2016 Dining Recap

 

Having visited a handful of Michelin starred, World’s 50 Best and other top restaurants in Asia and Europe, 2016 was great dining year. My journey began at Hong Kong where I dined at Lung King Heen, the very first three Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in the world. Needless to say, it had an extremely high quality Cantonese food. The restaurants location on the fourth floor of the Four Season hotel boasts a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor. The two Michelin-starred Amber at Landmark Mandarin Oriental offers a terrific weekend wine lunch which consists of five courses paired with four glasses of wine. This was one of the best deals out there at 928 HKD for a restaurant at this caliber. Dinner at the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (the only of the L’Ateliers with three Michelin stars) was also quite superb.

I waited in queue for hours at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po, which at that time was the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world (until that distinction was awarded to Singapore’s Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken in the summer of last year). The dim sum was tasty and I enjoyed every single dish that I had. Frog legs and chicken congee at Tasty Congee & Wuntun Noodle Shop in the IFC was nothing short of delicious. Even better was the chicken and fish congee at the concierge recommended Sang Kee Congee Shop in Sheung Wan. 208 Ducento Otto serves up wonderful cocktails while Angel Share Whisky Bar & Restaurant and its expansive list of whisky is a must-visit for enthusiast while in Hong Kong.

That same journey through Asia led me to Tokyo, Japan. I had my very first meal in this sprawling metropolis at RyuGin, Chef Seiji Yamamoto’s flagship restaurant which has three Michelin stars and ranked number 31 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurant. The modern kaiseki that it serves is a reflection of the agricultural bounty of Japan. With each dish skillfully prepared, this was one of the best meals I’ve had. In Ginza, the Omakase at the three Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshitake did not disappoint. The fish and other seafood used in every single piece of Nagiris were extremely fresh. Sushi might be star of the show at this restaurant, but the cooked dishes were equally sublime. It was highlighted by the abalone liver sauce mixed with sushi rice which was a mind-blowing dish that still resonates in my memory.

Hideki Ishikawa is Japan’s most decorated chef/restaurateur with three restaurants under his belt totaling eight Michelin stars. He also has the distinction shared by the likes of the Robuchon’s , the Keller’s and the Ducasse’s to have two restaurants at the same with the maximum rating from the Michelin guide. At his eponymous Ishikawa, I was served a wonderful contemporary style kaiseki that shows simplicity with plenty of subtle flavors. I also visited Kohaku the other three star restaurant of Chef Ishikawa, which is located in the same area and within walking distance from each other. The kitchen is under Koji Koizumi a disciple of Chef Ishikawa. There are many of similarities between them, but the two are distinctly different at the same time. Kohaku is a more modern prepared kaiseki that incorporate foreign ingredients, which are not usually use in Japanese cuisine.

Japan is surprisingly home to one of the finest French restaurant outside of France. Others can argue that it might better than its home country due to the high quality of ingredients it uses produced by Japan. Many of the top French chefs has an outpost sprinkled throughout country, but a large number of them are concentrated in Tokyo. I had a superb tasting menu at Chef Pierre Gaganaire, Two restaurant Peirre Gagnaire Au Tokyo on the 35floor of the ANA Intercontinental, which was awarded two Michelin stars. Each plate were carefully crafted, using only the finest local ingredients. As a bonus, guests enjoyed the scenic view of the whole city as the backdrop while dining. In Roppongi Hills, I dined at Chef of the Century Joel Robochon L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. Along with Paris, the Tokyo branch is one of the first L’Ateliers. Having previously gone to the Hong Kong location, these two Michelin starred restaurant are a lot more casual, yet the quality of food is equally top-notched.

Inside the train station in Ginza, resides a minuscule ramen shop called Kagari Echika, which has garnered a lot of following. They served me tasty bowl of ramen, with a broth that has a certain delightful creaminess. In Shinjuku, high above the mall of the train station is Tenichi, where I had some delicate fried tempura accompanied with fresh sashimi. While at Sushi Mamire, I was served with affordable yet enjoyable pieces of sushi and rolls. Pagliaccio Due in Shiba, is an Italian restaurant that serves pleasant dishes like the Seafood Rissotto, and the spaghetti with fish. Night caps in the New York Bar at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, were made lively with tunes from a funky jazz show. Soon after I feasted with the hotel famous weekend brunch. Finally, visiting Japan is not complete without trying the world famous Kobe beef. At Kobe Beef Kaiseki 511, I had a magical experience without breaking the bank. The beef was as good as advertised, and every bite was heavenly like cotton candy that melts in the mouth.

From Izakaya’s, to noodle shops, to high end kaiseki, sushi (as well as low end), and to fine French restaurants, I had the greatest time dining in Tokyo. The uncompromising use of quality ingredients in this city restaurant makes Tokyo the gastronomic capital of the world. The two weeks I spent there was simply not enough.

The next stop in my search and passion for fine dining was a short trip to Basel, Switzerland. I had the opportunity to dine at the three Michelin star, Cheval Blanc. The restaurant is located in one of Europe’s oldest hotel Le Trois Rois. Bavarian chef Pete Knogl, is in charge of the kitchen and under his leadership Cheval Blanc was elevated to culinary stardom. The tasting menu has global influences and shows the precision cooking technique of Chef Knogl. Each dish was light and has a fantastic complex combination of flavors and textures.

I couldn’t end 2016 without grazing the home front for some great eats. After all, no one can beat New York City in anything, (at least to a New Yorker that is). I had very good meals at the Upper East Side’s, The NUAA. This beautifully decorated restaurant serves refined Thai fare that’s geared towards the Western palate. Last year, I saw an onslaught of new eateries opening up in the Financial District improving the neighborhood’s restaurants scene. Among them is Eataly Downtown which opened to the public last summer. Much smaller than its older siblings in the Flatiron, this mega food market brought a slew of dining options that includes another outlet of the seafood haven, Il Pesce. The restaurant offers appetizing sustainable seafood prepared in the simplest form. As the last stop of my 2016 journey, West Village Carma Asian Tapas, served an unmatchable creative Far Eastern fare in small plate format. I enjoyed the way the kitchen recreated classic Chinese dishes, as well as using other Western ingredients that aren’t usually found in Asian cooking.

Though 2016 didn’t boast much of my hometown’s variety of eateries, it was a star studded year of dining in the international level. Overall, I would say it was great and successful year of eating. I’m looking forward to an even better 2017 where I plan to focus on New York City, its outer boroughs and state side. Hopefully, I can sprinkle few international trips here and there.

Lung King Heen ***

Dining Room

Lung King Heen
At The Four Seasons Hotel
8 Finance St, Central
Hong Kong, China
+852 3196 8888
Official Site

Similar to my home city of New York, Hong Kong has a diverse culinary scene. Restaurants that serve authentic Chinese cuisine from different regions of China are mixed in with western fare often located in small alley ways, inside hotels and, high end malls. Though there are many options that are readily available, Cantonese food still reigns supreme in Hong Kong. From high end to the retrospective hole in the wall, eateries at different price points are seen throughout the city. For fine dining the three Michelin star Lung King Heen in the Four Season Hotel is considered the apex of the bunch.

Lung King Heen’s kitchen is under the guidance of chef de cuisine Chan Yan-tak who was convinced by the Four Season to come out from retirement. His contemporary Cantonese style cooking at this restaurant has won him many accolades. He was the first Chinese chef to receive the maximum rating from the Michelin guide and Lung King Heen has the distinction as the first three Michelin starred Chinese restaurant in the world which it had presently retained since 2009. It was also ranked among the top dining venues in Asia according to the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant list.

The Restaurant

Perched on the fourth floor of the hotel, the name of the restaurant is translated in English to “view of dragon” and offers an unobstructed view of the Victoria Harbor from its large windows. The Asian themed dining room is spacious and can seat more than a hundred guests at a time. Its subtle interior is designed with low ceilings made from wavy silver plates, plenty of dark wood finish, and tables that were close to one another are covered in whites.

Dining Room Dining Room

The menu is expansive with many varieties, typical of a Chinese restaurant. There are two tasting menus available for dinner and set menus for lunch. To get the experience of Chef Yan-tak cooking on my visit I elected for the “Chef Tasting Menu” for 1880 HKD ($230). An amuse of Crispy Scallop with Fresh Pear and Yunnan Ham to start. Gone in one bite, this deep fried ball has a burst of interesting flavors, creating a terrific intro to the tasting menu.

Chef Tasting Menu:

Crispy Scallop with Fresh Pear and Yunnan Ham

Lung King Heen Appetiser Combination (Crispy Suckling Pig, Barbecued Pork with Honey, and Roast Goose with Plum Sauce

The first course was a delightful trio of goodness, Lung King Heen Appetiser Combination (Crispy Suckling Pig, Barbecued Pork with Honey, and Roast Goose with Plum Sauce).  Each had a different kind of crunchiness as well as having diverse types of tenderness. Next was the Sweet Corn Soup with Lobster and Minced Chicken, this had a well acquainted character to the palate but was far superior. The soup with its thick starchiness and tasty minced chicken that was mixed in with lobster meat provided a distinct context. Simmered King Prawn with Seafood Sauce was next. A large piece of prawn bathed in rich seafood sauce which sat on top of green leafy vegetables was a hearty sea food offering.

I was then served the Braised Abalone with Star Garoupa Rolls in Supreme Oyster Sauce. It had a beautiful combination of contrasting textures of the chewiness from the braised abalones and softness from the steamed garoupas. The “supreme” oyster sauce provided profound saltiness while the stem of broccoli offered bitterness as well as another aspect to the dish. The meal proceeded with the Wok-Fried Superior Australian Wagyu Beef Cubes with Morel Mushrooms and Bell Peppers, superb Wagyu beef was immensely tender and had scrumptious flavors. As a complement, the beef was cooked with fresh vegetables, bell peppers, and morel mushroom. The Shredded Chicken and Vegetable Dumpling in Superior Pottage followed after. Sunken in pottage was a hefty piece of dumpling with a delightful filling of chicken and vegetables. The thick pottage was wonderful and savory.

Wok-Fried Superior Australian Wagyu Beef Cubes with Morel Mushrooms and Bell Peppers

Shredded Chicken and Vegetable Dumpling in Superior Pottage

For dessert I was served Ginger Soup with Sweet Potato and Glutinous Rice Dumplings, a syrupy soup that was a little filling. It yielded an extra bit of sweetness from the sweet potatoes while the rice dumplings absorbed the sugary character of the ginger soup. Finishing the tasting was fruit gelatin and biscuit made from rice, both were not too sweet which was perfect after having the the previous dessert.

Ginger Soup with Sweet Potato and Glutinous Rice Dumplings

To sit over a hundred guest for both lunch and dinner and to continuously produce high quality food is unreal. There will be misses but on this particular dinner the restaurant did not falter. Though lacking the “blew me away” factor in the “Chef Tasting Menu” it was still a very good meal. The cooking is restrained with many familiar taste profiles that were elevated by the sheer quality of ingredients used. The dishes were refined and were plated with sophistication, keeping the appeal to western palate without alienating the locals. I added the wine paring with this tasting for an additional 600 HKD ($77) considering the fact that wine mark up in Hong Kong is exuberant this wasn’t badly priced. The sommelier was able to curate European wines that properly matched with the cuisine.

Fruit Gelatin and Biscuit

Being a restaurant in a hotel chain with global presence the service was geared toward foreign clientele. The dining room was fully occupied with an even number of locals and westerners. With so many tables, Lung King Heen employs enough staff to keep the high standard of service. The different servers that I had were particularly engaging. They would pass by every so often at my table without disrupting my meal but was fully aware if I needed any assistance.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

It was both novelty and wanting to try an authentic high end Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong that led me to Lung King Heen. Prior to coming here, my expectations were very high and were achieved in the end. This restaurant can very well be the measuring stick for Chinese haute cuisine.

There are less than 120 restaurants with three Michelin stars worldwide. Attaining one it takes a lot of consistency to produce the highest quality service on a daily basis. In Hong Kong it was believed to be that the guide’s criteria is a lot less rigorous than Europe, Japan and even in the United States. So when Lung King Heen was awarded three stars it was debated and criticized. Many had liked it as well as disliked. If basing it on as a Chinese restaurant the food was very good and the service was flawless but the question still remains if this restaurant is “worth a special journey”. Well I believe it depends on the individual to decide.

 

 

Tim Ho Wan (Sham Shui Po) *

IMG_5629

Tim Ho Wan Sham Shui Po
9-11 Fuk Wing Stree
Hong Kong, China
+852 2132 0066

In the world of gastronomy receiving the Michelin stars usually equate to higher prices, Hong Kong’s Tim Ho Wan is an exception. This dim sum restaurant has the distinction as the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world. Opened in 2009 by Mak Kwai-pui, a former chef of the three Michelin starred Lung King Heen, it has since expanded throughout Hong Kong and throughout the Far East as well as in Sydney, Australia. Its original location in Mong Kok had closed down a few years ago due to rising rent prices and relocated to another part of Hong Kong. There are currently two branches with a star, the North Point and Sham Siu Po, and since the latter was the oldest it was the one that I chose to visit.

Armed with two other companions we arrived for a late lunch on Sunday afternoon. There was still a large crowd of locals and tourist waiting for their number to be called. We waited for about twenty minutes before we were seated. The place was noisy and every table occupied. There’s nothing special with the décor of the restaurant, just plain wood tables and chairs making, New York City Chinatown’s Golden Unicorn and Jin Fong high end in comparison.

Dining Room

Unlike the places in New York City, where the food carts are being pushed around, here you fill up a paper menu, check what you want to order then you give it your server. One by one small plates of goodness start to flow. Steamed chicken feet with black bean sauce, an all-time great at a dim sum place, gelatinous chicken feet doused in black bean sauce had tremendous flavor. Steamed rice with meat & dry cuttle fish had a creaminess to it. The rice was covered in savory meat and cuttle fish. It was hearty and definitely filling. Poached fresh seasonal vegetables where the Chinese cabbage still retained the leafy aspect. Steamed dumplings in chu chow style had a filling that was a mixture of shrimp and fresh vegetables which made for a chewy dumplings.

MenuThe steamed egg cake had a delicate and puffy texture as each bite left my palate wanting more. Steamed chicken with mushroom where the chicken meat was so tender that it fell right of the bone. Steamed with mushroom, peppers and garlic it infused beautiful flavor in the chicken. Nicely done pan-fried beef buns filled with satay paste had a wonderful fried crusty middle. Its beef stuffing marinated in satay paste was deliciously sweet yet savory. Steamed beef balls with bean curd skin, compact juicy beef balls oozed with oily goodness.  A dish that makes a normal appearance at almost every dim sum restaurant in New York City, Vermicelli roll stuffed with shrimp. At Tim Ho Wan the vermicelli was a little thick but worked well in absorbing the soy sauces provided. There’s also the Cantonese classic, Pan-fried turnip cake, a crunchy outer layer while soft in the inside. This was a pleasant and modest dish.

We were satisfied at the end that we decided to forgo dessert. My companion and I were all in agreement and enjoyed our meal. Out total damaged was about 250 HKD including tax and 10 percent service charge (about $32) for ten shared dishes and just tea to drink. This was an excellent value for your money.

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: Weblizar

At Tim Ho Wan don’t expect Michelin starred service, the staff is efficient and direct but not rude. There were times that a server had to yell out to the guest for their orders as the rooms got extremely noisy. Our meal was quick but we did not feel rushed at all since the food started coming out soon after we ordered. We gave ourselves enough time to help digest but at the same time we were not inconsiderate of those waiting for tables.

Tim Ho Wan is a humble restaurant that serves authentic dim sum. The food is simple, focusing more on taste than presentation, When the Michelin guide awarded this restaurant a star it caused a shockwave to the restaurant world. There was backlash from pundits and food enthusiast alike and the credibility of the guide was questioned. In a city with a myriad of dim sum restaurants was Tim Ho Wan the only one that the Michelin inspector thought worthy of the star? I’m pretty sure there is a lot more deserving but if based on the criteria of a one star “a very good restaurant in its category”, Tim Ho Wan is a very a good dim sum restaurant.