potatoes, horseradish cream, dill

Steak Tartare -  truffle egg yolk, salad

Steak Tartare – truffle egg yolk, salad

For something a bit more filling, the steak tartare has got to be my favorite starter of them all. Add as much as you want of the tangy and ever so slightly spicy tartare sauce, with a dollop of the egg white and caper mixture after mixing in the fresh egg yolk (or not!) into that wonderfully tasty beef. The salmon was under-seasoned for my liking, although those baby potatoes and horseradish cream on the side were a nice accompaniment.

On to the mains, whilst hand on my heart I loved every one of them, the star of the show has got to be the filet mignon.  I’m not usually a fan of very lean cuts and usually opt for rib eye for an extra bit of taste, but this filet mignon was incredible – tender, tasty and perfectly cooked. I hope they never take it off the menu! Beware of those fries and béarnaise sauce, they’re dangerously addictive.

Beef Filet Mignon Frites - matchstick fries, Bearnaise Sauce

Beef Filet Mignon Frites – matchstick fries, Béarnaise Sauce

The codfish was also a fabulous dish, transporting you to the Mediterranean with perfectly cooked, large translucent flakes of codfish, moreish polenta disks (I have to try making those at home!!), and a really nice ratatouille.

Codfish Mediterranean Style - spiced ginger polenta, ratatouille, red beet reduction

Codfish Mediterranean Style – spiced ginger polenta, ratatouille, red beet reduction

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Les Templiers B&B in Charroux – One of France’s Most Beautiful Villages

Summer is well and truly here, and I find myself reminiscing about our last summer in the beautiful French countryside. PB and I together with my family hired a car and drove down from Paris towards Cantal in Auvergne.  This area is well known for some of France’s best cheeses and meat (beef and lamb). It’s one of the least populated departments in France and can get extremely cold in the winter. But in the summer, it is the perfect time to visit Puy de Dome, the town of Laguiole (where those lovely Laguiole knives are produced), and eat at the fabulous Serge Vieira. If it’s your kind of thing, you can also go to Chaudes Aigues , famous for it’s hot spring waters and also the annual Tattoo Festival! Random, but true.

We wanted to break up the 5 hour drive between Paris and Chaudes Aigues, and thought a visit to Vichy might be nice.  Serendipitously, the nicer hotels in Vichy were booked, so we decided on a small B&B in the nearby Charroux. Classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France, Charroux is a former fortified village famous for it’s mustard.  Sometimes you come across the best places by accident, and Les Templiers in Charroux is one of those places.

Charroux

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A magical place, with it’s very own wishing well

Opened in 2012, this 19th century building has been lovingly restored and converted into a tasteful and modern “chambre d’hôtes”,  keeping all of the original wooden floors, stairs, roof beams and stone walls. With beautifully manicured gardens in the back, crêperie restaurant to the side, and the charming little village of Charroux surrounding it, Les Templiers was the perfect place to stop for one night.

Unfortunately we had to leave after breakfast and didn’t have a chance to have a good amble around the village. From the 12th to 14th century, Charroux was fortified by the lords of Bourbon and once protected by a double rampart. Now, only the east and west gates together with 60 meters of the inner wall remains. It’s a fascinating place to walk around and at certain places find pictureque lookouts over the surrounding countryside.

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The courtyard garden of Les Templiers

Templiers design

Original features of a beautifully restored building

The Combles Room

The Combles Room

We stayed in the Combles Room in the attic, featuring original comble roof beams, a stand alone tub, bathrobes and interesting light fixtures. In fact, the whole property was accented with eye-catching lighting. It is these small details which really make a place stand out, it’s obvious that the owners paid attention to every element of the decor, and I must say they have very good taste.

Breakfast on the following morning was a real treat! Father and son team Rémi and Aurélien are wonderful hosts and are passionate about doing what they do. Aurélien makes his own yoghurt as well as bakes his own delicious almond cake. The jams were supplied by his friend in a neighboring village, and the cheese was the freshest Saint Nectaire I have ever tasted. We had fleeting thoughts about buying a yoghurt maker, but leaving it to sit on the kitchen counter over night is just not a good idea in Hong Kong – maybe in the winter …

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

A thoroughly homemade breakfast

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Falling in Love with The Lombok Lodge

After countless visits Bali, we returned from our first trip to Lombok in May (of which I’m sure will be many more), and I’m compelled to write a post entirely on the subject of the hotel that we stayed at, and yes of course all the trimmings that came along with it.

Lombok is the next island along to the east of Bali, separated by the Lombok Strait. Most tourist activities are focused around the Kuta area in the south, and the north eastern Sengigi area. In Kuta you’ll see lots of surfers, and travelling east up the coast there are beautiful white sand beaches, each one more beautiful that the next. The waves roll quietly and softly onto the sand unlike the huge beastly, crashing waves of Bali, and the beaches are clean! My favourite day in the south was spent on Selong Belanak Beach, about a 25 minute scooter ride from Kuta.

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Selong Belanak Beach

In the north, Sengigi is close to the capital of Mataram and the old airport site and is therefore a larger hub for tourists and local expats, with lots of bars and more hotels to choose from, as well as shops, which you will be hard pressed to find in the south. A little further northwest is the Medana peninsula, where you’ll find a few luxury resorts such as the Oberoi and Tugu Hotel. Nestled in between these two is the loveliest of all, The Lombok Lodge boutique hotel. Believe me when I say that there is nothing else like it on the island, and indeed, with all the travelling that I do, I can honestly say it is one of the nicest places I have stayed at.

It was not just the luxury lodgings, nor the food, nor the attention to detail and service, activities, the smaller details or the beauty of the surrounding areas. What makes this hotel so special is that every single thing is done perfectly, and you are made to feel at completely at home – everyone literally knows your name.

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Poolside at the Lombok Lodge

The design of the hotel is really ahead of it’s time on Lombok, a developing island where high-quality architecture is difficult to come by, as are skilled construction teams and quality materials. The architect is Belgian-based Italian designer Vittorio Simoni –  he has created 9 low rise suites, which are terraced so that each suite has a view of the ocean. It is a truly functional space, and whilst the land on which the hotel is situated is not actually that big, The Lombok Lodge feels quite grand.

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A terrace with a view

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The bedroom, complete with ipod dock, beach bag and sunhats

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Motivational quotes in each room

Bathroom

The bathroom – Hermes bath products, stand alone tub and outdoor shower. Orchids and frangipani everywhere!

The people are a big part of making this place what it is; some of the staff were trained at the nearby Oberoi Hotel, whereas others had no official hospitality training. Regardless of this, the whole team are super sweet, friendly and eager to help and make your stay as special as possible. What makes a huge difference is that the Belgian owners of the hotel stay there for half of the year, perhaps that’s why the standards are so exceptional.

The Resort Manager, Mangsur Y Wayan, is a true perfectionist, and makes sure that everything is always running smoothly. They contacted us prior to our stay to make sure all was in order, suggested several itineraries of things to do whilst we were there, gave us a late check out when needed, made no fuss when I forgot to cancel my spa booking, left notes on our pillow every night, printed out our boarding passes when we were in a rush and delivered them to us by the pool, and offered to clean our sunglasses whilst we sipped on our complimentary pool smoothies … I could go on and on.

Dinner

Traditional rijsttafel dinner

Breakfast

Some of the breakfast selections at the Lombok Lodge

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Alchemy – dinner in the dark

The concept of dining in the dark is not a new one, yet not everyone has the fortune of traveling to Paris or London and having the opportunity to try the Dans le Noir restaurants. They have however been the inspiration for French Creation Group‘s opening of Hong Kong’s very own dinner in the dark experience! Opened just last week, Alchemy is located where Taboo once stood on Arbuthnot Road, and is on two levels – the ground level features a modern and inviting bar area, and cozy lounge seating areas, complete with lush velvet chairs and shelves lined with books – a library of alchemist’s secrets! The entrance area is lined with mock medicine drawers to reinforce the theme.

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Alchemy - Entrance 2 - HDWhen you arrive, someone will explain the experience to you, and the dos and don’ts of dining in the dark. You can either opt for a 3 course dinner with bottled water only at HK$500, or add three wine pairings for an additional HK$200. You will have to leave your bag and belongings in a locker before you sit – for the moment there has been a small oversight with making the lockers only big enough to hold a clutch handbag, but that will be rectified. Each table will have one waiter to guide you and serve you through your meal. The are fully aware of the entire layout of the restaurant and can navigate it perfectly, memorise all of your names, giving clear instructions on who to pass the plate to, which direction the water and the wine is coming from, and personally escorting you to the bathroom if needed. And they are all visually impaired.

As far as the guides are concerned, this is a restaurant that gives back to the community – five percent of the restaurants profits go to the Hong Kong Society of the Blind. With no service charge, we tipped directly, and generously.

Once you have been given the low down on the dinner, you are lead through a series of blackout curtains to your table. To preserve the experience for all of you, I will not do what a food blogger is always itching to do, which is tell you every little detail about what we ate – I don’t want to ruin the surprise or give anything away – what made this meal interesting was the sensory response to every aspect of it. However I do have some photos for you …

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