Saturday, 28 September 2013

Au revoir!

If anyone is wondering why there aren’t any updates during October, it’s because I will be travelling around Europe for around 4 weeks. I am very excited about this trip as it will be my first time in Europe. And of course being the slightly obsessive food fanatic that I am, I am planning to eat lots and lots of yummy food! So I promise that I will be putting up plenty of pictures of delicious, delicious food when I get back :)

I will be visiting 4 countries, namely the UK, France, Switzerland and Italy. Just to give you a sneak peek into what I will be getting up to, I will be fulfilling my dream of eating at restaurants of two of my culinary idols: Fat Duck in Bray, UK and L’Arpege in Paris.

The man behind the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal, needs no introduction. He is a self-taught chef and has become a household name by turning the kitchen into more like a science lab. I enjoy all his TV shows (including the current series Heston's Fantastical Food on SBS) and admire the way that he makes food fascinating, fun and different. I hope my meal at Fat Duck will meal will be filled with ‘wow’ moments and will be one for the ages.

Alain Passard is the chef-owner of L’Arpege, which has been awarded 3 Michelin stars since 1996. Alain Passard is most famous for taking all red meat off his menu following the outbreak of mad cow disease in 2001. He has since devoted his culinary career to making vegetables the hero in his cooking. His food is about using the freshest, seasonal vegetables available, all of which are grown in one of his 3 organic vegetable gardens outside Paris and delivered to his restaurant on a daily basis. So it is no surprise that vegetarian foodies from all over the world, including my wife, make the trip to Paris to eat at L’Arpege. We both can’t wait to try Mr Passard’s vegetable focused cooking and hopefully we will get to meet the man himself.
In the meantime, take care and I will be back soon to ramble on about my Euro eats.  Bye! :D       

Fat Duck
High St, Bray, West Berkshire, UK
+44 1628 580333
84 Rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris, France
+33 1 47 05 09 06

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Ramen Ikkyu - 8 July 2013

Chef Haru Inukai at Ramen Ikkyu
Ramen Ikkyu is the new kid on the (ramen) block, having just opened last week in the food court of Sussex Centre, which is located next to Golden Century in Chinatown. Despite being open for just a short period of time, the word has clearly gotten out as many foodies and ramen lovers have been flocking the Ramen Ikkyu for their lunchtime ramen fix.    

Paitin broth
Lunchtime queue of hungry customers wanting their ramen
The man behind Ramen Ikkyu is chef Haru Inukai, who has worked in several hatted restaurants in Sydney, most recently Blancharu in Elizabeth Bay. Haru has also worked for the godfather of Sydney fine dining, Tony Bilson, and French culinary master, Joel Robuchon, so he has honed his skills and learnt from the best. By opening Ramen Ikkyu, Haru decided to ditch fine dining in favour of casual food. Haru had already been dishing out bowls of ramen at Blancharu during lunctime, so this move completes Haru’s transition to fulltime casual food. This is clearly a sign of tough economic times, when you see Sydney diners choosing burgers and/or ramen over fine dining.

Ikkyu (shoyu) ramen ($10.50)
I ordered the Ikkyu (shoyu) ramen today with an extra serving of cha-shu (pork). The broth in Ikkyu ramen is a paitan soup, which is a white broth made from chicken bones that have been boiled for several hours with pork, spices and vegetables. The broth is quite rich and is similar to tonkotsu broth found at Gumshara Ramen but not nearly as thick, which is a bit gravy-like at Gumshara. This broth is finished with soy sauce, which balances out the richness of the broth a bit. The flavours are really quite amazing! The porky flavour is really quite prominent and oh-so satisfying.

Oodles of noodles
The noodles, which are made in store by Haru, to me are the real winner. I love how the noodles are so bouncy and have a bite to them. Slurping up those noodle, which have soaked up that delicious broth, is so good!

Cha-shu (extra $3)
And the toppings… those are tops too! The cha-shu was really quite amazing! In my opinion the best cha-shu you will find at any ramen store in Sydney. The meat is so tasty, tender and just falls apart in the mouth. The fat is perfectly rendered down and just melts in the mouth with the meat. The sweet glaze used to roast the meat was also quite pleasant. I am very happy that I ordered the extra slices of pork.

The boiled egg, a ramen staple, had nice and soft egg white and a warm, gooey yolk. Yum! Black fungus and bamboo shoots round out the toppings of this awesome bowl of ramen.
Veggie ramen ($12.50)

My wife went for the veggie ramen, which has a salt based broth and is topped with vegetables (obviously). She LOVED this bowl of ramen. She could not stop raving about the noodles. She usually prefers soup broth to be thinner but she was so captured by the bounciness of the noodles that she happily overlooked the thickness of the broth. I hear that she was telling everyone at her office just how great she thinks Haru’s noodles are and has convinced everyone that they need to eat at Ikkyu.

Free Kaedama
Extra noodles (free!)
So if you didn’t get enough noodles, you can ask for ‘kaedama’, a free extra serve of noodles. This is really cool as I am not aware of any other ramen store that does this. No one can complain about being hungry after eating at Ikkyu! My wife decided that she would only take a quarter of the extra noodles so I was left to finish the rest, so it goes without saying that I was completely stuffed after this meal!
So how does Ramen Ikkyu rate against longtime favourite Gumshara, which is just down the road? Both serve awesome bowls of ramen so I will be visiting both. However, in my opinion, Ramen Ikkyu is better than Gumshara (just)! I know it’s a big call, but what has really converted me with Ikkyu are the quality of the cha-shu and the “bouncy” noodles. They are just that good! Plus Ikkyu is slightly cheaper and gives you an optional extra serve of noodles as well, so Ikkyu wins out on value. However, I have heard that Ramen Ikkyu has been closing shop early at around 6pm when they have sold out, so you will need to come to Ramen Ikkyu for lunch or early dinner otherwise you will need to head over to Gumshara for your ramen fix.

No place has made me this excited about their food in a while and I can be a difficult customer to please at times. I definitely had a pep in my step after I finished that bowl of ramen, it made me that happy. There is nothing more satisfying in winter than a delicious bowl of soup noodles. I will definitely be back soon to try the other flavours and toppings (the pork rib available as an extra for $14 did catch my attention).

Highlight: Slurping those bouncy noodles, which have been made in store by Haru.
Lowlight: Nothing really. Although the bowl of ramen was incredibly satisfying, it is quite filling. I was utterly defeated and in a coma afterwards as I had the extra noodles ‘kaedama’.
Overall: Ramen Ikkyu serves up big bowls of ramen, with excellent ‘bouncy’ noodles, tasty broth and delightful toppings, especially the cha-shu and soft boiled egg. I can see Ramen Ikkyu becoming a lunchtime regular and favourite for me. 8/10 (Excellent)

UPDATE 26 September 2013 

Ramen Ikkyu has recently released some special ramen on their menu. I believe they are also serving a wider range of rice dishes too, including Japanese curry. Here are some of the new ramen that I have tried recently from the special menu:

Salmon ramen ($14)
The salmon ramen is a good choice for anyone that is wanting a change from the usual pork-based ramen out there. There are about 4 pieces of salmon floating at the top of this bowl of ramen. Then salmon was quite tender and the meat just falls apart in the mouth. The broth in this ramen was a miso-based one. It was a flavoursome broth that was sweet, savoury and peppery. This was a satisfying bowl of ramen although it is quite rich and heavy going after a while. Still not stopping me from getting my kaedama (free extra serving of noodle)! The salmon ramen is one that I will be happy to order again.
Sweet and spicy dry noodle ($14)
For something even more different, one could ditch the broth and go for the sweet and spicy dry noodle. Here the egg noodles are mixed with a sweet and spicy sesame oil and soy sauce. The flavours are nice and there is a good balance of sweet and spicy, with neither overpowering the other. As is the case with Ramen Ikkyu, the toppings are great and varied. You get chashu, soft boiled egg, heaps of sweet corn, cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots and wood ear mushrooms.

However dry noodles are probably not my preferred way of having ramen as I didn’t find the texture of the noodles as enjoyable. The noodles were a bit clumpy due to the lack of broth and the noodles weren’t as smooth or bouncy as usual. The noodles also felt a bit oily due to the sesame oil. And there is no point in claiming your kaedama when having dry noodles unless you enjoy plain noodles.

I hope to make my way through the special menu and will continue to update this post as I try the new items. The pork rib ramen ($20) is definitely next on my hit list :D

Ramen Ikkyu
Shop F1A, 401 Sussex St, Sydney

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Tim Ho Wan, North Point, Hong Kong – 24 November 2012

My wife was arranging a catching up with a uni friend, who now works in Hong Kong. The moment that the friend suggested that we should have breakfast dumplings at Tim Ho Wan – the Dim Sum Specialists, I immediately became very excited as I had heard a lot of great things about them. I couldn’t wait to eat at what is widely known as the cheapest 1 Michelin Star restaurant in the world.

The man behind Tim Ho Wan, Mak Kwai Pui, was a former dim sum chef at Lung King Heen, the only 3-Michelin star Chinese restaurant in the world. This goes a long way to explaining why THW has built its reputation for quality and value and been awarded a Michelin star. There are certainly some similarities between LKH and THW (e.g. both do baked BBQ pork buns and tonic medlar cakes). But most importantly the dumplings at THW are a fraction of the price of those charged at LKH!

Just as famous as the BBQ pork bun are the massive queues outside THW, especially the original Mongkok store, that snake across the block for what seems like miles. But on this day we were visiting the North Point branch, which had only opened a few months earlier in 2012 and the queues here are much more manageable. We got there before the restaurant opened so we were able to get a table straight away. However the store was full within 10 minutes of opening, so anyone wanting to eat at THW should definitely come early or be prepared to wait. I know what I would do, as these queues will test the patience of even the most patient (i.e. not me!).

So without further ado, here’s what I had, what I paid (assuming an exchange rate of AUD 1 =  HKD 8, which was the exchange rate at the time I visited but unfortunately the AUD has weakened since):  
Steamed beef ball with bean curd skin - HKD 14 (approx. AUD 1.75)
My wife’s friend suggested that we order the steamed beef balls and boy did he make a great call! This was a dish that I was not expecting to be so impressed by. These beef balls were just frickin’ awesome! They were so tender, juicy and succulent - unlike anything I had tried before. I am not usually a fan of steamed beef balls at yum cha places as I usually find them to have a hard, rubbery texture. These just totally shot away any preconceptions I had of beef balls. The beef balls were also infused with tangerine peel, spring onion and lemon grass, which gave the beef balls a great flavour profile.

Steamed beancurd skin rolled with veg - HKD 15 (approx. AUD 1.88)
Beancurd skin wrapped with an assortment of vegetables such as mushrooms, carrots and cabbage, are a favourite yum cha treat of my vegetarian wife (well she really doesn’t have a choice seeing as these are one of the few things that she can actually order at most yum cha places!).  These were no exception and were quite enjoyable. The beancurd skin becomes quite juicy as it soaks up all that sauce, which was both sweet and salty in flavour.

Steamed egg cake - HKD 14 (approx. AUD 1.75)
Tim Ho Wan’s version of steamed egg cake is a winner and in my opinion a must-order.  It was light and spongy, and also had a nice caramelised flavour.

Vermicelli roll stuffed with shrimp - HKD 20 (approx. AUD 2.50)
These vermicelli rolls were quite good. The rice noodles were silky smooth and cooked just right. The prawns were good quality too and the dressing of soy sauce, ginger and spring onion is one that I would happily run my finger through and lick.
Steamed dumpling in chiu chow style - HKD 10 (approx. AUD 1.25)
The steamed dumplings are cooked to perfection. The dumpling skins were thin and had no hint of sliminess. The filling contained a classic combination of pork, chives and peanuts.

Spring rolls - HKD 16 (approx. AUD 2)
These were vegetarian spring rolls and whilst they were good, they weren’t anything particularly special or different to what we have tried before. They were very crispy though, with sharp edges that could almost cut your mouth.

Deep fried pumpkin dumpling filled with custard - HKD 16 (approx. AUD 2)
The deep fried pumpkin dumplings with egg custard, which were sprinkled with coconut, were quite brilliant. The best part of these was the oozing egg custard in the centre, which tasted more savoury than sweet, which I particularly enjoyed.

Baked BBQ pork bun - HKD 16 for 3 buns (approx. AUD 2)
And finally, the famed Tim Ho Wan baked BBQ pork bun. Is it worth all the hype? You bet it is! Some say this is the best BBQ pork bun in the world. I haven’t had enough BBQ pork buns to make this call but I can say that it is probably the best BBQ pork bun that I have eaten. The BBQ pork bun here is baked rather than steamed, which adds a lot to the bun. The buns were baked fresh and delivered to our table piping hot. The exterior is crumbly and sweet and the bread is actually quite light and fluffy. On the inside, the BBQ pork and its oozing sauce it is are just so tasty. What you get is a perfect combination of sweet and savoury flavours that are insanely addictive. This is why I had an entire serving to myself!

Highlight: The baked BBQ pork bun. Enough said.  
Lowlight: Vegetarian options are very limited. We ordered every savoury item on the menu that was vegetarian (the steamed beancurd skin and the spring rolls) and as it was only 2 items, the vegetarian was not full so we had to go look for Hong Kong style egg waffles to satisfy her appetite.
Overall: My meal at Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum specialists, was a memorable one and one that I will not be forgetting anytime soon. I have never had such good food at such low prices.  The value is just ridiculous with our bill working out to around AUD 5 or 6 per person at the time. The dumplings we tried were easily better than anything we have ever tried in Sydney and at a fraction of the price too. Tim Ho Wan is a must for any dumpling lover in Hong Kong (and now Singapore as it recently opened 2 new branches). 8/10 (Excellent)
Tim Ho Wan - North Point Branch
Shop B, C, & D, G/F, 2-8 Wharf Road, Seaview Building, North Point 

Other branches in Hong Kong
Shop 8, Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2, 2-20 Kwong Wa Street, Mongkok
Shop 12A, Hong Kong Station (Podium Level 1, IFC Mall), Central
G/F, 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Sham Shui Po
Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui 

Tim Ho Wan branches in Singapore
68 Orchard Road #01-29A, Plaza Singapura (new branch)
450 Lorong 6 Toa Payoh #02-02, ERA Centre Toa Payoh (new branch)

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lung King Heen, Hong Kong - 22 November 2012

Today’s entry is about a dim sum lunch that my wife and I had at Lung King Heen in Hong Kong during our holiday through South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong in November last year. We had an insane amount of superb food during this trip. Quite a variety too whether it was fine dining, freshly made noodles at noodle houses, shojin ryori (Buddhist cuisine) at temples, snacks at street markets and exquisite pastries at patisseries, it was all amazing. Two meals from this trip I would say rank as two of the best meals I have had in my life so far (being Takazawa in Tokyo, which is the only meal that I have given a 10/10 score for, and the South Korean outpost of French culinary master, Pierre Gagnaire). As I am getting closer to my next holiday, I figure that I should recount the memorable meals that I haven’t written about yet, otherwise I may never get around to it...

Lung King Heen is the Cantonese fine dining restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel. Its extensive list of accomplishments include being the only Cantonese cuisine restaurant in the world to receive 3-Michelin Stars, the 13th best restaurant in Asia and 75th best restaurant in the world on San Pellegrino lists.

Lung King Heen, which means “view of the dragon”, is a fitting name for a restaurant that has such stunning views of Victoria Harbour and the expansive Hong Kong skyline.  Together with the exquisite food of Executive Chef Chan Yan Tak, Lung King Heen is destination for both local and touring gourmands alike. It is also worth noting that the Four Season Hotel is a culinary hot spot as it houses not one, but two 3-Michelin star restaurants (the other being Caprice, which serves French haute cuisine).

Steamed Bamboo Piths Dumplings with Vegetables
The steamed bamboo pith dumplings were really quite exquisite and demonstrates what Lung King Heen is all about, bite sized parcels of dumpling goodness! The dumpling skins were faultless. They were nice and thin, and perfectly cooked with no hint of sliminess. A great way to start our meal.
Xiao long bao
I have a weakness for xiao long bao, which are more Shanghainese than Cantonese.  I love it when you bite into a xiao long bao, there is that burst of warm soup. I was drawn to these when I saw them on the menu, but ordering these were probably not the best idea at Lung King Heen, as you can find xiao long bao at other establishments that are just as good at a fraction of the price. I did love how there were slithers of delicate crab meat inside these dumplings. And the little wooden trays that each xiao long bao was placed on is an excellent idea that more places should think of doing. These trays made it easy to pick up the dumplings without them exploding before you put them in your mouth.
Steamed Lobster and Scallop Dumpling
The lobster and scallop dumpling is a dumpling fitting for a gourmand and seafood lover like myself.   The dumpling had very clean, fresh and delicate flavours. The dumpling consisted of a nice, sizeable chunk of lobster, a thin slice of scallop and a prawn stacked on top of one another and wrapped in a cabbage dumpling skin, which is lighter than the usual dumpling skins. All the seafood was perfectly cooked and a delight to eat, with lovely natural sweet flavours you get from fresh seafood. I wish I ordered more than one and could have this luxe dumpling more often, but unfortunately one is all I could afford.
Baked Whole Abalone Puff with Diced Chicken
The abalone puff is the other fancy bite sized treat that I ordered one of. The flavours of this puff were really quite amazing. The piece of abalone was tender, which I obviously loved given my Chinese heritage. The pastry shell was awesome too as the pastry was nice and flakey. I think I enjoyed the abalone puff more than the lobster and scallop dumpling.
Sweet and sour hedgehog and black mushrooms
We decided to be typical ABCs (Australian-born Chinese) and ordered the sweet and sour dish. I thought this dish was a bit of a mixed bag. The sweet and sour sauce was quite good and had a great balance of sweet and sour, neither dominated the other. I love the taste of cooked fresh pineapple in sweet and sour dishes. The batter was good as it was nice and thin and had great crunch to them. The shitake mushrooms were delicious.
And what I didn’t like about the dish: there were these other mushrooms (which I think are hedgehog mushrooms, a variety of wild mushrooms) which I unfortunately just didn’t enjoy. They had a soft, chewy texture that I liken to chewing chunks of pork fat. I didn’t think the texture of these mushrooms worked particularly well with the batter and the sauce. Having said this, my wife didn’t find the hedgehog mushrooms to be unpleasant like I did, so it could just be me.
Wok-Fried Multi-Grain Rice with Gluten and Vegetables in Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
This was just YUM and not what I expected. I thought this would be more like a typical fried rice that is usually dry and not sauced. Instead the rice was wet but not drowning in sauce. The vegetarian oyster sauce was absolutely delicious. The use of multi grain rice instead of white rice was also great from a texture and flavour perspective.
Chilled Mango and Sago Cream with Pomelo
BEST MANGO DESSERT EVER!!! And the dish of the day easily in my opinion. The bottom layer was a soft, smooth mango pudding that was topped with a mouth-watering delicious mango soup. The dessert tasted prominently of real mangoes, so there was an abundance of natural sweetness. What also made this dessert so great was how refreshing it was, perfect for the stifling heat of Hong Kong.
Ma lai gao
Ma lai gao is another favourite of mine at yum cha. I love how it is so soft and fluffy.  This version also had egg custard, another one of my weaknesses, sandwiched between each layer.
Baked red bean and hazlenut paste puffs
These were only just ok, and nothing special. I was not really a fan and did not think this should be a dish in its own right, more a petit four. I would have also liked more hazelnut flavour.
Petit fours
To finish off this meal we were served these complimentary petit fours. The jelly like thing is tonic medlar and petal cake, my favourite of the two, and the other petit four was a pleasant lotus paste puff.

So is Lung King Heen worth 3 Michelin stars? It is difficult for me to come to any firm conclusions given that we tried only a few dumplings and other dishes and didn’t try any of the live seafood dishes that they are famous for. 

However, I would say that the food we tried probably doesn’t fit Michelin’s description for a 3 Michelin star restaurant being, “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. Whilst the food was excellent, for me the only dish that was mind blowingly good was the mango dessert. The food is certainly pricey for Cantonese cuisine but at about $50 a head for what we tried, this is very cheap for a meal at a 3 Michelin star restaurant. Mind you, if you have their specialty dishes at dinner, you will expect to pay 3 Michelin Star prices.

The service was exceptional for a Chinese restaurant and what you would expect from a restaurant rated at this level. It was efficient, friendly, attentive and very professional – adjectives that are often not used to describe Chinese restaurants. And the setting is certainly worthy of 3 stars: an elegantly fitted out dining room with outstanding views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong’s skyline.

Highlight: The Chilled Mango and Sago Cream with Pomelo is the most awesome mango dessert I have ever eaten!
Lowlight: I am not a fan of eating something that has the texture of deep fried chunks of pork fat, as was the case in the sweet and sour hedgehog and black mushrooms dish.
Overall: Lung King Heen is an excellent choice for anyone looking for high quality Cantonese cuisine and exquisite dumplings served in a fine dining setting. Certainly worth a visit if you are visiting Hong Kong.  8/10 (Excellent)

Lung King Heen:
Level 4, Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance St, Hong Kong
+852 3196 8880