Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Hakkasan Hanway Place - London's One Star Michelin Chinese Cuisine

One Star Michelin restaurant, Hakkasan, is known not only for contemporary chinese cuisines but also for their cocktails. The people behind Hakkasan has designed the concept to be one of mystery and grandeur. Their website described it as modern ethnic. A trip to the Hanway Place branch sees the restaurant located on an obscure run-down quiet street. You won't imagine there's a classy restaurant located there if you happen to pass by, let alone a Michelin Star one. The long flight of steps down the dark tunnel leads to a blue lighted poshly furnished walkway with well groomed reception. The mystery and grandeur follows through and through especially during my trip to the restroom. The restrooms are hidden behind the walls camouflaged by the interior designs. The food that awaits also lives up to the impressive setting they designed to greet all guests.

We ordered the Hakka Lunch Menu (30/pax) to kick off our lunch. We started off with the dim sum basket that consisted of har gau, scallop siew mai with topiko caviar, chinese chive dumpling with prawn and crab meat and soy crumble beancurd dumpling. I think what impressed me the most was how this dim sum basket doesn't shove you up with in your face premium ingredients to justify their Michelin Stars. I totally enjoyed every bite of the individual dim sum. The har gau's prawns were fat and robust in flavour. The siew mai with scallop was again understated yet excellently prepared. The chive dumplings carries a distinct chive flavour wrapped around the juicy prawns and the soy crumble beancurd was surprisingly light with adequate sweetness. It's really a culinary display of how skilled chefs can bring normal ingredients to life.

I was equally impressed with the puffs selection. Crispy smoked duck and pumpkin puff, baked venison puff and spicy mooli crab meat pastry. Each of the puffs were flaky and buttery without overdoing any part of it. I felt the ingredients were generous. It is faultless! I need to state though that I suspect the food are prepared in large batches because there's no room for customization of your order at all. I don't take beef but they refused to swap out the beef dishes.

This unassuming stir fried baby broccoli with goji berries and crispy seaweed is a silent killer. I found the entire plate extremely addictive and Vain Pot and I literally fought over finishing the plate. It's probably the winner of the day. I've no idea that vegetables can be this tasty, it definitely took us by surprise. Pardon the bad photography, I haven't figured out how to use the Olympus PEN PL 8 in the dark yet and I missed my free training. Whoops!

The Hakka Noodle which we couldn't finish and had to pack it up was equally good. It's just that this meal is simply too value for money they feed you so full and well, we really couldn't finish the noodles. The noodles were cooked well and delicious but I can't comment much because I was too full to truly appreciate the dish.

Once again, I am left totally impressed with London's Michelin Star restaurants. They totally dropped the pretense to impress you with expensive food and showcase their legitimate culinary ability with simple food. Awesome! Hakkasan is highly recommended.

Hakkasan Hanway Place
8 Hanway Place, London, W1T 1HD

Monday, 25 June 2018

Yi Dian Xin Hong Kong Dim Sum - Good Quality Coffeeshop Dim Sum

This is my second visit to Yi Dian Xin after a few years. I remember the stall primarily because it serves good quality affordable dim sum but portions reflected the price. It kinda made me question if it was value for money then. Since my last visit, I've come to realised that the name Yi Dian Xin is very popular among dim sum. I've even eaten at Treasures Yi Dian Xin, a restaurant opened by Imperial Treasure.

Yi Dian Xin Hong Kong Dim Sum is located at a coffeeshop. It's a stall not a restaurant. I remember reading somewhere that the business is opened by a former chef of the Tunglok Group. If you aren't fussy about ambiance, they serve above average dim sum at coffeeshop prices.

In my opinion, the best way to measure dimsum quality is through the siew mai and har gao. It's precisely because the dishes are so simple, failing them would reflect poor culinary skill. We ordered the Siew Mai with Mushroom ($3.20) which was adequately plump and juicy. For coffeeshop standard and pricing, it beats equivalents like Wen Dao Shi where their siew mai skin tend to tear, stick together or fall apart. This one doesn't.

The Yi Dian Xin Prawn Dumpling ($3.20) is equally good. The dimsum was made with skill. You can tell the presentation can hold its own in restaurants and it goes really well with the chilli sauce on offer. No particular 'wow' factor but com'on manage your expectations. It's $3.20!

The Beancurd Prawn Roll ($3.30) was decent. While I felt that the skin could have been crispier to stand out with the mayo dip, I enjoyed the plump juicy prawns wrapped in the skin. Nothing to shout about though.

The char siew bao ($2.60) was another decent dish. There's nothing to rave about and nothing to nit-pick as well. To be fair, it was soft, fluffy and the seasoning of the char siew is definitely better than equivalently priced establishments.

I literally saved the best for the last. This Crispy Red Bean Paste with Banana ($3.60) stood out for me. It's the dish that leaves me wanting to return for another round. I have never eaten something similar but found the sweetness of the banana to go excellently with the red bean paste. The deep fried bread roll that wraps around complements the sweet ingredients perfectly. This is the best dish of the day and I'm definitely ordering 2 plates on my next visit!

Is Yi Dian Xin Hong Kong Dim Sum worth the visit? I'd say they rank 1st among the value for money, affordable dim sum establishments. The food is definitely better than cheap, mass produced dim sum. It may even give smaller unknown dim sum restaurants a run for its money if we take away the air con and the service. The portions are worth the price now! I'll definitely be back!

Yi Dian Xin 
1012 Upper Serangoon Road, Teo Seng Eating House, S534750 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal - 2 Star Michelin Dinner in London

This is by far one of the best Michelin Star experience among my limited global collection of Michelin Star exposure. Located at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, the restaurant carries a posh yet understated ambiance to kick off your dining adventure. The open kitchen concept also gives you a live view of how the dishes are prepared. Rated 2 Michelin Stars, their menu is inspired by ancient cookbooks. The repertoire of contemporary dishes exudes a lot of culinary history from the British Library. In fact, each of the dishes on the menu has a date next to it based on which year this inspiration is derived from.

Honestly speaking, I'm not much of a fine dining person. My personal experience has unfortunately been made up of pitiful portions of above average food with hefty prices that leaves me not completely sated after the meals. Vain Pot on the other hand knows how to appreciate fine dining. In fact, much of our choice of food is influenced by her knowledge of this 2 Star Michelin establishment.

We kick-started our dinner with warm sourdough bread and butter on the side.

Pardon the shaky photo, I realised that the Olympus PEN Pl 8 doesn't fare too well in the dark. (Maybe this is an excuse to mask my bad photography skills) Vain Pot started her meal with one of the much acclaimed Meat Fruit (£22.00). This mandarin orange looking fruit lookalike surprised me because it contains chicken liver parfait inside. The flavour of the chicken liver parfait was on point and goes excellently well with the grilled bread on the side.

My own starter of Frumenty (£23.00) was another mind-blowing experience. The grilled octopus is by far the most tender grilled octopus I've ever eaten. Looking at the fat succulent tentacles, my biggest worry of all octopus dishes is that it's hard and rubbery. Not this one. Going with the smoked sea broth, I literally cleaned my plate.

I was mildly surprised by Vain Pot's choice of Cod in Cider (£39.50). Felt a little too ordinary for this day but she wanted fish. It was served with chard and flamed mussels. I guess simple dishes are those that showcase culinary excellency. The cod was soft, tender and the buttery sauce that comes with it takes it to another level.

My personal favourite for the night is the Spiced Squab Pigeon (£46.00). I've never eaten pigeon before so my closest comparison are ducks, goose and turkeys. The squab pigeon is extremely tender, the knife cuts through easily. On it's own, the pigeon flavours stood out. I can tell because pigeon meat doesn't taste like the other birds I've eaten. With the onions and artichokes, the flavours surprisingly blended together well. With the malt and pigeon sauce, the pigeon dish stood out even more. I find it truly impressive that all the elements on the plate seems to complement each other to better the dish. It's unlike how some establishments use expensive ingredients simply to justify the price and probably to hide the actual value of the culinary skill at play. This dish has created a new found willingness to splash my cash on Michelin Star fine-dining in Europe.

We both ordered another of their renowned dish, Tipsy Cake (£17.50). It's Spit Roast Pineapple. While the dish is nice, I'm not culturally attuned to appreciate it. Vain Pot thinks the dessert is really good and this time we were both too full. So there's a little regret we didn't share one Tipsy Cake.

I've a couple of takeaways from this dining experience. The chef's ability to make ordinary food awesome is truly impressive. The 2 Michelin Stars is so well deserved. Most of the Asian Michelin Star establishments seem to focus on expensive ingredients and ambiance rather than the culinary skill to produce the food. When you pay the right price at the right places, fine dining doesn't leave you famish but totally full you need a walk to digest everything away. I'm definitely willing to spend on another such experience. Everyone who comes to Europe should try the Michelin Star food here.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LA

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Shan Cha - Taiwanese Cafe serving tea, alcohol and snacks

Shan Cha is a Taiwanese cafe specialising in teas, sakes and Taiwanese snacks. It's located at the edge of China Square and it's smacked in between Chinatown and Raffles Place. Given the hot and humid weather now, you will certainly appreciate their beverages a lot better.

My companion that went with me opted to try their Oolong Tea ($4.80). We found the presentation to be very instagram friendly. They even have this egg roll biscuit served at the side.

The tea itself was described as 'Oolong Tea lor' by my companion but it definitely tasted nicer in this heat and humidity.

My own Rose Apple tea ($4.50) was a pleasurable drink. I found the tea to have the rose flavoured sweetness and the apple was well infused. Downing the chilled tea when I felt so sweaty and hot (the place has fan, no aircon) really got me wishing for a bigger jar. I enjoyed my tea, it's totally refreshing.

My companion and I both ordered the traditional minced pork rice ($7.50). It's apparently the small bowl but very decent in size. The dish is served with a traditional tea egg at the side. There's a slight inconsistency in the egg preparation. My companion had great difficulty peeling her egg because the shell was stuck to the egg. It was very messy. My own egg was peeled with ease and to be honest, I felt very paiseh considering I brought her here. The minced pork rice was excellently prepared. I felt that the cafe got the flavours on point. The meat wasn't too fatty nor was it too lean. Portions were just right.

I personally find Shan Cha to be a fascinating cafe. The drinks are pretty unique but leaning towards the pricier side. The mains while limited in selection, taste awesome. They have some instagrammable desserts I didn't want to waste my swimming efforts to try. Perhaps on the next visit. I find this is an excellent place to catch up with my CBD friends if they can meet me outside lunch hours (not a big fan of crowds).

Shan Cha
22 Cross Street, #01-63 China Square, S048421

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Mr Fish - Traditional Cantonese Fish Dishes

Mr Fish is a family business that serves up traditional Cantonese fish soup. They are located at the bustling Chinatown Complex where loads of popular hawker stalls are found. One of the key highlights of this particular fish stall is that they do not use milk. Another trait synonymous with Cantonese businesses is the grumpy unfriendly stall owners whose attitude you suck it up because of their food.

I specially brought my mom down to try out their food because she loves simple hawker fare. The sliced fish beehoon I ordered came with really creamy broth. This is a standout point because they don't use milk. The soup is boiled for hours with fish bones to create this creamy texture that is rich in flavour. In fact, it beats many other fish soups with milk hands down.

Another point given to Mr Fish is their generosity in their fish slices. As I ordered this bowl to share, I'm impressed there was so many fish slices that my mom and I had to coax each other to take more fish.

Another popular dish of theirs is their black bean sliced fish horfun. In fact, it is this particular dish that brought my attention to this stall in the first place. Every single time I read online about 'wok hei' flavour in horfun, I never really understood what it meant because I haven't had the opportunity to taste a really good one before. This horfun has a distinct 'wok hei' taste that my mom described as "very long never eat horfun that got the real horfun taste". It's not salty and the balance of the flavours are executed excellently. I kinda regretted sharing this dish with my mom as it was really good and I really want the entire plate to myself. One plate takes an approximate waiting time of 30 mins so be mentally prepared to wait. 

Our total damage for the 2 dishes is $10. Very cheap and good! I'll certainly recommend Mr Fish to all my hawker food aficionados because this is tops among the fish soups I've tried. There's so much other popular food at this Smith Street Food Centre that it's an awesome place for group gatherings where you can order plenty of dishes to share. In fact, I see myself organising a group eat out with my friends pretty soon!

Mr Fish
335 Smith Street, #02-073, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, S050335

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Four Seasons Restaurant - One of the 3 must try Roast Ducks in London

Four Seasons Restaurant stands as one of the 3 kings of Roast Duck in London. Standing on the same street in Bayswater as its other two competitors (Goldmine Restaurant & New Fortune Cookie), hordes of Asians flock to these 3 to try out their famous London Duck. As of now, I've tried both Goldmine and Four Seasons.

The roast duck at Four Seasons as of now stands in the lead. Always order boneless so that you can simply bite into the heavenly fat meat. The duck at Four Seasons was extremely tender and flavourful. I liked it better than Goldmine because it was less oily and has less fatty meat. The sweet duck sauce that comes with the dish goes excellently with the duck and whets your appetite even if you aren't too hungry. Makes me wonder why don't we have anything close to these delicious ducks in Singapore. The duck is packed in a box because I ordered takeaways. I must add that Four Seasons pack my takeaway in such a neat and easy to carry manner, I'll probably have a takeaway meal each time I'm in London from now on.

The cai sim was nothing spectacular. In fact, I felt the side dishes lost out to Gold Mine.

Sweet and sour soup wasn't strong in its flavouring either. While it wasn't bad, it was very very ordinary.

Wrapping up this post, I'd say that I rather order a whole duck and have it as my meal than waste calories and money on very average sides. The duck is a true winner and you really can't stop eating it once you put a slice into your mouth. You should really try London duck in London and compare it with the roast ducks back home. It's an eye opener.

Four Seasons Restaurant
84 Queenway, Bayswater, London W2 3RL
(apparently Four Seasons Restaurant have a few branches in Chinatown, don't waste time with those. the Bayswater outlet is the real deal)

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Columbus Coffee Co - Newly opened cafe at Upper Thomson

Columbus Coffee Co is the third establishment opened by the owners of Atlas Coffeehouse and Lunar Brewer Coffee. They are the latest to join the bustling cafe scene at Upper Thomson. The cafe is located opposite Sin Ming Plaza Condo and has a very spacious interior.

Given that the cafe is only a month old, the food blogosphere is buzzing with activity and there's been numerous reviews of the wide selection that Columbus Coffee Co offer. It got me quite excited to try out this place given all the positive hype. My dining companion opted to try their fresh bakes and ordered the almond croissant ($5). She paired her pastry with a piccolo latte ($4.50). As I just got back from London, the benchmark for fresh bakes is still set pretty high. In London, the almond croissant even had almond cream oozing out of the bread but that'll be a story for another day. We both found the croissant to be over toasted and a little on the dry side. According to my dining companion, when a bread is over toasted, moisture collects onto the bread surface quickly thus making the bread less crispy and more towards the soggy side when you take too long to finish the food.

You can't go too wrong with lattes or I'll really judge them. I found the latte to be nicely done. I made a mental note that this is probably an ideal place to read with a cuppa coffee if I'm ever around the Thomson area again. (haven't been to Thomson area in ages because I dread the parking there)

I always have a soft spot for hotcakes and I really like the one at Atlas Coffeehouse. The Butterscotch Banana Pancake ($18.50) looks exactly the same so I simply had to have it. Sad to say, my impression of the dish is totally different this time. To be fair, the pancakes are really soft and fluffy (just like the description on their menu) to the point you feel like you are having an awesome sponge cake. The maple syrup still goes really well with the ice cream, bananas and the honey coated cornflakes. The trouble was my ideal version is crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. This one skipped the crispiness. The dish tastes cakey after a while and despite the ice cream, I struggled finishing half.

The sun was scorching outside so I had the Milky Way ($7) which is pretty much white cold brew. Again the coffee passed with flying colours and it's probably the saving grace for my overall experience.

I noted that the food took a while to be served probably due to the high traffic flow. The food on our table, the next table and the next next table were all plated in delicious fashion. It really left my companion and I scratching our heads if we ordered the wrong dishes. We weren't impressed by the food at Columbus Coffee Co and really should I return it'll be for the coffee and no food.

Columbus Coffee Co
220 Upper Thomson Road, S574352