Category Archives: Food

Stuff about food in general

Jamie Oliver Coming to Hong Kong (yawn)

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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.

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One Restaurant, Two Reviews

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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.

DSD:

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.

F&F:

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.

DSD:

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…

F&F:

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.

DSD:

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.

F&F:

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.

F&F:

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

D&D:

???

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A Really Good Burger

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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.)

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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 ….

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New Year’s Day Rambling

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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:

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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 …

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Why Does Google Translate Do Such a Piss Poor Job On Chinese?

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It’s kind of a running joke now. My friends post stuff on Facebook in Chinese and they ask me to run it through Google Translate and post the result. Usually you can get the gist of it but sometimes it’s just completely awful.

I’m going to try a little test here. I’m going to take the title of this post and run it through Google to translate into Chinese, which gives me:

為什麼谷歌翻譯做這樣的小便不暢招聘在中國?

Someone else will have to tell me if that’s close or not. Then I’ll take the above and translate it back to English, which gives me:

Why Google translate to do so piss poor recruitment in China?

Cute, huh? Actually not too bad, aside from Google at some point not getting the word “job” right.

Anyway, I was looking up a Tai Po restaurant on Open Rice. There are no English reviews so I used inline translation in Chrome. Not only next to useless, but also quite funny. Here’s the restaurant listing (for those who want to see the original Chinese) and here is the first translated review:

Today, ate dinner at half past six, from Tai Po Centre has been OK, OK over Beppu, Mummy, then not tried to accompany drainage try it! Actually, I do not tease for Beppu Nuisance-what a good impression, but called Mommy , you will fight about … two individuals called Left 4 kind of wild, wild drinking 2 cups all child (drinks buy one get one) Dstring butter into the dry sample had had fried bad bad like that, would eat into the Well of seeking fresh baa taste, but eat off the entrance are OK, Well tough all child Nuisance slag. , I called kimchi Pork Ramen , in fact rang at home and cook a pig kimchi ramen plus D are all Ciwu Duo flavor, left more than a few lines Pork roast Hello. Mommy to theGillette pork chop noodles , soup too light, but Gillette few good fried pork chop, crunchy outer layer, which has gravy, Wucuo! Grilled saury OK friends, blazing power, Nuisance Zheng taste Qualified! lychee soda syrup just add soda water, add canned litchi grain, Nuisance special, but not even drink. as just filling the belly of a meal is also possible, the quality of the chain is so!

Tough all child Nusiance slag?

Here’s the last one – the translated title is “New feces pit.” Probably they didn’t care for the place.

Why I waited for something to eat first resistance Link? All because of technical problems. Store clerk tied to novices friends, watching the door of the woman Essentials too softly, Feizi number and㩒too fast, one that should never see someone flying next Fei, turn left both my enemy lines beside Temple gel, ring Listen to live drainage Essentials door quickly after I had left Zhang Zhong Road Essentials multi-speed three (if three are tied Nuisance should), I ask the canal line to the microphone to be buried row over the matter, had left佢words Yanyan After three straight Essentials to row through the first four, just being driven off GOD Essentials think fast drying back to rest it!
Window into the sit position, I like GOD goldfish goldfish bowl into the surface like that, all the way to wait for the food to come forward all the way to serve both beer patrons live, Zhong finished k take both Pakistani and alighting passengers are 8 hanging look scare you, really big pressure, Eating Well comfortably.
Asking him to add water Essentials left three people were added to Zhongwei, the Department of Enterprise GOD waiters obviously buried side Chit Quite busy tight. We should note that the drainage will ask you to Di Qi Ye Li did not, if the sun drains tied together Will not you add water to drink to serve both! Talk back Yeshi, called the left rectangular pizza, a fruit shop sill GOD pizza bread bag taste, smell only if you agree authentic pizza, above Nuisance-what sauce, dry fight fight both. Ajisen Ramen with the same level, pig soup sweet Nuisance-what a surprise, all drains to GOD Ramen Nuisance Xun both, drying my rock, my hate GOD Xun taste. But I Wu Shi spicy, so fewer alternative styles.

“Zhong finished k take both Pakistani and alighting passengers are 8 hanging look scare you”??????

Then, for fun, I took a look at the reviews of King’s Belly, the one western style bar in town with fish & chips and Guinness on tap (and the $138 burger). Here’s some translated review excerpts:

Have you heard of Westerners have salted it?

Well I guess I eat the sun / Yan day eating fried wild and Flow A No heat, so they are all fresh penne cautious.

Colleague sitting opposite me take the mouth, you Do not know baa?

It opened my death experience another food.

Fresh Pasta personal preferences eight mature, more and more tough pharyngeal taste.

Actually, without the translate plugin for Chrome, I wouldn’t be able to navigate essential (to me, anyway) HK websites like DCFever, Car8 or Mac.HK.  For short bits of text, it’s okay enough to navigate around. 

But seriously, shouldn’t Google be doing a better job of it at this point?

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Random Thoughts on Dining Out in Hong Kong

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/rant

I wrote this post a week ago and then shelved it. I was afraid it came off as too much IGS – Irritable Gweilo Syndrome (see Big Lychee just about every third day).

But then I came across this. The Eater Hong Kong Heat Map – Where To Eat Right Now.  The Eater is one of the major food blogs in the U.S. and the “heat map” is a regular feature on that blog.  The one for Hong Kong was done by HK food blogger e_ting. And it really fucking pissed me off.

She lists 14 restaurants that opened in Hong Kong in the past year. I’m sure they are all good. And I’m sure they are all worthwhile. But every last fucking one of them is on the north side of Hong Kong island – and 13 of them are between Causeway Bay and Central, the 14th is in Sheung Wan. Apparently even Tsim Sha Tsui is too far away to consider.

Okay, her list is somewhat extreme. But she’s not really that far off, is she? Get out of these main urban sections and the food experience really drops off considerably. Anyone opening a restaurant doing anything even a little bit different wants to be where the foodies are – the people who are willing to try something new and different and the people who have the money to pay the kinds of prices that these places have to charge because of the rent they’re paying to be in prime areas.

The New Territories? There may be plenty of good Chinese restaurants all over the place doing really good, solid, honest food – but it’s nothing new and nothing exciting and rarely worth going out of your way for.

Saturday we were in Newtown Plaza in Shatin. Of course, it’s a big shopping mall (the biggest in HK) so the food choices are all going to be chains – they’re the only ones who can afford to be in there. What is the number one rated restaurant in Shatin, according to Open Rice? The IKEA Cafe. Seriously.

We tried a different place, Shanghai Min (oddly, the Chinese name of the place 小南國  is Xiao Nan Guo, which is the name of a mainland-based chain of restaurants that once was in Hong Kong under that name – have they relaunched under a different English name?). The food was good. I’d put their xiao long bao up against the ones served by Crystal Jade. It was that good. But there was nothing new or different or “exciting,” just the same old dishes, albeit very well prepared.

A few days before that, we found ourselves at 85 South, the new North Carolina-style BBQ joint in Soho. Unlike our recent disappointing experience at Little Burro, this was terrific – so good that after we finished eating, we bought another slab of ribs from them to bring home and ended up eating them that night. Sorry, no pictures, I was too busy eating. (Note that this place only has three tables so if you’re going at traditional dining hours, be prepared to wait.)

I can’t really reconcile myself to the fact that 99% of all interesting restaurant openings in the past year are in Soho or points further west on Hong Kong island. Once in a great while there may be something noteworthy in Tsim Sha Tsui. New Territories? It is to laugh.

Here’s Time Out HK’s list of Best Food of the Year 2013. 18 of 20 are on Hong Kong island. One is in Tsim Sha Tsui and one is in Macau. Further, of the 20 places listed here, I have only been to one. I guess that makes me a bad foodie.

I know in part it’s because I’m lazy. Generally when I leave the office, all I want to do is go home. It takes me at least 90 minutes to get home and often after finishing dinner and kicking back for an hour, I’ll have another couple of hours of work before going to bed.

But it’s also that if I stick to going out near where I live, just outside of Tai Po, the food choices are few and far between. And there is no “food scene” in Tai Po. Open Rice may list 486 restaurant choices in this district of over 250,000 people, but actually there’s not a whole lot of choice. It’s most Chinese, mostly cheap Chinese at that, with a few faux Japanese, Thai and Korean joints and a handful of western places (mostly soy sauce western). Tsui Wah is about to open a branch here and that’s like the biggest food news of the year around these parts. We’ve got one Indian restaurant in town (and they bring out ketchup with the papadum). The only Vietnamese is a couple of branches of Chinese-Vietnamese chains.

I’ve found only one vaguely decent hamburger in all of Tai Po, and that one cost $138 (at King’s Belly).  I tried Lanciano once, the one sort of authentic Italian place in town, and it was kind of okay-ish, but a pizza, salad and two ice lemon teas cost us well over $300. We go over to Tai Mei Tuk but that’s more about sitting outside and a great place to walk around rather than the food (at least the food we’ve had there so far). The local steak joint (the sign in English says “Fried Steak”) is the kind of place where for $65 you get a 3 course set dinner so you know you’re not getting any kind of grass fed imported stuff there.

On the other hand, we have Yat Lok, an inconsistent but often terrifically good Chinese barbecue joint (Anthony Bourdain ate there). And I have a favorite cha chaan teng, Wah Lap, where they stay open late and everything they serve is pretty okay,  And there’s this little barbecue stand opposite the main bus terminus in Tai Po central that I can’t find on Open Rice that stays open till 2 AM where you can fill up on cheap & cheerful crap on a stick for ridiculously low sums of money. A big night out for us can mean Sha Tin (there’s a branch of Nha Trang there) or Tsuen Wan (Ruby Tuesday)(There, I said it, Ruby Tuesday).

What’s the number one rated restaurant in Tai Po on Open Rice? A place with no English name - 亞婆豆腐花 – specializing in tofu desserts.

While we have the great (and I mean great) Tai Po wet market and we have a local farmers’ market (open Sundays only), supermarket shopping around here is kind of sad. For the higher end, international stuff (decent salami, for example, or something as mundane as double-coated Tim Tams), there’s just a tiny Park & Shop International in Hong Lok Yuen and the expensive (and crowded) supermarket at Yata.

Okay, I get it. Tai Po is not a foodie destination and the odds area that it never will be one, at least not within my lifetime. Partly it’s a matter of people here not having huge budgets for dining out and partly, it would seem, there’s little or no demand around here for that kind of cuisine.  And I get that. If I’m some expat chef and want to open a place featuring some exotic (for Hong Kong) cuisine, I’m going to want to open it near where the expats are and where they go.

Anyway, the 2014 Michelin guide for Hong Kong is out. You can check over at Eater to see a list of all the places that got stars or “bib gourmand” recommendations. As always, it’s an interesting list, though not one I can entirely understand. Why does Din Tai Fung in TST rate a star while the one in Causeway Bay does not? I have no idea.

Chili Club gets a bib gourmand listing. WTF? Is this the Chili Club in Wanchai? Long time readers may recall T, the Thai lady I had a 2 year off/on relationship with. I took her to Chili Club and let her order and she had one taste of each dish and wouldn’t eat any more, declaring that this was “Thai food for Chinese people.” I tried going back there again a couple of years ago and it was even worse than the first time.

They list May’s Sawaddee Thailand – there are 3 places in Sai Kung that have that name (but 2 different owners, if I’m not mistaken) and I don’t know which of the three they’ve listed. I’ve eaten at all 3 and found only 1 of them to be halfway decent.

Sabah is new on the list. The place has been around for 10 years. I like it a lot (it’s not truly authentic Malaysian but about the closest I can find in HK) but it hasn’t changed a bit in 10 years, aside from the prices. And it’s very inconsistent.

Yat Lok is also there. I go here a lot. What I find funny is that I have a favorite dish, but given my far from fluent Cantonese, every time I’ve ordered it, I’ve gotten something almost completely different (and this week, the char siu in that dish was almost completely fat, which I know some people like but not me).

Look, I’ll say it – in my opinion, outside of dim sum and hot pot, I find Cantonese cuisine to be relatively boring at this point. If I’m going out for Chinese, I prefer Sichuan or Beijing or Shanghai styles or something really basic like beef hor fun or wonton mein.

But I don’t get the lack of demand for quality non-Chinese food in the New Territories. More than half the population of HK lives in the NT. And there are plenty of foreigners up here – including Chinese who lived abroad and then returned after many years.

It’s not like I’m ever expecting Tai Po to become a foodie destination. But then again, as a joke I asked the 85 South people if they would consider opening a branch in Tai Po. They laughed.

I know. Irritiable Gweilo Syndrome. No need to point that out to me.

Anyway, /end rant.

 

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Little Burro – Mission Style Burritos in HK? Not So Much

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A long time since I’ve posted any sort of restaurant review. I wish this could be a positive one.

I wanted something different for dinner tonight and since my gf was on HK island, I figured I’d go meet her and we’d try a new place that I’ve been hearing about, Little Burro. They’re saying they’re doing San Francisco Mission-style burritos and since I lived in San Francisco for 2-1/2 years (and lived on burritos while I was there), I wanted to see if they at least came close to my memory of the great burritos to be found all over SF.

First of all, you have to want to go there to go there, because the location really isn’t convenient to very much.  They’re towards the northern end of Leighton Road in Causeway Bay, a very long walk from the MTR.

While they offer other things on the menu, I was there for the burrito, and the burrito I miss the most is carnitas – pork. So that’s what I ordered. My gf went for the “smoked chipotle bbq chicken.”

To make a long story short, it will probably be a long time before we go back there. I found a review on Open Rice that for a change exactly echoes my feelings so let me grab a few quotes from that:

To my very surprise, I heard a familar sound when the staff was preparing my burrito, then I knew they microwaved my burrito!

The beautiful foil packaging could not deceive us from the fact that the burrito was microwaved as it was partially cold and partially hot.

The tortilla was quite thick and rough in texture and very sadly with some parts of it harden. The beef was extremely hot as it was being microwaved. The texture was alright but the taste was weak. The rice tasted flat and a bit too dry to me. The black beans were okay, but was not as fat and juicy as the ones I used to have in Chipotle. The salsa verde which the waitress describe as ‘hot’, was very bland in taste and not spicy at all! The burrito overall tasted pretty dry and I could not taste any sour cream in it. I ended up adding a lot of the spicy salsa sauce to it to give taste.

Now I hate to give a bad review to an actual independent shop (rather than a part of a restaurant chain) that’s trying to do something vaguely different. But I felt really let down by this meal. Keep in mind that I came to Causeway Bay all the way from Tai Po just for dinner. I wanted a dinner that was going to be worth that long trip. This one wasn’t it.  I think I might have been better served heading to Central to try new American bbq place 85 South (well, next time).

My gf and I were so busy talking that I wasn’t watching them prepare the burritos at the counter, so I never noticed a microwave. What I did notice was:

The taste of the rice and beans seemed vaguely authentic.  The pork behind the counter was in some liquid and there were no crispy, carmelized bits of pork, which I always thought was the best part. Some of the chunks of pork within the burrito were way too large. The tortilla was exactly as described in the review above – dry and some parts beginning to harden.  I couldn’t taste either the salsa or the sour cream at all, not even a tiny bit. Cheese was not on offer. Guacamole was only available as a “side”, a tiny cup for $25 – this tasted fresh and was really good. But getting the guac in the burrito itself was not an option so I had to dab little forkfuls on top for each bite, along with some hot sauce. But overall I found it dry and lacking in the distinct strong flavors I associate with a real burrito.

So that’s me.  What about my gf, who never had a real burrito in her life? Since she’s going crazy dieting for the wedding, she’s off rice.  She took a couple of bites, thought it tasted okay, but as soon as she realized there was rice inside she asked for a plate, unwrapped the thing and started playing a game of Find the Chicken. She also couldn’t taste – and we couldn’t see – any salsa or sour cream and eventually said that without the side of guacamole it would have been inedible.

Neither of us finished our food (although I got at least 80% through mine). In the end I was full but the only good thing was that 2 burritos, a side order of guac and 1 soda came out to under HK$170 – cheap for HK but double what this would cost in SF (at least a dozen years ago, anyway).

I think Hong Kong is really crying out for a decent burrito.  I’m convinced that a stall doing burritos (or maybe banh mi) near the bars in Wanchai or Lan Kwai Fong that stays open all night would really clean up – a real alternative to Ebeneezer’s, something you can hold in your hands and smush in your face as you’re standing there in the street.  Someone should give it a shot.

 

 

 

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Upcoming Trip to Chicago and New York

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In just a couple of weeks I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage back to Da Bronx to see my mom and catch up with some other family members and friends.

But first, I’ll be spending 4 nights in Chicago. That’s business, though I’ll have at least a day and a half on my own before the meetings start. I’ve only been to Chicago once before and that was for 2 nights, at least 25 years ago. Let me tell you how much that trip sucked:

  • First night: We arrived late and hadn’t had dinner. We found one open place. The boss (Aldous Huxley’s grandson, as it happens) insisted on ordering soft shell crabs for an appetizer, took one taste and told us they were horrible and said we couldn’t stay there, cancelled the rest of the order, and we couldn’t find another open restaurant. I think my dinner that night was a bag of Oreos.
  • Second night: On my own, thank Buddha, but no idea of where to go. I ended up in some bar where the bartender not only decided that I had to be Chris Elliott, he also needed to confirm it with everyone else in the place. My “celebrity status” yielded me no ill-gotten gains as no one else there had any idea who Chris Elliott is.

So, any recommendations for the place gratefully appreciated – probably mostly places to eat Chicago hot dogs and ribs, places to walk around with a camera in hand, perhaps a bit of night life/blues bars if I’m not too jetlagged.  (I’m staying in the Magnificent Mile area.)

Since I’ll be in NYC for a full week this time (but as always will spend most of my time in The Bronx), I’m hoping to be able to sample a bit more of what appears to be a burgeoning food scene there – Latino stuff, Asian stuff, and hopefully a visit to Arthur Avenue for some of the Italian American food I grew up with. And of course at some point a pastrami sandwich and roumanian tenderloin steak (which I have made in HK but have a hard time finding hanger steak here). I know my mother will never try sushi but I think she’ll enjoy pho.

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Quick Note – Newsroom in Quarry Bay

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Funny story? This past Thursday I was going to be taken out to lunch in Quarry Bay. My host asked me if I wanted Enoteca or Newsroom. Newsroom is part of the Classified group, and I always enjoyed the branch of Classified in Sai Kung (when I lived there) so I was eager to give this place a try.

The menu at Newsroom seemed more varied than the one at Classified. I could easily have ordered almost anything from it, but then I looked at the set lunch and saw that one of the choices was a “beef pastrami” sandwich. Pastrami is one of my favorite things in the world and the few times I’ve tried it in Hong Kong (like at Main Street Deli), it’s just been awful, not even a close approximation of what you’d get in a kosher deli in New York. Even so, I was curious.

So when the waiter came over I said to him, “I’m from New York. Do you think I’d like the pastrami sandwich?” He started to write that down but I stopped him and said, “No, is it good? Will I like it?” He paused for a moment and pointed at the menu and said, “Our hamburger is really good.” And so I ordered the hamburger (having had it at Classified’s Sai Kung and Happy Valley locations, I already knew it was reasonably okay).

P.S. When I posted this (in a much shorter version) on Facebook, some people commented that they thought the waiter was really stupid. I think he was really smart! My guess is that he had no idea whether I’d like it or not but he figured if he recommended it and I didn’t like it, then I might yell or complain, so he steered me to what he figured to be a safe option.

Of course now I’ll never know if their pastrami is vaguely authentic or not. I checked the surrounding tables and didn’t see it anywhere, even though it was one of only four choices on the set lunch menu.

In other food news, we returned to Chung King Mansion this weekend, this time trying Taj Mahal Club. Once again, we were impressed with the food – I might even rate this place just a tad higher than Delhi Club, though my gf thought that DC had much cuter waiters than TMC.

And in international food news, some university students in the U.S. ran some tests and determined that Oreo Double Stuf cookies don’t contain double stuff, just 1.86. Nabisco said they think the students made a mistake. The students’ parents said, “This is what we’re spending all that money to send you to school for?”

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Not connected – Chung King Mansion & Glen Campbell

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Two totally separate things, really.

First. A confession. This month marks 16 years in Hong Kong for me. I consider myself a foodie (albeit one on a tight budget these days). I love Indian food (I’ve been to India 3 times and hoping there will be a 4th someday). And I’m pretty fearless about going into “dangerous” places (I used to deliver color TVs and air conditioners on my own into the projects in Harlem in the 80s). And yet, up until tonight, I’ve never eaten in any restaurant in Chung King Mansion.

For those of you who have never been to Hong Kong, Chung King Mansion is an iconic building in Tsim Sha Tsui. It’s just a stone’s throw from many of the best 5 star hotels and 3 star restaurants in town, and yet it’s a world unto itself. For many who come to Hong Kong from South Asia and Africa, Chung King is the first stop. They’ll find cheap guesthouses and lots of people from their home countries to help them get started with a job or a business.  And aside from guesthouses, it’s filled with restaurants (many unlicensed). The idea of Chung King Mansion as a place where dreams can come true was recognized, I suppose, by Wong Kar Wai and his great film Chungking Express.

It’s also reputed to be a place rife with drugs, prostitution, violent crime, run down, dirty, unsafe. I couldn’t imagine what a restaurant inside there might be like. But … these days when we’re going out, I have a preference for staying on the Kowloon side. My gf was craving Indian food tonight. And I know a few people who recommended one of the restaurants in Chung King. So, why not?

As you go up the steps into the main entrance, you’ll be besieged by touts holding brochures for various restaurants inside. Three of them came up to me holding up brochures and I said, “I want Delhi Club,” so they called over another guy, who led us to the proper elevator and told us to go up to the third floor.

We walked in and saw two big rooms, about 2/3rds filled with diners, who were mostly Chinese. (We’d ridden up in the elevator with a group of mainlanders heading to the same place.) One of the guys who worked there came up, put his arm around me as if we were best friends, and asked me where I wanted to sit. (I should probably mention that most of the guys working there were young and looked as if they worked out, something my gf definitely noticed and enjoyed.)

We ordered too much food. Vegetable samosas, chicken tikka, prawn masala, vegetable pulao rice, garlic naan and a couple of mango laasis.  All of this came out to HK$309. And all of it was good. Very good. I’m not going to say that it’s the best Indian food I’ve ever had in Hong Kong but it was way up there. Actually the service was quite good – and even the bathrooms there were clean! Does that sound condescending? I’m sorry. I know, this place has been there for many years and wouldn’t survive if they weren’t doing things right. (Search on Open Rice for Indian restaurants and this is the #1 spot.)

Anyway, I’ve written this for two reasons. First, if you’re like me and you’re in Hong Kong and haven’t tried one of the places in this building, go! Second, I suspect most of you have been there dozens of times and are wondering what the hell is wrong with me that I took so long to get there – so give me some more recommendations please!

*    *    *    *    *    *

Glen Campbell is 77 years old now and has retired because he’s got Alzheimer’s Disease.In 2011 he released his 61st studio album, one we were told would be his farewell album, Ghost on the Canvas.

And then all of a sudden, just last week, a new album, See You There, even better than the previous album. It seems that when he was in the studio doing Ghost on the Canvas, the producers got him to do barebones versions of some of his greatest hits – and they added backing instruments and vocals later on. So you get Rhinestone Cowboy, Galveston, Wichita Lineman, Gentle On My Mind, By the Time I Get to Phoenix and several others. And I gotta say, I think some of these versions are near definitive. His voice was in great shape, as strong and as pure as in his younger days and he’s really singing these songs and bringing life to them even though he’s sung them thousands of times already. I think even if you consider Campbell to be too schmaltzy mainstream country pop, this is well worth hearing. He sings the hell out of these songs.

BTW, not many people realize this, but before Campbell became a star, he was a much in-demand session guitarist, a member of the famed Wrecking Crew. He played sessions for Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, The Monkees, Phil Spector – he’s even on The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

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