Category Archives: Food

Stuff about food in general

I’m Not Lovin’ It


Years and years ago I used to eat at American fast food chains pretty regularly. And why not?  Or so I thought at the time.

Cheap, fast, tasty enough, and easy to deal with in places where English isn’t spoken. But reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation pretty much put an end to that habit.  I will sometimes still go for a fast food burger but I try to limit it to once or twice a month. I still visit McDonald’s pretty often, but that’s because when I’m coming home from work and get off the bus near Tai Po Market, McD’s is one place where I can run in and use the toilet with no questions asked. I’ll also confess a liking for the McD’s branches that have a McCafe coffee shop inside – open 24 hours, cheaper than *$ and oddly enough the best western style cakes in Tai Po.

The abuses of the fast food industry in the United States are well documented, but what about in China? One can only logically assume that the food sourcing and processing in China is no better than it is in the U.S. and very possibly it could be orders of magnitude worse.  These days I favor cha chaan tengs for a quick, cheap meal. I realize that they’re probably not sourcing Australian wagyu grass-fed beef for their beef hor fun and I hope they’re not using some chemical meat tenderizer or loading the sauce up with MSG, but most places probably are. Every day we pick the compromises we are most able to live with.

(I’ve got a funny story about the quality of McDonald’s beef that goes back to my days in advertising, back in the 1970s, can’t recall if I ever wrote about that story here.)

At any rate, we now have the latest food scandal in China. And again, it is a reminder of how corrupt and greedy some people can be. I don’t want to paint a nation of 1.5 billion people with the corruption brush, because that would be a gross exaggeration, but it does seem that these things – where people running companies make decisions that knowingly put peoples’ lives at risk in exchange for a little extra profit – occur more frequently in China than anywhere else. (Yes, I know, General Motors.)

So here’s the thing, in case you haven’t read it elsewhere. There is a food processing company in Shanghai called Shanghai Husi Food Company. They are 50% owned by an American company. They took expired beef and chicken and repackaged it, changing the expiration dates to make it appear that the meat was still fresh, and then sold it to fast food chains in China and Hong Kong.

HK McDonald’s is one of their customers. So are Starbucks, KFC and Burger King.  And apparently this is not a one time occurrence – this was standard operating procedure at this company and has been going on for years.  The company maintained multiple sets of records to help them perpetuate this dangerous fraud. (I suppose one might argue that if it’s been going on for years and no one has died from it, it’s not that big a deal? Yes, it is that big a deal. It’s a level of risk that is unnecessary and unacceptable to any rational person.)

McD’s in HK has reportedly removed all of the menu items that were made with food sourced from Husi. Last night as I passed one Tai Po branch of McD, I saw they had large red signs in their windows – all Chinese-only – that were probably informing customers of this. (I guess they didn’t bother to post English versions of the sign because they don’t care about their white or brown customers.)

Here’s a few McD’s facts courtesy of the SCMP:

  • There are currently 239 branches in Hong Kong employing more than 15,000 people.
  • The first HK McD opened in 1975 on Paterson Street in Causeway Bay. The 3,000 square foot restaurant paid $64,500 a month in rent.
  • In 1992, 7 of the 10 busiest McD’s in the world were in Hong Kong.

Old joke:

A retired American comes to Hong Kong as a tourist. He’s booked everything first class. He’s met at the airport by his tour guide, who says to him, “Welcome to Hong Kong Mr. Smith. I imagine you’re tired after your long flight. I’ll take you to your hotel where you can take a shower and relax for a bit before we get started.”

But the tourist says, “No! I’ve waited my whole life to come to Hong Kong. I love Chinese people. I love Chinese food. I want to get out there and start experiencing Hong Kong right away. I don’t want to go to the hotel yet. I want you to take me to the most popular restaurant in Hong Kong!”

So the tour guide shrugs his shoulders and takes him to McDonalds.

Unrelated HK food items:

The first location of the Press Room, the one on Hollywood Road, has now closed after the landlord reportedly sought to increase their rent by 500%. Because why should the landlord continue to make a reasonable profit from a successful business that has been there for years and probably always paid their bills on time?

The same group operates The Pawn in Wanchai, which has now closed. Reports differ as to whether this is going to be just a renovation or if it will re-open with a new name and concept (but still managed by the same group).

The SCMP quotes food critic Walter Kei (whoever he is, a quick Google on his name turns up a press release from The Link calling him “a renowned gourmet traveller and wine taster.”)

Food critic Walter Kei said the proliferation of trendy restaurants was another problem.

“There are too many restaurants in the market,” he said. This led to cut-throat competition and drove up staff costs.

Kei said that with high rents and labour costs, the only cost that could be cut was food.

This was compromising quality but consumers didn’t know because food writers and critics weren’t telling them. “The so-called food reviews are only to promote new places, not the quality of the content,” he said.

“Writers are afraid of offending restaurants.”

As a result, Kei said, people had higher tolerance of bad ingredients and bad food sourcing.

He’s probably correct. HK culture cares about size of portions and price and not so much about taste, while the great majority of HK food bloggers who write in English only review places that give them free meals.

Restaurateur and critic Lau Kin-wai said he shut the doors of his famous Yellow Door Kitchen a couple of months ago more because of staff issues than rent.

“I can’t hire someone to wash dishes even with HK$10,000 a month,” he said.

I suspect there’s a little bit more to it than that. Now that my wife is working as a waitress, I’m getting to hear directly about how shittily some restaurant owners and managers treat their staff.



Food, No Pics


Okay, no griping in this one, at least I don’t think so. Well, maybe a tiny bit.

HK English language food bloggers, with a few exceptions, tend to review those places that give them a free meal. They get invited to tasting sessions or just get invited (or, ahem, ask to be invited). The places they review are mostly on Hong Kong island – Lan Kwai Fong and points further west all the way out to Kennedy Town. Once in awhile they’ll figure out some way to get across the harbor – it’s hard! – for a place in Elements or in one of the more social-media-savvy hotels.

For us, we’ve been concentrating on restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui lately. That’s because it’s where my wife is working. So I’ll meet her and we’ll almost randomly try spots nearby.

Before this, I liked going to Ashley Road. This dead end street must have 50 restaurants on it, and there’s everything from high end stuff that I can’t afford to kebabs, Chinese fast food and a terrific bar called Castro’s that makes a mean mojito.

Now we’ve gone further east. And we’re finding some pretty terrific spots that may not serve Michelin-notable food but which are cheap and cheerful and, yes, satisfying.  Plus what I’m seeing is that some parts of TST, particularily around Hart and Prat Avenues, seem to attract primarily local crowds. Hart Avenue has a large number of bars – there’s Tequila Jack, several branches of M1, Hair of the Dog, Roadside Inn, Fatt’s Place, Cali Cali, even a place called Piss Bar.

So here’s a quick run-down of some of the places we’ve tried so far – and as always, I’m eager for your recommendations in the area.

In no particular order:

Over at Chungking Mansions, we’ve tried three spots. Delhi Club, Taj Mahal Club and a very friendly ground floor place whose name I can’t recall. We like them all. The difference between Delhi and Taj Mahal for us is that at TM you can order tandoori chicken while at D you can only order tandoori chicken leg. The difference between the two for my wife is that she says the waiters at Delhi Club are younger and better looking.

Bricklane has two branches practically across the street from each other. The larger of the two is called Bricklane Gallery, and they’re famous for their Eggs Benedict. I don’t eat eggs. The rest of the stuff there is decent (shepherd’s pie, burger, fish & chips and so on), they have a nice and not-too-expensive wine list, and I find it a comfortable place to sit and let the night go by. (I did my birthday dinner here this year.)

Tequila Jack’s, aka TJ’s, has Mexican-ish food that’s no better nor no worse than what you’ll find at Agave or Coyote. The draw here is some outdoor tables, Dos Equiis beer, $10 taco Tuesdays and $99 (or maybe it’s now $109) steak Saturdays.

Tonkachi is a small basement Japanese restaurant with a Japanese owner, Japanese chef and some Japanese staff. The one time we’ve eaten there so far, all of the customers surrounding us were Japanese. They use premium Kuroshima black pork for their tonkatsu – the breading was authentic, mine was slightly overcooked. Their sashimi is noticeably better than what you’ll find at places like Sushi One (but of course not as good as what you’d get at the $1,000+ per person places).  And it was a friendly and relaxing place.

We’d previously tried the famous Chicken Hof for KFC, but in this heat that far end of Kimberley Road is a bit of a hike. A couple of nights ago we tried Chum Chum Mi and really enjoyed it. They have outdoor seating (which I’ll keep in mind for when the temperature dips down a bit). They do great KFC there (and you can get half orders) as well as having a full menu – Korean BBQ if you’re so inclined but we went for seafood pancake and kimchi fried rice with our KFC and everything was really good.

While larger streets such as Cameron Road and Granville Road have seen many of their cheap & cheerful spots replaced by branches of Sasa, in between there’s a short street called Hau Fook Street that is lined with restaurants and fills up with people every night. We found a place here called Caterking Dim Sum which serves decent dim sum until 1 AM (2 AM on weekends).

Other places we’ve tried around here include a branch of hot pot specialist Calf Bone King and the Beijing style Tai Fung Lau, which from the looks of things has been around for at least 50 years. I’m really anxious to give Spring Deer a try (not for Peking duck but for some of their other old school Beijing dishes) but the last time we went there (a Monday night!) they were full and we weren’t given an option to wait, simply told to try another night.

One other nice thing about when we have dinner around here is if we’re up for it, we’ll then head to the branch of Holly Brown at K11 for some gelato or the new branch of Passion on Mody Road for some cake.

There’s also the place where my wife works, but I suppose if I was to recommend that it would be a bit suspect. But it’s actually a place I ate at a few times before she started working there and we are quite happy that we do like the food in the place where she works.

We’ve had a lot of great nights out around here lately and have always managed to keep the bill for two way under HK$500. (Some nights we’ll splurge after dinner and take a taxi home instead of the MTR if we’re really feeling tired.)

Anyway, as I said, what spots are your favorites? Which places should we try next?


KFC in Hong Kong


No – not Kentucky Fried Chicken. Korean Fried Chicken.

Fried chicken in Korea has been huge for years and its popularity has been spreading around the world. The Hong Kong food scene is one of trends, and this is one of the current “hot” items so there are an increasing number of places serving it. I’m always lagging a bit behind the trends, but last night we finally jumped on the KFC train by going to Chicken Hof and Soju, supposedly ground zero for the KFC trend in Hong Kong.

This small place in TST doesn’t take reservations and reportedly most nights people will line up for hours for one of the few tables here. On a rainy Sunday night at 9:30, we were seated immediately.  (The place stays open till around 4 AM every night.)

There’s one big table inside that seats at least a dozen, and people are seated randomly around the table. Then there’s 5 or 10 booths along the sides. The place is dark, the TVs are blasting K-Pop videos, and the staff are just wearing their street clothes so it can be a bit confusing at first to figure out who actually works there.  The menu is in English, Chinese and Korean, with plenty of pictures.

The menu offers four different variations on KFC. The menu (at least the English menu) does not tell you that can order a plate that’s a combo of different styles, something we discovered after seeing other orders coming to our table, but it was too late for us to ask for a combo.  So we only got the “original” sweet and spicy style.



(Apologies for the crappy iPhone photo.)

You get a plate of pickled white radish and a plate of lettuce with Korean-style Russian dressing and glasses of water as soon as you sit down.  For HK$160, we got a veritable mountain of fried chicken. We didn’t know that the portions were going to be so huge so we’d ordered a second dish – barbecued pork belly for $190, which was also a freaking huge portion.  (I thought this was really good, too.)

The chicken was great. I might have preferred the dry variation to really taste their breading. The sauce on ours seemed reminiscent of American style barbecue sauces – in that it was very sticky – but the flavor was unique, both sweet and spicy at the same time.  I found it more than spicy enough though my wife didn’t find it spicy at all – obviously your mileage will vary. Despite the sauce, the breading was still crunchy and the chicken was perfectly cooked – fully cooked but still nice and juicy on the inside, which is the whole point of fried chicken.

I had three or four pieces of chicken, my wife had the same amount, and we only had half of what was on the plate!  So no wonder this is doing so well, because in Hong Kong people tend to value quantity over quality – but I’d say in the case of this place the quality was there too. We ended up taking away half the chicken and more than half of the pork – it won’t be going to waste.

This area of Kimberley Road and Austin Road has a concentration of Korean restaurants, and there are at least half a dozen different ones around there doing KFC – some as the main item on the menu, others where it’s just one of dozens of choices.  I thought Chicken Hof was terrific and would gladly return but we’re going to explore a few more of these places in the coming weeks to decide on a favorite.

So, the inevitable question for my readers in HK – what’s your favorite KFC place in HK? Which one should we try next?





Graham Elliot, chef and one of the stars of the US version of Masterchef, has lost 155 pounds. I may have found some of them. My trip to the U.S. tomorrow won’t help matters. Diet starts once I return from the U.S. – and after I finish off all of the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups I’ll probably be bringing back to Hong Kong.


Pastrami, Thai Food, Louie, Fargo


If there’s one New York food I miss in Hong Kong, it’s pastrami. I’ve been able to find just about everything else here, or some reasonable approximations, but the few times I’ve ordered pastrami in Hong Kong it has just been horrendous.

Here’s a great piece on New York’s famous Katz’s Deli (as seen in When Harry Met Sally) and how they make their pastrami. Two to four weeks to cure the brisket. Two to three days to smoke it, in a smoker the size of a Hong Kong apartment.

But I don’t get to Katz’s. It’s too far away from where I stay in New York and not convenient to any of the places I visit on my brief trips there. But back when I was a taxi driver, I used to pray that I’d get fares that would leave me somewhere reasonably close to Katz’s around lunch time. Some days I’d luck out, but not many.

I’m off to New York on Saturday, and here’s the pastrami sandwich I’ll be having on Sunday, at Liebman’s Kosher Deli in Riverdale.


Anthony Bourdain’s next episode of Parts Unknown is in Northern Thailand, and he’s got a great accompanying blog post just up.

To be fortunate enough to be able to visit Thailand, to eat in Thailand, is a deep dive into a rich, many textured, very old culture containing flavors and colors that go far beyond the familiar spectrum. Given our limited time on this earth, and the sheer magnificence, the near limitless variety of sensory experiences readily available, you don’t want to miss ANY of it. 

I’ve only made it to Northern Thailand once. And the decision to go to Chiang Mai saved my life. Because that Christmas I was in Bangkok and was going to go to Phuket but at the last minute changed my mind and went north instead. My last day there, I was woken in the morning by an earthquake. I watched the scenes of the devastation in Phuket from the airport as I was waiting for my flight to Bangkok. Had I chosen Phuket, I almost definitely would have stayed in some beach front place, and I almost definitely would not be blogging now.

Louie season 4 is almost over. They’ve been showing 2 episodes per week – 8 episodes so far and I think this season is just 12 or 14 episodes. As in previous years, this show resembles nothing else on televison. Louis C.K.’s in the midst of a 6 episode arc that’s psychologically deeper than anything he’s ever attempted before. Essentially it’s contrasting the state of his previous marriage with the relationship he’s now in – with a Hungarian woman who speaks no English visiting NYC for just a month.

Note that in the series Louie’s ex-wife is played by a black actress (and both of their kids have blonde hair and blue eyes).  And in an extended and very painful flashback to the early days of his marriage, the wife is played by a white actress. What was the Bunuel film in which two different actresses portray the same woman, switching off almost completely randomly?  It’s almost like that, but it’s not.

Anyway, things with the ex-wife are contentious, they always have been. But the relationship with the girl friend is a fantasy. She speaks no English, she makes no demands, she’s just there. I think this will end badly and Louie will be alone again and still have no idea of what he wants.

Oh, Ellen Burstyn plays the Hungarian girl’s aunt and Charles Grodin portrays an extremely cranky doctor. They’re both terrific.

And Fargo? Are you watching this? I watched the first episode out of curiosity, convinced that this was spitting on the legacy of the Coen Brothers’ film, even though they’re listed as executive producers. It didn’t hurt that there’s a great cast, which includes Billy Bob Thornton, Keith Carradine, Martin Freeman, Oliver Platt, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Goldberg, Colin Hanks. (They’re all almost blown off the screen by relative newcomer Allison Tolman.)

It’s not a remake of the movie. It’s a very complicated multiple murder mystery set in a nearby town with characters reminiscent of those in the film. It’s the “same universe,” in a manner of speaking. All episodes written by showrunner Noah Hawley, another relative newcomer, and it’s clear that he’s someone to keep an eye on.  I was hooked from the first episode.

Then last week we got to episode 6. Oh. My. God. I’ll put the last 15 minutes of this episode up against the entire season of True Detective.  Episode 7 this week was a bit of a letdown. Three more to go to wrap up the season and the mystery.  Hopefully more seasons to come.  Fabulous stuff.



The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014


We all love lists, don’t we? I’m a sucker for some of them. I click on every frigging Buzzfeed link of movie lists on Facebook; I just can’t help it. And restaurant lists too. Like the annual Diner’s Club 50 Best Restaurants in the World list, and their 2014 list came out last week.

I’ll note which ones on the list are in my neck of the woods.

13 – Nahm, Bangkok (also gets Best Restaurant in Asia award)

14 – Narisawa, Tokyo

17 – Gaggan, Bangkok (also gets Highest New Entry award)

24 – Amber, Hong Kong

32 – Attica, Melbourne (also gets Best Restaurant in AustralAsia award)

33 – Nihonryori Ryugin, Tokyo

37 – Restaurant Andre, Singapore

50 – Waku Ghin, Singapore

58 – Ultraviolet, Shanghai

60 – Quay, Sydney

66 – Lung King Heen, Hong Kong

67 – 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong

76 – Mr & Mrs Bund, Shanghai

84 – Iggy’s, Singapore

85 – Caprice, Hong Kong

86 – Les Amis, Singapore

97 – Bo Innovation, Hong Kong

99 – Ishikawa, Tokyo

100 – Jaan, Singapore

I’ve been to exactly 1 of the places on the top 100 list, Bo Innovation, and that was probably at least 5 years ago. Here’s the list of 50 Best Restaurants in Asia from the same people. Hong Kong places on the list, aside from those mentioned above, include L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Fook Lam Moon, Yardbird, Tenku Ryugin. Maybe I should turn this page into a 100% food blog so that I can get lots of invitations to local hot spots as long as I give them glowing reviews.

Of course these guys aren’t the only ones publishing a list like this and no matter how scientific you try to make it, the whole thing is incredibly subjective.  I take these lists for what they are, something fun but not something to spend any time agonizing over.



Jamie Oliver Coming to Hong Kong (yawn)


So a restaurant bearing Jamie Oliver’s name will be opening in Causeway Bay soon. But he won’t be cooking in the kitchen and someone else is the executive chef there. At least he’s promising relatively low prices – and opening in Causeway Bay and not Central or Soho, which I think means something, in a good way, I’m not sure.

What I find more interesting is that today, both the SCMP and the Standard have run almost the exact same article on the restaurant (and Oliver’s funny attempt to speak Cantonese). The SCMP’s is credited to a staff reporter; the Standard to a wire service. Here’s the SCMP’s, by Vivienne Chow (“your name is chow, go report on food!”)(sorry, bad joke, couldn’t help it)

Hong Kong fans of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver were left in stitches after the television star proved his cooking is better than his Cantonese, when he announced ‘I will open an amazing Italian submarine’ in the city.

In a light-hearted YouTube video, the chef stumbled through some tricky Cantonese vocabulary, promising his fans the restaurant would be “very slippery”, before collapsing with the giggles.

The video has received more than 35,000 hits since it was posted on Tuesday.

Oliver, 38, has a string of restaurants in Britain, Australia, Dubai, Ireland, Russia, Turkey and Singapore. He is set to open the first Hong Kong branch of his “Jamie’s Italian” chain in Causeway Bay in the coming months.

His first attempt to say “Causeway Bay” in Cantonese, as he received some off-screen prompting, came out as “car crash”, according to a translation on YouTube, while his second attempt sounded like “bronze bed”.

The video nonetheless delighted local fans.

“Jamie Oliver speaks Cantonese! So funny!” wrote Christy Lui in one comment posted below the video, while others called him “adorable” and welcomed him to the city.

“Hong Kong people like your Cantonese! But they like you even better,” wrote Cheng Dai Hup.

Oliver’s first attempt to open a restaurant in Hong Kong fell through in 2009, before he switched Asian cities, opening an outlet in Singapore last July.

The new 200-seater restaurant, set up with local partner Big Cat Group, will be on the second floor of a new building at Tang Lung Street, home to a cluster of food and beverage outlets.

William Lyon, chief executive of Big Cat Group and of Jamie’s Italian (Hong Kong and China), said the restaurant would cost “millions of US dollars” to set up. The group also pledged that ingredients from the mainland would not be used unless they met the restaurant’s stringent standards and ingredients could be traced back to their source.

Lyon said the prices of the Hong Kong restaurant would be matched against the average level of spending in Britain, £20 (HK$260) to £22 a head.

“We don’t want to be seen as a fine-dining restaurant,” he said.

Oliver is known not only for his down-to-earth cooking style but also his Food Revolution campaign for real food and a healthy diet among school children in Britain and the United States.

Lyon, a former Jardine executive based in Hong Kong and Taiwan, said the Hong Kong branch would observe strict standards in food sourcing.

He said Hong Kong could get anything from the world, and imports of ingredients such as meat from Italy would be possible. He said the Singapore branch also imported many of its ingredients.

Asked whether ingredients would be sourced from the mainland – known for its food safety scandals – Lyon did not rule out the possibility. But he said: “We would apply the same standard to the rest of the world without compromising.”

Only organic products, those farmed under a high-welfare system and on a free-range basis or under equivalent local standards would be used, he added.

And here’s what the Standard ran, credited to wire service AFP:

Hong Kong fans of British chef Jamie Oliver fell about laughing after he announced a new Italian restaurant in the city in Cantonese – with a few slip-ups.

Making a stab at the local Chinese dialect in a light-hearted YouTube video, he announces: “I will open an amazing Italian submarine.”

Attempting to repeat words read out by a Cantonese-speaker off-screen, he also promises that the restaurant will be “very slippery,’’ before collapsing into giggles.

The video on Youtube has drawn more than 35,000 hits since Tuesday.

Oliver, 38, set to open the first Hong Kong branch of his “Jamie’s Italian” chain in Causeway Bay.
His first attempt to say “Causeway Bay” in Cantonese came out as “car crash,’’ while the second sounded like “bronze bed.’’

The video nonetheless delighted local fans.

“Jamie Oliver speaks Cantonese! So funny!” wrote Christy Lui in one comment posted below the video, while others called him “adorable” and welcomed him to the city.

“Hong Kong people like your Cantonese! But they like you even better,” wrote Cheng Dai Hup.

There are several possibilities here. The first is that the SCMP sold their story to a wire service, one that the Standard subscribed to. The second and more likely story is that the SCMP reporter essentially took the wire service report and added in a few more details and whoever laid out the page only credited the story to her. At least they each had different headlines.

So the question becomes, should one pay for the SCMP’s print edition or a subscription to their web site when the Standard’s print edition and web site are both free? (Yeah, I know, the SCMP has their columnists and comics and crossword puzzles and so on. Enjoy.)  What is the point of having 2 different newspapers if they both exist to run the same wire stories?

Yeah, this is not some earth shattering thing. Just struck me as funny and I’m kinda bored today.


One Restaurant, Two Reviews


I’ve spotted this place in Wanchai called Bao Wow. Haven’t tried it yet. Within days I came across 2 reviews in English language HK food blogs – Dim Sum Diaries and Fungry and Fabulous. The two reviews are as different as night and day.


Our favourite was definitely the original gua bao, but the others were not far behind. The pork belly, having been braised slowly for five hours, was unbelievably succulent and flavoursome, garnished with crushed peanuts, coriander and a sweet Chinese relish.


The original gua bao with pork belly (above) arrives next.  As I lift the homemade bao out of the paper wrapper, I was disheartened to see that the bao had already split in two, making it a mess to eat. Ever more difficult was the fact that the thick slice of pork belly had a very thick layer of fat on the top. Now I love pork fat as much as the next person, but even I felt a bit queasy looking at that much lard. Flavour-wise, I really enjoyed this bao, especially the Chinese-style pickled vegetables and the fresh coriander. I just wish that the meat had been trimmed a bit of its fat so that it would be more palatable: as it were, I ate from the bottom up and left the majority of the fat layer untouched.


The Kimchili cheese fries were also amazing, if a little heavy. The addition of the kimchi gave this classic dish an interesting Asian touch that really worked. If Bao Wow was open late into the night, there would definitely be the danger of me going out of my way to get my hands on these as a late night drunken snack…


I’m not usually a fan of chili, or cheese fries, so I had low expectations, which were just about met. The cheese was firmly coagulated, nor was there a whole lot of chili, so the whole thing was quite dry, rather than my preferred gooey, cheesy mess. The chili meat itself was also dry and on the whole, I had to use a lot of the sriracha mayo to rescue the dish.


The ice cream baowich – a deep-fried bao filled with vanilla ice cream – was rather filling, particularly after everything we’d eaten, but I liked the contrast of the warm bao and cold ice cream – although, inevitably, this means it does melt pretty quickly.


I only had room for one dessert so I opted for the ice cream baowich. This is when comparisons with Little Bao really fall flat, as Little Bao’s matcha ice cream sandwich with deep-fried mantou is legendary. Bao Wow’s baowich, on the other hand, just had a very greasy deep-fried bao wrapped around some very mediocre vanilla ice cream, which was foamy in that way that poor-quality ice cream is.


Dinner was paid for by: me and cost about HK$260 for three sets of baos, two drinks, two fries and a dessert.




A Really Good Burger


International food trends can take a little while until they reach Hong Kong’s polluted shores. But most of them do reach here sooner or later, some executed better than others.

Depending on what you read or who you ask, Brooklyn has been the hot spot in NYC for food (and other things) in past years, or its ground zero for the much-derided modern hipster. Of all the food things to be found there, the hamburger has been king. The modern success of the hamburger has been such that it has even spread to Paris. We saw burgers on every menu in every restaurant we visited.

As an American who craves a decent burger at least once a week, it’s been frustrating.  Burgers have languished in Hong Kong. I have to admit to liking the burgers at Dan Ryan’s and at East End Brewery (long gone, sniff, but the same chain also has HK Brew House and Inside Out, with the same burgers). In a pinch, I’ll even go for a burger at Outback (the only thing I’ll eat there) or Ruby Tuesday (way overpriced in hope that you’ll buy one of their annual 50% off discount cards). In ‘n Out Burger isn’t here and probably won’t get here in my lifetime. My friends have all said to steer (no pun intended) clear of Cali-Burger. Triple O’s seems to have really gone downhill lately. Anthony’s Ranch up in Sai Kung does a decent enough burger, but they’ve got far better choices on their menu. Gourmet Burger Union is okay but not worth going out of your way for. And one visit to BLT Burger was enough.

So the best burger in Hong Kong, for me, has always been the one I make at home. We get these one-third pound Angus beef patties from one of those online expat butcher places and I either put them on the grill or do them up in a cast iron skillet – but finding decent cheese is a challenge and I’ve never found a decent burger bun in shops.

In typical social media fashion, I saw that a friend of mine liked a place called Beef & Liberty on Facebook. What the hell kind of name is that, right?  Hong Kong’s already got places called Liberty Private Works, Liberty Exchange Kitchen and others and I was curious enough to check their web site.

Oh, they’re obsessed with burgers? Easy to say. Their first location was in Shanghai? Color me unimpressed. But the rest of what they had to say hit all the right notes. Grass-fed cows? Check. Small-scale farmers? Check. They grind the beef in-house twice a day? Check. No mandatory 10% service charge? I like that.

I looked at the menu and checked the prices – $88 for a basic burger, $108 for a bacon cheeseburger – about average for HK though most places would include fries with that and here the fries are extra (but three different types, in two sizes, with six dipping sauces).

I checked the location. Wing Fung Street in Wanchai. Damn. I can barely remember the last time I went to any place in the “Star Street District” but I’m sure it was close to 10 years ago.

Anyway, since returning from Paris, all of our dinners have been at home. My wife wanted a nice Saturday lunch. I’d shown her the menu for this place and she said she wanted to give it a try. We had nothing else to do all day (and I needed to buy a small doodad from the computer center) so why the hell not?  I called to make sure they were open (it’s the 2nd day of CNY and lots of places are closed) but didn’t book since I had no idea what time we’d get there.

We arrived at 2 PM. Going up in the lift, we saw a sign saying they were closed from 3 to 5 PM today. Phew!  The place is a lot larger than I expected – I was thinking some tiny little 85 South kind of space but this place was large.

We started with two of their “signature” lemonades. Served in a mini-mason jar (hey, HK old timers, remember Shooters 52, and their drinks in giant mason jars?) with mint leaves and sugar syrup on the side, my wife loved it but even with the sugar it was seriously sour for me. Next time I’ll probably go for their iced lemon tea instead. (Oooh, I gave away the plot, I said there’s gonna be a next time. Well, there definitely wll be a next time.)



My wife wanted to try the sticky rib fingers appetizer and so we did.



In contrast to the lemonade, I found the honey BBQ marinade on these to be very sweet – it tasted almost Chinese style. But these 4 little rib pieces were also as fork-tender as you’d expect.

And then, on to the main event. I went for your standard bacon cheeseburger, as I almost always do, and my wife went for the green chili burger (green chili relish and jalapeno slices). Here’s mine – I forgot to take a picture of hers:



This was as good a burger as I can ever recall having in a HK restaurant. Charred and carmelized on the outside and tender and juicy inside. Seasoning seems to have been limited to just salt and pepper, which is how it should be. And a proper burger bun that held together all the way to the end.

For fries, we went for the country fries – fat fries tossed with rosemary and thyme, with the garlic aioli dipping sauce.


You may not see a lot of herbs in the picture but we sure could taste them and I think I could happily put their aioli on almost everything I eat from now on.

I’ll mention at this point that we got a lot of attention from the staff here. It might be because all of the waiters were Filipino and my wife was wearing a pretty short skirt (along with her new Paris boots). Or it might simply be that they’ve only been open for three weeks and they wanted to make sure things are going well.

Regardless, once my wife told the manager that we’d travelled all the way from Tai Po to taste their food, the manager offered a free dessert. We got the warm skillet cookie & cream – a jumbo chocolate chip cookie (warm, so the chocolate was all melty and gooey) and the waiter poured cream over it until we said stop.



This thing was bigger than it looks here. Was it good? Actually we were completely full following the burgers but somehow we managed to finish every bit of this.

So all told our bill came out to around $350 (the dessert was free)(and I did leave a tip on top of that – I thought they deserved it).

I definitely want to return here. It’s a bit of a trek from my office but I’m thinking that their set lunch (burger, fries and a drink) for $125 will really hit the spot every now and then.

I wonder if they’ll open a branch in Tai Po ….


New Year’s Day Rambling


Some of this may/will be a repeat. Such is life.

I’ve been out of the office for 12 days (using up 5 vacation days).  I’m really not in the mood to go back to the office tomorrow, so I’m doing a blog post, which helps me put off going to bed, which helps me put off thinking about returning to work.

My time off was not as exciting or event packed as one might think – I caught a cold a few days before Christmas and so mostly stayed close to home. I had been thinking about a brief Macau or Shenzhen run but didn’t make it to either of them. Also, I’ve got a business trip to the UK coming up in 3 weeks and following that, my wife will meet me in Paris for a proper honeymoon, so I might as well save my money for that.

(Brief grumble: She needs a visa for France. The French consulate web site says 3 to 10 working days for visa processing and she needs to present her plane ticket and hotel reservation with her visa application. It also says one must make an online appointment; one cannot merely show up and wait in line. So I booked everything and then went to their web site to make an appointment for her and the earliest available appointment is January 16th. This is cutting things awfully close.)

After not shooting anything of consequence in a long time, I did do one shoot at PASM that turned out rather nice. Here’s a sample:



The girl in the photo is Faye Wan, who was the lead singer of HK indie band Hazden. “Was” because she’s just left the band to concentrate on her studies. She’s not a professional model but I knew she not only looked good but that there aren’t too many Chinese women in HK with such prominent tattooes.

I needed something new because I’ll be one of the participating photographers in a group exhibition in Soho in February. It’s called Scraped (link is to the Facebook event page, in case you’re interested) and I needed some new shots for the show.

(Note: I had this thought – having just shot Faye and now planning an upcoming shoot with Chris B from Underground HK, it might be interesting to shoot an entire series featuring tattooed women. If you’re a woman and have tattoes and are interested in having me shoot some portraits of you – or if you know someone who fits the bill – please drop me a line.)

Following that shoot, I went out with friends to one of those places in San Po Kong that every local and almost no expat knows about - 七喜粥麵小廚 –  a place with no English name and no English menu but where people were pulling up in Rolls Royces after midnight for a break. They’re famous for their crab congee – but we were there after midnight and the crab was sold out. We settled for prawn and fish maw congee, which had some amazing huge and tasty prawns in it. Usually I’m not a congee fan but this dish changed my mind – I’d definitely go back for this, or to try the crab. Other dishes maybe not so much. There was raw, marinated fish skin. Goose intestine with noodles. And something that my friends said had no English translation, just “funny fish,” which was mostly chunks of fish bone with some meat on it, tasty but not easy to eat.

So mostly what I did aside from the photo shoot (and the post-processing, which is still not complete) is work on my CD and DVD collections.

I’ve got somewhere around 2,000 to 2,500 DVDs (including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD) and have sorted out around 750 to unload. Using a Mac program called Delicious Library, I can scan the bar code for most of them, build up a catalog, and check the current value for used copies on Amazon. Of course many of them are going for $1 or less, but some are in the $30 or $40 range, and there doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason that I can figure out as to why some of these things are worth what they appear to be worth.

Then I turned to the CDs. That’s far more difficult, as I have at least 5,000 of them and a relatively small space to work in. I got them all out of boxes (I hope), then went through the task of alphabetizing them and sorting out which ones to keep and which ones to lose.  (I’ve only done Rock A-M so far.)

The “get rid of” stack grows depending on my mood at any particular second. I’ll hit some artist and be really brutal and then, for no rhyme or reason, decide to hold onto all of my Peter Hammill or Robyn Hitchcock discs.

Some discs I feel emotionally attached to for one reason or another and want to keep the physical disc, even if I ripped it to MP3 a long time ago. Maybe it’s the packaging or maybe I just feel that I have to have the actual CDs of every Bonzo Dog Band album.

And each time I put a CD into the “sell” pile, I feel a sense of defeat. I bought it once, with all high hopes, thinking it would be something I’d love, something that I’d absorb and it would become a part of my life, and then that never happened with that particular disc. Which in and of itself isn’t anything big, except when I stop to think about what I spent for it times how many I’m getting rid of equals what I might have done with that money.  Oh well. You can’t undo what’s been done, you can only learn and move on.

In the past year I’ve basically stopped buying physical CDs. There are some exceptions (like the super deluxe Velvet Underground White Light/White Heat, which comes with a marvelous book) but mostly, every time I hit a CD shop (an increasingly rare occurrence) and see something I want, I stop and think not just about the money but also about the space it’s going to take up, and more often than not put it back on the shelf.

I’ll run the CDs through Delicious Library soon. I’ve got no delusions at this point about what they’re worth. (I did note that on Amazon, if you look at the Mobile Fidelity gold disc version of Cream’s Disraeli Gears, someone is asking over US$1,000 for it. Good luck to him.)

The last movies I watched ranged from okay to pretty good – Saving Mr. Banks, Don Jon, Prisoners, Riddick, The Butler and American Hustle.

Also, I re-watched Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, now that Criterion has released it on Blu-Ray (and the image quality is amazing). I remember watching this in film school, it was my first Bergman film, thinking it was really perfect. I think at the time I saw my parents in it. This time I wondered if it was me.

And mostly I’ve been playing Springsteen’s new album, which leaked out on the net a few days ago. It’s a real odd grab bag – covers, studio versions of things previously only done live, a new version of Ghost of Tom Joad, some stuff from the archives with Clarence and Danny. Mostly it works for me.

Anyway, Happy New Year everyone. 2013 started off shitty for me and seemed for awhile as if it would only get shittier. Then I got a new job that doesn’t suck and also got married. Let’s see what 2014 has in store …