A Trip to Hong Kong: Two Versions of Roast Goose

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By one of those strange alignment of stars, DC and I were on overlapping business trips to Hong Kong. A bit of canny planning brought us together over the weekend at the achingly modern and very comfortable Langham Place Hotel. The only problem in getting there was that I didn’t realise that there were two “Langhams” in Kowloon, one the Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and the other the Langham Place Hotel in Mongkok.

After a bit of confusion, I finally got to the hotel and DC took me to Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳). He informed me that Yung Kee was off the menu for this trip as he’d been and the standard of roast goose was abysmal compared to its price. So this place it was and we proceeded to order the roast goose noodles.

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Sure, the soup was full of msg, but the noodles were firm and springy and the goose. Mmm… the first piece of goose I put in my mouth was tender and flavourful. The fatty, savoury juices from the drumstick flowed beautifully with each bite. It’s a pity that not every piece of the drumstick was as tender. The skin was soggy – we couldn’t salvage it in time before it all sank into the soup. Still, for about HK$40 (S$6), this was a fantastic welcome to Hong Kong.

Sham Tseng Chan Kee Roasted Goose Restaurant (深井陳記燒鵝茶餐廳)
Reclamation Street, Mongkok 旺角新填地街427-427A號 behind Langham Place Hotel

DC promised me something better for dinner, something worth dressing up for. So I changed out of my denim civvies, slipped on a black dress and we headed downstairs to Ming Court Restaurant. It’s fantastic to have a 2-Michelin star restaurant right in the hotel. Disappointingly, it seemed like everyone else was dressed down, so not quite as posh as expected. But that was hardly a downer as the service was friendly and not at all snooty like you’d expect for a starred restaurant. (Yes it helps to speak even a smidgen of Cantonese.)

We dithered a while on which dishes to order. Greedy as we are, we realise that our stomachs nonetheless have finite capacities (sad to say, mine more so than DC’s). It went without saying that we would have the roast goose – chiu-chow style roasted goose (HK$148 or S$25). It’s almost a pity it came first as it was the star of the show. The best roast goose in our combined experience, and that’s saying something. Check out how tender the meat is in the pic below.

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One angle not enough? Look at this pic. See how crisp the skin is? And the thin sliver of fat under the skin? It was a sublime experience as each morsel was perfectly tender. I could taste both the slightly gamey flavour of the goose and the spices of the marinade in each bite. Then there was the wonderfully crisp skin; we were so glad that we asked for the drumstick portion with a higher skin to meat ratio. And something most amazing that put this in a class of its own: the marrow was still tender. It’s hard enough to roast a bird so that the meat is tender and the skin crisp, let alone stop the marrow from drying out. This goose scores full marks in our books.

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The rest of the meal simply paled in comparison after the goose. The vegetables were on the soggy side. I’m not sure if vegetables in Hong Kong cook down soggier or it’s just the style of cooking. I’ve had better vegetables elsewhere.

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And then the lowest point of the dinner. This was a gold award winning dish from 2010 – pan-fried chicken skin filled with minced chicken and black truffles, accompanied with sliced pumpkin (HK$288 or S$50). The first piece was interesting, with crisp pumpkin at the bottom and a very slight hint of black truffle in the sauce. Too bad the chicken skin wasn’t crisp as it was sandwiched between the meat and the pumpkin. My preference was to keep the skin on top to preserve the crispness for longer. There was also way too much for the two of us to work through that dish of maybe eight pieces. We really wanted to like this but it was too cloying and monotonous after the first piece. Next better player please.

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And a next better player did indeed step up. The signature fried rice. I hear you readers cry, “What? Fried Rice?! At a Michelin starred restaurant?” Let me explain. This version, fried rice with silky chicken, crispy conpoy and shao xing wine, served in a casserole (HK$198 or S$35) was made with black chicken and pine nuts, fried beautifully together, and placed in a hot claypot to accentuate the wok hei. The chicken was indeed silky as mentioned in the menu description and there was plenty of smokey charred flavour. The best part was the layer of “fan jiu” (飯燋) or burnt rice at the base of the claypot. Beautiful.

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By the end of our dinner, I was so stuffed by the rich food that I couldn’t handle any heavy dessert. Very unwisely, we didn’t take any of our friendly waiter’s recommendations. They were mainly fried or incredibly rich, like deep fried egg fritters, birds nest soup, giant longevity bun stuffed with lotus paste and salted egg yolk. And we ordered osmanthus jelly with wolfberry. While it was very pretty, it was nonetheless a foolhardy choice as the jelly was too sweet and rather too firm for my liking.

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Altogether, the meal was good with a modest damage done of HK$1000 or S$160 including tip. The downer was the overly oily and too monotonous chicken and pumpkin dish. We would definitely order something more classically Cantonese next time, and maybe save a bit of space for a richer dessert. And the roast goose? I’ll fly to Hong Kong just to eat that again.

Ming Court
Langham Place Hotel
555 Shanghai Street, Mongkok,
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 3552 3300

June Eating House

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Quite a few friends highly recommend this place, so we thought to take my parents her to see what the fuss is all about. We ordered most of the stuff that friends recommended (thank goodness for facebook!) and had a look round the other tables for ideas too. The food came pretty fast, but the mosquitoes in the open air area got to us faster! Bring mosquito repellent if you do go.

The first dish was the pumpkin prawn, an interesting take on the now-typical salted egg prawn. The prawns were first deep-fried in a light batter, then slathered with a thick savoury pumpkin sauce, full of curry leaf and some salted egg. With fresh, plump prawns, and a great sauce, it was hard to go wrong. If eaten early on, the prawn is crispy enough to be eaten whole, shell and all.

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We saw other tables happily eating the long beans fried with dried shrimp (hae bee) and followed their good example. The beans were done with a deft touch, still crunchy and going incredibly well with the salty, fishy dried shrimp.

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Salted egg crab came next, again done very well. It was first deep-fried and then coated in a dry salted egg sauce. Some bits of the crab were fried so well that you could chomp bits of it down, delicious shell and all. I licked up all the salted egg sauce and the sweet, fresh crab meat inside the shell.

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We couldn’t help but also order the pork trotters. My dad liked it so much that he whacked most of it, leaving the rest of us to quickly take whatever bits we could before he finished off the crispy outside, tender inside pork. The sour chilli sauce cut through the richness, making us hanker for more.

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A reasonably priced zichar place that does deep-fried food very well. Watch out for the mosquitoes though.

June Eating House
315 Tanjong Katong Road
Tel: +65 6345 0301

The French Kitchen

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I went with family to French Kitchen to check out their set lunch ($36++). It’s not an easy place to get to as it’s in a pretty remote (!) part of the CBD. Check out Central Mall on the map first before you go, it’s not the more centrally located Japanese mall. Our party got there easily enough, ordered and started to wallop our amuse bouche. It was quite nice – tomato bruschetta, parmesan crisp and truffled pumpkin soup – but not very exciting. I thought it rather boring overall because bruschetta, tomato and parmesan are too common, plus nowadays everything is over-truffled. Don’t get me wrong, truffle is nice, but I’d like my foodie world to be less awash in truffle please.

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My lobster bisque was very nice. I liked the touch of tempura prawns (OK so they’re called beignets, but they sure are tempura to me) with its softly crisp texture. Too bad the batter got soft really quick, so the second one wasn’t quite as yummy.  I think they spent too much time fiddling about with pouring out the bisque at the table. They should just stick the pot on the table and leave it as a free for all for barbarians like us me. Still, they did good by leaving the head and tail unbattered so I enjoyed the crispness of the prawn shell all the way. The bisque itself was decent but not quite robust enough for my liking. I guess the chef was trying to be purist by using only lobster but couldn’t afford more than what he used for the set menu. I think it would’ve been better with crab or prawn in it too. As for the leek custard, it was soft and comforting but not quite my thing as I’m not the biggest onion fan. A well executed dish nonetheless.

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My main was quite a standard dish, so no marks on originality. Wagyu beef cheek has been done to death, but this was a well executed version. It was meltingly tender and not too rich, and with rocket as a good foil to the richness. The eggplant caviar with truffle was a bit underwhelming for something that was really just eggplant mash. Decent, just don’t expect too much from the eggplant.

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I wasn’t sure about the fries – had one, found it way too salty and passed the rest to my brother and the rest. They happily chomped it up.

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The dessert was only average, ending the meal on a bit of a letdown. The sabayon with wild berry ice cream didn’t make much of an impact at all. All I remember was rich, spongy custard with ice cream that tasted very faintly of, well, berries. Didn’t help that the strawberry garnish was sour. I’d expect much more for a restaurant of this standard. Looking back at the picture, the sliver of pastry was very good though, very short and crisp, falling apart beautifully on the tongue.

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My verdict? The French Kitchen has solid execution and well made savouries. Don’t expect a great deal of creativity; go there for the classics and for the good value set lunch.

The French Kitchen
7 Magazine Rd (off Merchant road)
#01-03, Central Mall
Tel: 6438 1823

Modern Thai at Kha

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Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

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We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

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Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

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The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

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For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

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Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

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My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000

July in Vietnam: Boats on the Mekong

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A tour of the Delta was incomplete without a look at the boats populating the Mekong. There were lots of boats filled with junk (rather than real junks like the tourist ones up-country at Ha Long Bay.

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But a far cry from the North, here the inhabitants were incredibly friendly, waving warmly at the tourists passing by.

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Seeing as the river was so full of traffic, there were plenty of signs governing boat movements.

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Good luck in trying to decipher them all though!

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Here, there were bona fide floating markets that were there for true commerce rather than purely tourist commerce as in other more famous floating markets. Here, goods seemed to be traded in bulk as heavily laden boats plied up and down the river. How to figure out what each boat sold? Easy, just look at what was displayed on the poles.

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This boat was selling all sorts of vegetables and fruit.

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Another sold yet another mind boggling array of local produce.

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And here the boat sold an assortment of melons and pumpkins. I wonder what would happen if a boat wanted to sell pork or beef though.

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To make a sale, the boat owner had to catch the attention of the derelict little sampans and row the produce out to the buyer, whether on shore or on another boat.

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Some of the more enterprising boats sold banh mi (baguette sandwiches) from their floating stalls. Life here, it seemed, could be lived exclusively on the water.

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Even colourful wardrobes of clothes were brought onto the boat. The owner was never too far from a clean change of clothes.

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And of course, they lazed in their hammocks in the setting sun, exactly the way to end a long day on the river.

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A Very Comforting Stew

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It’d been raining quite a bit and I decided that I needed something warming and comforting for dinner instead of having leftovers. A quick whizz through the supermarket and scrounge in the fridge later, I’d assembled a whole bunch of root and other vegetables that completely overshadowed the meat. Let’s see, I had butternut squash, mushrooms, an onion, celery, carrots, potato and basil. The squash was an excellent addition as it added a lovely sweet dimension to the stew, I didn’t need to tweak the seasonings much at all. Lastly, the belly pork worked well as I didn’t have time to really stew it properly till melting soft and falling apart. It was tender enough after the one hour cooking time, though it definitely could have benefited from a stint in the slow cooker. I cheat a bit by adding some Marigold organic vegetable stock powder that I get from the UK. It helps give that extra little oomph. Lastly, adding basil at the end just before serving gave it a lovely fresh herby lift. Serve with bread, rice, or whatever carbs you have leftover in the fridge.

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Ingredients:
1 tbsp oil
300g pork belly, cubed
20g butter
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 onion, chunked
1 large carrot, chunked
2 sticks celery, chunked
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
butternut squash, cubed
250g button mushrooms
1 tsp organic vegetable stock power, optional
2 tbsp or a good splash dry vermouth

Method:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot and brown the pork belly on all sides in batches. Set aside in a dish.
  2. Turn down the fire and melt the butter in the residual oily juices and toss in the peppercorns, bay leaf and garlic. Cook gently till fragrant, then toss in the onion, carrot and celery. Stir to coat with butter and cover. Let sweat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the potatoes, squash and mushrooms and stir. Add in the pork and turn up the heat. Keep stirring.
  4. Mix in the stock powder and splash in the vermouth. Bring to a boil then turn down and simmer for at least one hour. If available, transfer to a crock pot and finish off the cooking there.
  5. The stew is done when the vegetables are soft and the pork is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 3-4.

Au Naturel at Zi Yean

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Zi Yean is one of those newfangled zichar places that serves up rather imaginative dishes. Its name means “natural” in Cantonese and we were rather amused by the very fitting “au naturel” chopstick holders.

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They’re specially printed with the restaurant name on the back even!

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Dinner started off with a very yummy double boiled soup with sea whelk, cordyceps and Sakura chicken. The special was tasty and full of chickeny goodness and umami flavour from the seafood. This is excellent for chasing away a cold. One problem though is that the quality varies from visit to visit. We went there for dinner two nights in a row and on the first night, the soup was perfect. The next night, however, the soup was oversalted, which kinda ruined the flavours. Pity.

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Next up was the spinach in superior broth. I liked how they added century egg and topped it with a sprinkling of crispy silver fish. With smooth, non-gritty spinach, earthy century egg and salty crunchy fish, this made for a killer combination that beats most other places hands down.

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I felt that the honey pork ribs were a bit of a weak link. It was your typical deboned pork rib in sweet sauce, tender enough but nothing in particular to rave about. Perhaps I just don’t particularly fancy sweet savouries.

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The final main dish was the most interesting: crab meat fried with egg white and topped with a raw egg yolk. The dish arrived piping hot and the idea was to quickly stir in the egg yolk so the gooey stuff coated the crab-egg white pieces. I liked the texture a lot as it had varying bits of chewy from the crab pieces and the dried scallop, that  coupled with the softness of the egg white was a winner. I like egg, I like crab, this is dish is kinda hard to beat.

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We had orh nee for dessert. The yam paste here is very nicely made though it doesn’t quite beat the grandmaster at Ah Orh. The paste is fairly smooth with little bits of yam embedded inside. It’s topped with soft pumpkin pieces and has very little oil. Avoid the accompanying coconut milk because they use the stuff from a carton. Less than fresh coconut milk mars the taste terribly. I like this version quite a bit because it’s good enough and it’s less oily than other versions.

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Other things worth eating are the home made tofu topped with bonito flakes and any of their basic stir-fry dishes. Go there with family or lots of good friends so you can try more dishes!

Zi Yean
Blk 56 Lengkok Bahru #01-443
Tel: 6474 0911 (Air-Con) / 6471 0253 (Non Air-Con)

Quick Eats: Bugis Area

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There are a few interesting little eateries in the Bugis area. One of these is Food for Thought, a cafe that ploughs its profits into social causes. Not everything on their menu is great. I had the lunch deal for the Asian beef soup and smoked duck salad, neither of which was particularly special. Now the soup and sandwich set is definitely more value for money as they thoughtfully provided a little tomato and lettuce side salad. DC had the tomato and pumpkin soup with pulled pork sandwich set. The soup was decent and the pulled pork sandwich was very excellent. I liked how the tender pork contrasted so well with bits of still-crisp crackling and soft sweet potato. It made for a generous filling to the soft ciabatta. Definitely something to go back for.

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A distance away, down Seah Street is a Entre-Nous, a French creperie with the best crepes I’ve tried in Singapore. I immediately knew that I had to have the salted caramel crepe, while DC went for the chocolate version. It wasn’t too bad, the chocolate sauce was obviously home-made, of good chocolate. It was very good, though once you try the salted caramel version, there’s no competition at all.

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This time I made the better choice. The home-made salted caramel was to die for, especially for someone with a salty tooth like me. And of course the crepe was faultless, it was soft with lovely crisp edges. We’re definitely going back there sometime soon.

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Food for Thought
420 North Bridge Road
North Bridge Centre
#01-06
Tel: 6338 8724

Entre-Nous Creperie
27 Seah Street
Tel: 6333 4671