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refreshing cakes Smile Jul 27, 2011   
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Categories : French | Takeaway | Bakery | Dessert

after agnes b, LGB, zoe, la maison du chocolat, jean-paul hevin, and a beefing-up starbucks pastry section, IFC mall received a new addition to its pastry parade last week: petite amanda, owned by a hong kong fashion model called amanda strang. the shop is currently still in soft-opening stage as the formal launch is slated for august 4. it is located next to starbucks on 2/f IFC mall in front of the elevators; the place does not have much foot traffic at the moment but should ramp up after the apple store opens later this year…

first on the shop decor. i like the minimalist approach with white walls and color stripes, but the bright yellow light from elevators does not go well with the store color and makes the whole area overexposed – i even had to shield light with my hands in order to read the cakes’ descriptions. the shop is located in an open space, so inherently it lacks the cozy, intimate environment that most standalone pastry shops enjoy, but fortunately the bread baskets at the back help to neutralize the ambience (though i would definitely suggest more bread baskets!) the pyramidal container box is inspired by la patisserie des reves in paris and the glassware is also made by the same supplier.

on the food - i tried pain au chocolat, bresilienne, plaisir sucre, and charlotte aux poires. the pain au chocolat was a disappointment (since it's my favorite pain) because it lacks the airy, flakiness of puff pastry. then again, it's hard to make good puff pastry in hong kong due to the humidity - the only place that does it right is joel robuchon, and it has premium sourcing for flour and dry butter. bresilienne is bavarois au caramel and cafe mousse with joconde wrapped around; it was a bit heavy for me and i could only finish half of the cake (a criminal act), and both flavors (coffee and caramel) were on the light side which made them nearly indistinguishable, but the two matched very well and the ultra-thin layer of joconde was perfectly made. plaisir sucre is a classic pierre herme dessert that i make quite often, composed of hazelnut dacquoise, praline croustillant, ganache and chantilly. it's hard to make but once you get it right, taste is out of this world. my favorite at petite amanda is charlotte aux poires - the pear mousse is mixed with pulverized pear flesh so it carries a sandy texture that makes an interesting contrast to the biscuit.

overall i find food quality decent with room for improvement in flavor matching – i understand the chef likes to use light, refreshing flavors for the summer, but when everything is pale you cannot really distinguish one from another. i also find a little too much gelatin in the mousse that affects the taste. i appreciate the fine details that might be overlooked by most other people, such as the joconde in the bresilienne and an improved proportion of ganache and chantilly in the plaisir. the chef’s sincerity and dedication really show in her works!

i don’t think she mentioned it very often but amanda did graduate from le cordon bleu superieure in 3rd place. i’ve also heard from other chefs in hong kong that amanda worked very hard during her internship at caprice (there is no secret in this industry!), which is something worth-respecting when many other celebrities treat cooking school as a pastime rather than a real education.
 
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 3  |  
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 3  |  
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 4  |  
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 5  |  
Value for Money
 3

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order only the signature dishes Just OK Jan 23, 2011   
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Categories : Guangdong | Chinese Restaurant | Hotel Restaurant | Dim Sum | Fine Dining

our dinner took place at the memorable yan toh heen (欣圖軒), the 30-year old flagship cantonese restaurant at intercontinental hotel (previously known as regent hotel). the kitchen is run by chef lau yiu fai (劉耀輝), who has been with yan toh heen for over 23 years. chef lau worked at a number of top chinese restaurants such as fook lam moon and tai sam yuen before moving to then regent hotel’s banquet kitchen, and later transferred to lai ching heen to work under executive chef cheung kam chuen. on a side note, chef lai has crossed paths multiple times with lung king heen’s current executive chef chan yan tak (陳恩德), who shared a similar career path.

chopstickamuse bouche: filo basket of pinenuts and minced pork - the “filo”, more appropriately was deep-fried wonton skin, was thin and crispy. pinenuts and minced pork were yummy.

chopstickbarbequed pork (“cha-siu”) - a huge disappointment. i have tried bbq pork at literally hundreds of eateries in hong kong, and i know it’s unfair to compare yan toh heen with some of the best i’ve had (such as fu sing and island tang), but the cha-siu here was worse than average. the meat was way too lean and not the part near the neck as good any cha-siu should to be made of. the honey glaze was applied too early in the grilling process and lost all aroma.

chopstickshark fin soup with hairy crab roe and oyster - i am not supportive of eating shark fins but the japanese seems to have a thing for sharks and whales thumb-sized oysters with fat belly were swimming in a lucious shark fin soup filled with hairy crab roe fragrance. this was an extremely filling dish, and i thought it could actually do better without the hairy crab roe which was slightly overpowering. but overall still a very delightful soup.

chopstickbaked crab shell - shredded onions and mushroom with minced crab meat, stuffed inside crab shell and thinly battered before baking. it’s a very common dish among upscale chinese restaurants, and i was glad the batter was very thin here at yan toh heen, which lent to a light, crispy skin (similar to the outer layer of a very good tonkatsu). the crab flesh was very aromatic and carried a fresh brine flavor.

chopsticktiger prawns with white asparagus and spring onions - the prawns were crispy and flavorful, but the highlight of this dish was actually the white asparagus – which is one of my favorite vegetables but so difficult to find in hong kong!

chopstickfried chicken - an example where taste gave way to health… the chicken was too lean and dry, and the skin fell a bit on the soggy side.

chopstickfruit platter - like some other upscale chinese restaurants, yan toh heen serves fruit platter in a huge mountain of shaved ice. the shaved ice stood almost 30cm tall, but there was only one slice each of watermelon, melon, strawberry, pineapple, and cantaloupe. the pineapple shell on top was inedible. pretty interesting presentation nonetheless.

chopstickchinese petit four - consisted of some chinese pastries that we usually eat during chinese new year or at wedding banquets. but the rack was soooo cute! it was like a mini antique display shelf.

it was a scrumptious dinner with only premium quality of ingredients used. for the more sophisticated dishes, i liked the formula and flavor generally paired pretty well. however, execution seemed to fall short for the traditional dishes as in the bbq pork and deep-fried chicken – i do not expect a 27-year old kitchen with 20 cooks can miss on them. i guess that’s because those dishes were not common orders?

service was excellent and the staffs knew the menu inside out. our tea cups were always kept full that night and we did not have to move a finger other than working our chopsticks. the waiting staffs even speak better japanese than i do!

full post with pics: http://randomnomad.wordpress.com/2010/12/04/yan-toh-heen/
 
Other Ratings:
Taste
 3  |  
Environment
 5  |  
Service
 5  |  
Hygiene
 5  |  
Value for Money
 2

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great cantonese food Smile Jan 23, 2011   
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Categories : Guangdong | Chinese Restaurant | Hotel Restaurant | Dim Sum | Fine Dining | Business Dining

hoi king heen is run by chef leung (梁輝雄) who has been with the restaurant for more than 15 years. the restaurant situates at the basement of the inconspicuous intercontinental grand sanford hotel (next to hotel nikko) in TST east, a district once frequented by the rich japanese but since then had been spiraling down. on a side note, i recently spoke with savills the real estate agent and was told that the TST east retail rental rate had plunged 20-25% in the last ten years, whereas the canton road area went up exponentially. the most expensive retail rental in hong kong (and the world) is the LV shop at canton road amounting to HK$5000+ per sqft per month, dwarfing the new york saks fifth by a far, far margin. do not underestimate the shopaholic mainlanders…

chopstickwinter melon stuffed with olive leaves (欖菜玉珠) – first came the award-winning winter melon dish. presentation was impressive – the melon balls were arranged to shape like a bunch of grapes and colored with a dash of finely shaved carrots. it looked so cute that i did not even want to eat it taste-wise was rather refreshing and subtle; the olive leaves were a bit salty and bitter, but matched nicely with winter melon’s light sweetness.

chopstickbeef brisket with papaya (萬壽果牛肋肉) – i do not eat beef, but i was told the beef brisket was tender and flavorful, while the papaya surprisingly matched the beef well and lightened up the otherwise slightly heavy dish.

chopstickglass prawn (玻璃蝦球) – this is one of my favorite chinese delicacies (功夫菜) that calls for skills and long preparation time. glass shrimps are usually made of tiger prawns, and in order appear snowy white (compared to the regular pink color), the prawns need to first be chilled overnight, then the shell, head, tail, intestines, and outer gray membrane removed (the memebrane gives the classic pink color) together with the ligament near leg area. marinate with egg white, pepper, salt, sugar, oil, for a couple of hours. blanch in boiling water for a couple of minutes then in hot oil (yes, you will get oil splattered all over so wear long sleeves!) et voila. the glass prawns at hoi king heen were excellent, but the truly remarkable was actually the shrimp paste that came with it – it was deeply flavorful, with heavy brine taste and slightly sandy texture that screamed shrimp roe. marvellous!

chopsticksweet spare ribs in secret sauce (蜜梅京燒骨) – this was my favorite dish for the night. the spare ribs had perfect fat proportion, and the secret sauce was simply addictive – it was sweet with a hint of tartness, and the spare ribs had a thin caramelized crust outside while the meat inside was crispy and juicy. the dish was chopstick-licking good – kudos!

chopstickpan-fried rice cake (家鄉煎茶果) – minced pork and pine nuts inside the glutinous rice cake. i really liked the shell, which was soft, fluffly, and less chewy than the regular chinese rice cake that gets stuck between your braces like bubblegum, if you have them.

it was a good dining experience, one of the best cantonese restaurants i have eaten at and yet not bloodsuckingly priced. the winter melon dish looked better than it tasted, and glass prawns were good though not great; but the spare ribs were very impressive while the soft rice cake was a nice finish. next time i would love to try the black truffle chicken...

full post with pics: http://randomnomad.wordpress.com/2011/01/23/hoi-king-heen/
 
Other Ratings:
Taste
 4  |  
Environment
 5  |  
Service
 4  |  
Hygiene
 5  |  
Value for Money
 4

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authentic breton Just OK Oct 25, 2010   
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Categories : French | Dessert


chopstick
as super typhoon megi decided to skip hong kong at the change of heart, me and N stuck to our original plan of doing brunch together at la creperie in wanchai. we both have been wanting to try this place for the longest time, but owing to its relatively long distance from central, we never manage to visit during the weekdays. la creperie is the only place i know of in hong kong that serves authentic breton galette – the crepe that you get from street stalls in CWB or mongkok are more japanese style crepes at best.

crepe is BIG in paris – it is like wonton noodles in hong kong, except crepe can be a street food and you are supposed to wash it down with a cup of cider. montparnasse is the “creperie” district, although elsewhere in paris you pretty much cannot walk for two blocks without passing by one – whether it’s a casual street stall or a more proper cafe. there are two types of crepes – crepe sucree, or sweet crepe, is made of wheat flour and usually consists of ingredients like chocolate and ice-cream; crepe salee is the savory kind, more commonly known as galette, that is made of buckwheat and traditional ingredients include ham and egg.

la creperie in wanchai only opened about six months ago but quickly became a hong kong address for homey authentic breton experience. the cafe actually belongs to a franchise that first opened its store in shanghai, and hong kong is its second outlet. chef and most of the staffs are french in the wanchai version, with high tables and wooden chairs that are comfortably far apart (those of you who have been to galette cafes in paris would know what i’m talking about). N and i arrived at 11.30am and had the place all to ourselves, though the place started filling up pretty quickly pass noon. we kicked off with a cup of cider and some galettes first:

chopstickgalette with salmon and spinach - it was indeed open-faced buckwheat galette and did not disappoint me. the pancake was thin and crispy, with tiny airholes that allowed for heat passing through. salmon and spinach can never go wrong with galette, and the sauce that came with lettuce was delightful. on the other hand, i thought the kitchen did not use enough butter to grease the pan before grilling the pancake, hence it lacked the rich buttery aroma that i was looking for. the piece of lemon on the side was also a bit unnecessary.

chopstickgalette with saint jacques, bacon, and wine cream – while the spinach galette was more filling and chewy, this one was more crispy and flavorful from the wine cream and bacon. scallop was frozen and bland and nothing to be particularly excited about, but the wine cream with bacon really went well together.

N and i are both food black-holes and we reached out to the menu again for sweet crepe…

chopstickcrepe with caramel ice-cream, banana, and salted caramel sauce - the crepe was slightly more crispy than what i would expect for a sweet crepe (which supposedly leans toward soft and chewy side), but it actually worked well with the crystalized salted caramel, which was deeply flavorful. a very gratifying dish…

chopstickcrepe with vanilla ice-cream, apricot, almond, chantilly cream - the chantilly cream was very flat and unstable… but pancake was more chewy than the caramel one.

overall the food was pretty good and authentic; definitely the best galette i’ve had in hong kong, probably will become my go-to place whenever my crave for galette creeps under, though still nothing to rave about. disappointing was a dire selection of cider, and the dry cider was not dry enough. salt and pepper shakers shaped like lighthouse on the table, but i prefer my black pepper fresh ground… then again, service was very prompt and friendly; many of the staffs speak french (the french chef probably an owner himself) and they have the typical non-parisian friendlines. i also like the customer mix; some locals, and a lot of families (hearing french half of the time) – cute toddlers with soft, curly hair.

full review with photos: http://randomnomad.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/la-creperie/
 
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 3  |  
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 4  |  
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 3  |  
Hygiene
 4  |  
Value for Money
 3

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Categories : Beijing | Chinese Restaurant | Fine Dried Seafood | Group Dining

the LCB alumni food network continued, this time at spring deer restaurant (鹿鳴春飯店). it is one of my favorite chinese restaurants, and my family comes here at least once a year for their famous peking duck. J tried to eat at spring deer when she last visited hk 3 years ago, but the waitress bluntly told her the restaurant was fully booked for the next 2 weeks then hung up… indeed, spring deer is one of the very few eateries in hk that you have to jump hoops in order to get a table, regardless of what day or time your reservation is. and it isn’t because the restaurant is snooty – it is simply that popular, even after 40 years of operation.
spring deer was founded in 1969 by a shandong immigrant and has been one of the most reputable northern chinese cuisine restaurant in hk since then. thanks to the wide coverage of japanese media/travel guide, spring deer is especially popular among the japanese tourists and you almost always find japanese to make up half of all customers anytime you visit. the restaurant is well known for its authentic cooking technique and use of premium ingredients. it’s all about food – the restaurant has minimal decor and most of the servers are old enough to be my grandpa~~
we arrived at 8.30pm on a monday evening and the restaurant was full house. once we sat down, the server immediately came over and looked at me as if i was supposed to know what to order already (which i did, actually…).
chopstick賽螃蟹 egg-white crab meat - the direct translation of its chinese name is “as good as crab” because it looks like crab meat; this dish is actually egg white quickly fried in hot oil, topped with shredded dried fish (黃魚肉絲) and raw egg yolk. it is my favorite dish at spring deer as all other chinese restaurants i have eaten at simply cannot do this right – either the egg white is overcooked or they substitute dried fish with something else. here at spring deer, the egg-white crab meat was very smooth, almost a little liquid, and retained good collagen-spongy texture. the dried fish was salty and flavorful, while the sour fish sauce served on the side helped to lighten greasiness. a simply unforgettable dish.
chopstick北京填鴨 peking roasted duck – chef slowly reeled out our duck and it was bloated from hot steam inside. like foie gras, the ducks used in this northern chinese signature dish are force-fed and kept in cages to restrain them from moving about, in order to fatten them up and make the meat comparably tender. the ducks is rubbed with spices, salt, and sugar, and air-dried for 3 hours. traditional peking duck has 120 slices per full-grownduck, but here at spring deer they use a younger duck and slice into 34 pieces to give more meat in each serving, because the duck itself has more fat there should be leek, cucumber, hoisin sauce, and chinese tortilla alongside to wrap with the duck.
chef sliced the duck in front of us and the whole process took 1 minute – it was partly for the show, but more because they wanted to serve the duck steaming hot. the skin was so light and crispy that it almost felt like rice paper, and the thick layer of fat did not feel too greasy because of the leek and cucumber. the duck was okay – i have had better roasted duck in beijing where they use real wood-fired oven, but with what law allows us to have in hk, spring deer’s roasted duck is one of the best i’ve had.
chopstick干燒二荀 fried vegetables - the dish was made of fried seaweed, sugar-coated roasted almonds, fried mushroom. the almond was salty while fried seaweed fully fragrant. there was probably minimal fiber left in this “vegetable” dish, but was really, really tasty.

chopstick糖醋豬脊 sweet sour pork – it’s not the regular sweet-sour pork as there was no pineapple or bell pepper. instead, it was lean, aromatic pork shoulder very lightly battered and deep fried. the crust was thin and a bit crunchy, whereas the meat inside was still firm, juicy, and meaty.
great authentic northern chinese food, and the peking duck did not disappoint. the waiters are actually very professional when it comes to food knowledge, only if you are patiently enough to stop them in the middle of whatever that they are always seemingly engaged in, and ask.
 
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 5  |  
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 3  |  
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 4  |  
Hygiene
 3  |  
Value for Money
 4

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