Thursday, July 31, 2014

Opera Menu at Nicholini’s, Conrad Hotel HK

 Chef Luca de Berardinis comes straight from the Michelin 1 starred il Milione,  and used to work alongside Chef Marco Gubbiotti.   Chef Luca will be revamping the new menu for Nicholini’s,  and also creating a ‘Flavours of Opera’ Menu for 9th of August.   This menu can be had for $1288,  and $1588 with Wine Pairings.



Polenta Musica Sheets,   Parmesan Cheese Puffs -
The polenta crisp were a novelty,  it tasted almost like buckwheat crisps.  Usually they are served as soft polenta or as a dried polenta like cous cous,  or as chips.  Who would have thought they could make it into Musica Sheets?   Off to a great start already.   The Cheese puffs were equally warm and memorable,  they were just like French gougeres,  the inside was surprisingly strong of cheese aroma and I think I detected a hint of Gorgonzola blue cheese somehow despite it being called Parmesan ?  9/10


View from Nicholini’s -
They are actually very famous for their weekend Brunch,  which has unlimited Foie Gras,  Pasta and a Main Course such as a steak.  I have been here before but never posted,  due to personal reasons. 



Focaccia, Italian Sourdough,  Grissini -
All made in-house.  The breads were flavorful,  albeit slightly softer than I imagined.  The grissino was crisp and fragrant.   None of the weird bready doughy version served elsewhere close-by,  but somehow HK foodies think is the best in town for unknown reasons…     

Amuse Bouche – Fried Fish Ball with Porcini sauce and Caviar
Nice starter and the sauce was pretty potent.   ~  8/10



Dry Ice Smoke with Fennel Flower -
A theatrical start to a meal,  sometimes you find it to be cliched,  but for a hotel Italian Fine-Dining meal it actually became a surprise..

Salted Cod Fish with Roasted Potatoes in Red Vinegar,  Dry Olive Powders and Roasted Peppers -
The salted cod fish were surprisingly still quite fresh,  which means they must be home cured,  but ultimately it was not salty or packed with umami flavours enough.   The roasted potatoes were a little too limp to my liking.   I thought this would be a nice dish and even slightly Spanish,   but I wanted more flavour impact somewhat and may be also more fish to potatoes ratio.   But things afterwards went back up to standards if not more.   ~  5/10


Thickish Balsamic Vinegar with IGP status -
Actually this was pretty tasty and viscous,  despite not being of Tradizionale D.O.P status certified.

Piedmontese ‘Fessona’ hand-chopped Beef Tartare, Fried Egg Yolk,  Shallot Confit and Salad,  with Shaved Summer Truffles -
A dish also served at il Milione,  the Piedmont sourced beef is the IT in Italy right now for being served raw and I have had it a few times recently there,  since it is an aged and muscular cow and flavorful but too chewy to eat when too cooked.  This one was made from Fessona rump cut.   The beef flavour was definitely stronger when I had it in Italy for some reason,  but this made up for it with the panko crusted fried egg yolk,  and tonight I did noticed our truffles weren’t the normal Summer Truffles in colour.   Indeed Chef Luca explained somehow he got a batch of Summer Black Truffles which might have originated from France instead and all the better!   ~  8.5/10



Fascarelli pasta (think Spaetzle),  with Green Pea soup,  and Tuna Bottarga -
Another super thoughtful dish and actually quite authentic back at home.   The pasta was hand ripped and retained a nice bite,  the Bottarga was surprisingly dense and flavor packed and there is no guessing that this is the Tuna variant and not the Mullet Mugine version.   Every small detail counts here,  it totally reminded me of il Milione.   ~  9/10



Wine Pairing to go with the Food -
Won’t elaborate into the finer details today.  
I think the focus really was on the food tonight.


“Caponata” with Smoked Eggplant cubes,  Fried Eggplant Skins, Eggplant Puree,  and Ravioli stuffed with Octopus & Ricotta Cheese,  served with Pizzaiola sauce -
Again totally reminding me of il Milione’s subtle micro-tuning style.   The Eggplant if you read again is presented in 3 different ways,  and the smoked cubes were very noticeable.   The ravioli were also great and served with a tomato herbs based sauce,  not akin to a ‘pizza’ sauce.   How interesting is that?    You will have to be really passionate about food to pull this trick off.   ~  9/10



Some Chianti Classico for the Opera Menu pairing -

Spanish Tuna Tonno under Fried Potato Nest,  Cured Salmon Roes,  Chard,  Fava Beans,  Mango Puree,  Basil Oil -
This was interesting as the potato nest was almost Picturesque-like.   The salmon caviars were also a bit more cured than fresh which is exciting personally and unique.   The Tuna was to me a little too cooked dense,  but overall I liked this concept if it can be tweaked a little bit better,  starting with the core tuna which can be rarer.  ~  7/10

Sgroppino Lemon,  Vanilla and Prosecco Sorbet – with Cardamom scent beneath
This was a really pleasing palate cleanser,  and on initial sniff one can already tell the bottom layer was lined with a different perfume – one of the guests instantly picked up on the scent!   This traditional cocktail/sorbet recipe was received with acclaim.  It was so refreshing yet just like the above Dry Iced Fennel flower effort,  this was another surprise and actually reminded me of a meal at Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca.  (Review:  El Celler de Can Roca)


Some Moscato d’Asti -
I know expectations vs reality is hard to please.  Even if this concept is also so cliched as a finale drink.   I have got to say…   It’s pleasing,  but I know of many other pleasing options too from within Italy and nearby regions.   I don’t want to sound arrogant,  but there are so many un-explored sweetish wines from within Europe that I miss,  and I am sure there are equally others that I haven’t tried.  



Warm Olive Oil and Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Sorbet and Balsamic Vinegar -
This was interesting as a warm Olive-Chocolate cake sat on top of the sorbet.   It was flowing too and totally unconventional.   It’s good to play around with food sometimes?   I expected more olive oil taste but in the end I detected it somehow.    ~  7/10

There’s a few Pasticcini here -
The stood out was the Madeleine,  which carries a recipe from a Michelin 2* restaurant from Paris.  This was so fragrant,  it beats anything in town easily with their secret recipe.  The rest of the platter was Italian and done well too,  but the Madeleines were really wow,  I haven’t even had this standard in France itself in the top Restaurants or Patisseries..   Got to try to believe.    ~  9.5/10





Price:  HKD $1288 - $1588 Per Person with Wines Inclusive  (Meal was by Invitation)
Ease of Access:  4/5
Food:  ♕♕♕♕ – ♕♕♕♕♕ 1/2 

Address: 金鐘金鐘道88號太古廣場港麗酒店8樓
8F Conrad Hotel, 88 Pacific Place,  Queensway Road,  Admiralty,  Hong Kong 
Ph: 2521 3838

Monday, July 28, 2014

怡東軒 Yee Tung Heen - Excelsior Hotel

  Actually this is at least my 5th visit to Yee Tung Heen,  sometimes by myself and sometimes by Invitation by the Hotel’s courtesy.  Unfortunately I can’t find some of my photos of my visits as I lost a memory card or it could be hidden in some folders somewhere.   For example,  their braised Beef Ribs here are amazing indeed and at just over $310,  one of the most memorable Cantonese dishes I remember having in Hong Kong...   Their Chef Wong King Keung used to be only 2nd in command to Michelin 1* Chef Lee at Mandarin Oriental’s Man Wah restaurant,  which is a sister hotel.    I am sure the Food & Beverage Director Sammy Wu who was asked to take over charge of the Hotel food here,  has made a major contribution too as it has steadily seen an improvement.  I saw it upstairs at Tott’s and also at the famed Dickens Bar downstairs,  and it shows having Quality Control makes a huge difference.    I have to say the food here has been amazing over the past few visits and this is currently performing than many other Michelin starred restaurants in town,  so I wouldn’t be surprised if it received some come the end of the year.   (Sorry I wished I can share all photos with you of some of the amazing dishes we ate here,  until I find them on my computer again). 


Rose Tea -
To start off the meal..


琥珀鯇魚片 – Fried Grass Carp Fish in Vinegar and Ginger
This is a new dish invented by Chef Wong here,  using a fresh water fish which is normally just boiled in congee or even eaten raw.  The result was very unique and almost Shanghainese or Zhejiang like,  a very clever combination in technique and without worries about the parasites.   Done perfectly and also inventive..  ~  12/10

蜜汁叉燒,  化皮乳豬 ,  金黃蟹拑酥  -  BBQ Charsiu Pork,  Suckling Pig,  Crab Claw Puff Pastry
I have had some of these before.   The Crab Claw Puff Pastry was again unique and daring,  taking Cantonese cuisine into the next level.   The Suckling Pig was devoid of fat but with a nice meatiness and at least Crispy skin,  which can’t be taken for granted always.   The Char Siu pork polarises -  it uses a special muscle which is nearer the neck,  just like sister 1* Restaurant Man Wah.  It is crispier and has a nice bite to it and with a right amount of sugariness,  but texture wise some people like this bounciful bite,  some will think it is not tender enough.  I wonder how the Michelin guys will think…   Personally very well done.   ~  8 to 9/10



雙生金魚餃, 鮑魚燒賣 – Vegetarian and Prawn Gold Fish,  with Abalone Siu Mai
The Gold Fish twins might look alike,  but one is vegetarian with truffles and mushrooms.   The other one is a prawn dumpling.   You can see the difference with the way the eyes are dotted differently.  The Abalone Siu Mai was done well,  but the abalone was kind of petite just to fit.   Interesting concept overall.   ~  8/10



神灣菠蘿脆蝦球 -  Fried Prawns in a Sweet & Sour sauce,  with Chinese Ripe Pineapple,  Bell Peppers,  Fried Flour Nest -
A very thoughtful dish and so presentable.   Everything was done right even down to the specially sourced famous Pineapples in season,  and even the presentation was amazingly done for Cantonese cuisine.   ~  10/10



金湯竹笙釀菜苗 - Stuffed Bamboo Piths with Seasonal Vegetables served in Pumpkin Soup
I have eaten this before here.   Whilst I liked this concept,  somehow I thought the bamboo piths were a bit dry on this occasion,  although to be fair this was coated beneath with pumpkin puree soup.   May be it was just missing some Chicken stock taste somewhere?   ~  6.9/10



榴槤班戟, 榴槤焗西米布甸,  榴槤流沙飽 – D24 Durian Pancake,  Durian Sago Pudding,  Durian Lava bun
Have got to give Kudos to a Hotel kitchen for making these,  as they can be potent and alienating other customers.  All were done pretty well and sweetly,  the sago pudding was caramelized but could carry more D24 Durian flavour.  The crepe wrapping seemed a bit under-cooked pale but was ok.   The Bun was looking like a hedgehog but the best with the flowing durian paste!     7/10



陳皮紅豆沙 - Sweet Bean Soup with 12 Years Aged Orange Peels
Actually they have several options here,  different aged peels will cost differently.   This is the middle option apparently and using Japanese Hokkaido red beans.   I like the concept,  but personally despite the claimed 80% Red Bean sandy with 20% Red Bean Puree texture,  it was not liquidy enough to me.   The viscocity was making me feel like this is red bean porridge,  and the aged peels were too strong and over powering the red beans.  I appreciate the effort and planning behind it though….    ~  6/10




薑汁奶凍 – Ginger and Milk Pudding
Quite strong in their respective flavours,  although I prefer them to be smoother and less set somehow.   Still good.  ~  7/10


粉櫻花杏汁卷,  黑白芝麻卷 -  Almond Film Roll with Seasonal Sakura Flower,  Black Sesame & White Sesame Roll -
The stand out point about these is that the alternating layers are so thin.   The White and Black sesame roll is the best of its class in Hong Kong without competition,  the taste was potent too.  The Almond milk roll was also detectable,  but what I liked about it was it’s Sakura flower decoration to make it interesting.   Very thoughtful recipe and not my 1st time having these…  Good to encore.   ~  10/10


Price:  HKD $400 - $500 Per Person
Ease of Access:  3/5
Food:  ♕♕♕♕ 1/2 to ♕♕♕♕♕♕

Address: 銅鑼灣告士打道281號怡東酒店2樓
281 Gloucester Road,  2F Excelsior Hotel,  Causeway Bay,  Hong Kong
Ph:  2837 6790

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ole - Still a Solid Spanish Institution

 Ole was one of the first and foremost authentic Spanish Restaurants to set foot in Hong Kong and given the current Contemporary and Molecular Spanish food movements,  luckily Ole retained it’s original Spanish spirit in concept.   Back in the days,  the Real Madrid football players designated Ole restaurant as their default dining hall whenever they travelled past Hong Kong.    After many meals here including my recent 2 visits,  I did occasionally see Ups and Downs in certain dishes but it definitely performs better than the norm and was the earliest Spanish Restaurant to set such a high benchmark in Hong Kong.   Catalunya nowadays is hard to beat,  whilst Fofo by El Willy is on an improving course.  Fadango was ok for a while until their Head Chef left.  The common denominator is that all 4 abovementioned restaurants simultaneously received Michelin Guide recommendations for various reasons – but if you ask me,  I will always recommend Ole if you want proper Down-to-Earth Spanish food   (Another Previous Review:  Ole ).



Olives,  Potato Salad,  Bread,  Spanish Olive Oil -
It has been like this for a while. 
The potato salad is always dependable.


36 Months Spanish Jamon Ham -
This is usually pretty good,  but this night’s one was a little lacking taste and marbling despite being well aged.  Might be the part of the leg that was sliced?…  ~  6/10




Spanish Enate Wine,  Crianza -
This was suggested by the restaurant and it was really lovely,  well structured and nearly ready to drink.   Made of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon.




Fried Spanish Sardines -
Interesting as they came without any herbs,  so they must be super confident about the freshness of these babies.   They were plump and fresh.   ~  8/10




Gambas al Ajillo -
Prawns with Fried Garlic and Olive Oil,  which was eaten on a 2nd night.   The version here has always been the best in Hong Kong,  with bubbly oil which gives off that fragrant note,  the prawns are plump and crunchy.   Time for more bread to soak in the sauce,  if your date doesn’t mind the garlicky taste afterwards!   ~  9/10



Jamon & Chicken Croquetas -
This had some thickly diced ham but couldn’t taste much chicken.   For Hong Kong standards,  this is one of the best ones in town still apart from Catalunya.   The ones I ate in Spain all have a even more gooey bechamel texture in comparison.   ~  7/10




Cod Fish Stuffed Piquillo Peppers -
This was super duper delicious, with a bit of bechamel again.  Some people like them to be more rawer and stuffed with goat cheese,  but this version had it’s own appeal and its served piping hot with gratinated cheese on top.  And guess whose hand that is?   Someone I used to loved a lot,  and I held her hand everyday if I could because I believed in us and wanted to marry.  And I even bought her that watch,  and now it’s over.  It’s all part of life isn’t it?!     ~  9/10



Grilled Spanish Carabineros Prawns -
The shells have been peeled,  a pet peeve of mine,  as the legs and the shells are where a lot of the red prawns flavours lie.   Some restaurant do the same, but they make it into a prawn stock instead.   The version here didn’t and despite the prawns being so huge,  I think it could do with more red prawn flavours especially with the missing shells and legs.  Grilled to the right cooking level however   ~  6.5/10




Baby Squid stuffed with Prawns and Almonds -
A perennial favourite here,  today’s version had less almond taste than before.  The squid ink flavour was ok decent,  the squid were fresh.   I have had better versions of this before as I always order this every time,  but it’s not too shabby.   ~  7.5/10




Eggplant Stuffed with Mushroom & Vegetable Mousseline -
It is like a Greek Moussaka but with mushrooms instead of meat.  Quite liked this and its under-rated,  and also a unique recipe to find in Hong Kong context.   ~  8/10




Hake Fish with Clams ‘Basque’ Way -
Topped with a prawn.  This was just alright.  I didn’t think the individual flavours sang out enough for me.   ~  6/10



Seafood Paella – $460
This was 1 of 2 paellas we tried.   For some unknown reason,  it tasted a lot better and stronger in flavours on a 2nd night below..   ~  7/10




Seafood Paella No. 2 -
I daresay this is one of the finest paellas I tried in Hong Kong or even Spain,  it was full of Seafood essence and Saffron flavours.   The rice was cooked perfectly too and with a bottom ‘Socarrat’ layer which was almost crispy,  which defers from the modern versions which are finished off on the salamander and has a top socarrat somehow,  at certain other places and confusing…   If only the prawns were better   ~  9/10





More Wines -
Interesting that the 3rd last time I ate here,  I ate with the same people for dinner.



Roasted Suckling Pig ‘Segovian’ Style -
Ole has always made one of the best Suckling Pigs,   even counting in Spain and Madrid.   Tonight’s version was a little off it’s peak as it used to carry a lot of Pig Fat basting taste.  At least the skin was crispy enough as always – and also at sister shop Case Lisboa which does a decent one too.  I have to say honestly that out of the last few times I ate this at Ole,  it is slightly lacking some aroma compared to the past somehow and it’s kind of obvious.   ~  7.5/10



Roasted Spanish Pyrenees Baby Lamb Shoulder – $295
It was Spring time,  and this is probably the best lamb you can get during this season in the world.  The young lamb’s flavour was stronger than I imagined in a manageable way.  Served with Green Mojo sauce.   ~  7.5/10

Crema Catalana -
A crème brulee with starch and on fire!  The version here has always been decent and served with a little orange zest flavour,  and plenty of actions.  I don’t recall not ordering this during most of my visits.   ~  8/10



Leche Milk Fritter -
AFAIK,  the only place in HK serving this.
  It’s milk custard coagulated then deep fried.   It’s niche but it’s unique,  so why not?    ~  7/10




Torrijas -
A caramelized French Toast equivalent,  with figs and ice cream.   This dessert didn’t used to appear on menus much locally but all of a sudden most Spanish restaurants are providing it.  This version was decent as at least it had a dry crispy edge.  The best version I have had so far is at Zurriola,  TST.   This one comes second.  ~  7.5/10




Churros with Chocolate -
The churros weren’t greasy but as usual in HK,  are a little denser than in Spain.  The Chocolate dip as I always say is served in a Cup in Spain like a drink,  here at least it was concentrated and almost fudge like unlike other places serving it watered down.  ~  6.5/10

Chocolate Fondant -
This was eaten on another night again.   The coulant’s taste was good,  it was medium runny as expected by European standards.      ~  7/10




Price:  HKD $400 - $500 Per Person
Ease of Access:  3/5 
Food:  ♕♕♕ 1/2 – ♕♕♕♕♕

Opening Hours -
Open until 2am to 3am usually.
Address: 中環雪廠街24-30號順豪商業大廈1樓
1/F, Shun Ho Tower, 24-30 Ice House Street,, Central
Ph: 2523 8624



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