Tuesday, March 27, 2012

华城鱼港: Cheap And Fresh Seafood in ShenZhen!

With plenty of food choices in the bustling (and messy) city of ShenZhen, my preferred choice for dinner is always seafood, as you can get really fresh catches at rock-bottom prices. And at the seafood street of 乐园路, we always go for 华城鱼港!

Well actually its my dad's favourite choice as he claimed to have tried many places along the road and still come back here for more. After you get a table in the ever-filled three storey building, head right out with your table number and see for yourself the catches of the day!

On a side note, the thing that I couldn't quite stand about China is the atrocious smoking culture, even in air-conditioned places. Smoke-free areas are almost unheard of and it is very likely for you to sit beside a table of smokers who will puff as they eat. My advice? Pay a little more for private rooms if you are smoke-intolerant!

Poached Prawns, Steamed Scallops With Vermicelli

Now on to the food! Probably alive and jumping just 2 minutes before serving, the prawns were brimming with natural flavours and a joy to snack on with a dash of superior soy sauce.

I remember these were going for less than a SGD dollar apiece on my first visit years ago and now they sill are (RMB 5)! Steamed simply with a dash of garlic, I loved how the vermicelli soaked up all the juicy goodness. More rounds wouldn't hurt the pocket too!

Stir-Fried Baby Clams, Stir-Fried Razor Clams

A quick round in the wok with black pepper sauce and diced capsicums, these little shells opened up to reveal fresh, crunchy meat. My vote went to the razor clams for its extra chewy texture. Perfect with beer!

Scallion Pancakes, Braised Meat Platter

While everything here would go well with rice, they did have some special carbo creations to keep things interesting. A pity that our savoury pancakes were served a little cold and hardened.

And its not only about the sea treasures here! They also had a mind-boggling number of side dishes, of which we rather like this platter for its well-braised flavours.

Steamed Fish, Mantis Shrimps With Salt & Pepper

Freshness? Check. Smooth, tender meat? Check. Superior soy sauce? Check. What more can you ask for Cantonese-styled steam fish?

Now my dad love mantis shrimps for its resemblance to baby lobsters, and he lamented that we didn't go in the season when the shrimps had plenty of roe in them. Oh well, next time then!

Can't remember the exact pricing, but I'm pretty sure that the meal for three cost less than RMB300 ~ SGD 60. With the same amount of money, you can't even eat a quarter of the stuff we had in Singapore! Absolutely value for money and a pitstop in ShenZhen for me everytime!

Tel: (0755) 8218 1660
Directions: The seafood street is a fast 3 minutes walk away from 湖贝 MRT station. But in any case, just stick your hand out on the street for a cab la.

Taken with Nikon D70
Thursday, March 22, 2012

老妈家庭厨房: Back to Spicy Hunan Cuisine!

A trip back to Hong Kong is never complete without hopping over to neighbouring ShenZhen. While I don't really fancy the Chinese city to be honest, the fact that it is the world's factory means workers flock from all over China and bring their local cuisines along with them. And coming over for just an authentic meal of Hunan food (湖南菜) is well worth the journey! The place? Old Mama's Kitchen!

Now to call it Hunan cuisine is really quite a misnomer. Here's a little FYI that I dug out from Baidu aka China's Google:

Hunan food is actually a representative of Xiang Cuisine (湘菜), which along with Cantonese (粤菜), Sichuan (川菜), Fuzhou (闽菜) and 4 other major cuisines, formed China's Eight Major Cuisines (八大菜系). What Old Mama served is very similar to Hunan food, called XiangXi food (湘西菜) that particularly specialises in waxed meat.

Tsingtao Beer

Too much info? Just remember that the food here is really sourish and spicy . Trust me, that bottle of beer came in very handy. You will probably need more than one!

Cold Mixed Black Fungus (凉拌黑木耳)

Served as an appetiser, the black fungus here was nothing like the sort you see in Singapore. Each one was ultra small and shaped like a cap, very crunchy and refreshing with its blend of vinegar and diced chilli. Warmed up for what's to come next!

Baby Taro in Chilli (辣油芋头), Spiced Waxed Oxtail (香辣牛尾)

Again, another dish that I have never encountered before. The baby taro wasn't of the powdery texture that we are familiar with, but soft and smooth that reminded me like brinjal. Interesting!

Oh wow, preserved oxtail? That's a first for me! Surprisingly it was as tough as I had imagined, but was rather soft on the skin with tender lean meat. Sweating yet?

Rice Noodles with Omelette (粉皮煎蛋), Stir-Fried Waxed Meat (湖南腊肉)

I always loved how China's rice noodles are incredibly smooth and chewy, coupled with an addictive spicy sauce. The omelette at the bottom was way overcooked but acted pretty well as a spice-neutralizing agent.

How can we not have the signature preserved meat? Very deeply flavoured with a smokey aftertaste, I would love to have a bowl of rice with this!

Steamed Fishhead with Diced Chilli (剁椒鱼头)

I was sweating like crazy by this time but even the amount of chilli piled couldn't deter me from attacking it. Using freshly-steamed fishhead, it was slightly different from the one at 小芙蓉 and was drizzled with an incredibly rich and spicy stock. They even had a little mountain of cooked noodles for you to go with the fish and stock. Tear-inducing shiokness!

The total bill for three amount to less than SGD50. I really can't emphasis more on how unique and spicy it was, but definitely very different and very much stronger than anything you can find here, though I think the Chinese restaurants sprouting up in Chinatown and Bugis may put up a good fight. If you are ever in Shenzhen and a self-proclaimed chilli lover, then do give hunan food a go!

老妈家庭厨房 (Old Mama's Kitchen)
Tel: 0755-82307128
Directions: Flag a cab la!

Taken with Nikon D70
Sunday, March 18, 2012

Da Paolo: Taint Your Teeth With Squid Ink!

Though Chinese New Year is always about pigging out on festive goodies, my family isn't the type that can stand a whole week of carrot cakes, braised pig trotters and whatsnot. It was just 4 days into CNY celebrations when we were off to Da Paolo for some diet balancing!

The enclave of Holland Village became a lot more accessible for us since the opening of the circle line and I'm hoping to slowly tick off the rows of restaurants at Chip Bee Gardens! As the flagship restaurant of the Da Paolo Group, Da Paolo Ristorante served Italian fine dining with pizzas omitted from the menu (which is taken care of by Da Paolo Pizza Bar further down the street anyway). With both indoor and al fresco seatings, we managed to get the former with ease as there really weren't much customers, though the restaurant also seemed to be a little short-handed during the CNY period.

Complimentary Bread Basket, Cappesante ($26.00)

Noting much to rave about the warmed bread, just something to munch on while waiting for our appetisers. The first one, scallop salad, was lightly tossed with vinaigrette as the fresh, juicy scallops were delightful in texture.

Prosciutto Melone ($22.00), Beef Carpaccio ($24.00)

Oh boy, we do love our greens with meat! Years ago when I haven't had a taste of Iberico Ham, the intense flavours of Parma Ham was "the one", though that position has since been taken over. Nonetheless, the pairing of good parma ham and ripe melon slices here made this appetiser a pleasing one.

No need to have introduction on this one. Juicy beef slices with bitter-refreshing rocket salad and savoury cheese flecks, good stuff!

Risotto Aragosta ($24.00), Cartoccio Mare ($27.00)

I began to appreciate good risottos after experimenting with arborio rice myself. The rendition here was a tad overcooked and didn't have that unique hardened texture. Flavourwise, it was pretty good as the slipper lobster meat lent a helping hand with bits of spinach within.

My dad is fond of baked pastas in parchment paper as he liked how flavours are naturally sealed within. So this spaghetti with seafood medley suited him just fine!

Spaghetti Seppia ($26.00)

Saving the best for the last! After the first encounter way back in Pontini, I have been searching for a perfect plate of squid ink pasta, with most places failing in either noodles or sauce or worse still, both. While Da Paolo's al dente pasta wasn't infused with squid ink, the sauce was exactly what I have been looking for: Strong, murky and distinct flavour that wasn't overpowering with fishy aftertaste. Outstanding!

Creme Caramel ($11.00), Torta al Cioccolato ($14.00)

Unfortunately, I didn't think very much of their desserts. The caramel custard wasn't strongly flavoured and didn't have the eggy texture that I was looking out for. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, the chocolate cake was rather dry too.

Tiramisu ($12.00)

Same for this as I don't remember anything memorable about it now. Just something that came and go as sweets.

Bill for four came up to $218.90 after taxes. To be able to stay in the ever-competitive Chip Bee Gardens (Think Michelangelo's next door), Da Paolo did whip up some pretty good dishes although the impression didn't manage to last through desserts. But the squid ink pasta was definitely something to be kept in mind and to make a return trip for!

Da Paolo Restaurant
44 Jalan Merah Saga #01-56
Holland Village
Tel: 6476 1332

Taken with Nikon D70
Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Inakaya: Japanese Sky Dining!

Hong Kong is a city obsessed with skyscrapers. Everytime I'm back, I will see taller, grandeur ones all trying to outshine each other. The current landmark is the crazy-tall, 118-storey International Commerce Centre at West Kowloon, making all other buildings look like shophouses. And with such height, sky dining naturally becomes a sure-win concept as I found out at Inakaya!

Located on the 101 storey, Inakaya served exquisite Japanese food while specialising in robatayaki (Grilling). The restaurant's dark, wooden theme and well-spaced tables were perfect for intimate meals, while waiters were friendly yet non-intruding.

Requesting for window(if you actually call those things windows) seats is a must; The full-length glass panels gave a killer view of Victoria Harbour as I was totally mesmerised by the gorgeous citylights.

Sashimi Platter, Sushi Platter

Time and again, the criteria for raw fish is simple: Freshness. Top notch points here as I could only greedily wished for more buttery uni! Rice for the sushi was really good too; Firm, chewy pearl grains that supported the toppings so well. Great start to the meal!

Assorted Tempura, Grilled Unagi

With a delightfully thin batter, the tempura here was nice but not exceptionally memorable. The unagi, on the other hand, was faultless with its plump, juicy texture and glazed with sweet teriyaki sauce. All I needed was a bowl of rice to make my own unagi don!

Grilled Eggplant, Kinki Fish Simmered in Superior Soy Sauce

If you are an eggplant lover, then you would give double thumbs up to this one! The short and plump veggie was lightly grilled and generously smothered with a layer of aromatic miso paste, as its intensive taste was nicely balanced by the juicy meat. Simple yet outstanding!

Frankly, I had no idea what is a Kichiji (Kinki Fish) prior to this meal, as it was only afterwards that I realised the rarity of this Hokkaido rockfish. While the meat was very smooth and delicate, I thought that they had overdone the sweetness of the sauce.

Inaniwa Udon with Sliced Wagyu Beef

Still need a carbo dish to fill you up? Take this one then! No idea about the wagyu grading, but the marbled beef slices was certainly robust in flavour and close to melting in my mouth!

As I have mentioned before, inaniwa udon's smooth and springy texture made it several class above regular udon. While they could serve it both hot or cold with the beef slices, I preferred the latter as the chilled noodles gave an even firmer bite. Slurp it all up!

Inakaya has proved that it is more than just a pretty face with quality ingredients and proven culinary skills. I'm not sure about the bill, but given its more-than-prime location, the dinner for four was certainly of upmarket pricing. Then again, you don't get to dine in the skies everyday so just pamper yourself and enjoy the moment!

Shop A, 101/F
International Commerce Centre
Tel: 2972 2666

Taken with Nikon D70
Friday, March 09, 2012

agnès b. Cafe: Cuppa With Style!

I had a vengeance of sort with agnès b. Cafe during my recent trip to Hong Kong. It all started three years ago when I missed the opening of the fashion label's first cafe outlet in Ocean City by a week, then for some reason I didn't manage to visit it again two years back. So this time, I made up for the past year losses with multiple teatimes at different outlets!

Most of the outlets were clustered around the ever-busy shopping haven of Causeway Bay as I had my first taste at Times Square. Nothing particularly fancy about its decor or service, but still a hit with constant stream of customers.

If you are a fan of the brand, then don't forget to visit agnès b. La Loggia at International Financial Centre. Covering a whopping 15,000 sq ft, you can find the full collection of their different clothing lines, agnès b. Cafe, french restaurant agnès b. Le Pain Grille (KIV-ed!), chocolate shop agnès b. Delice, a mini gourmet grocery shop and even an in-house florist agnès b. Fleuritse!

Cappucino, Latte (HKD 34 ~ SGD 5.60)

I'm no expert with coffee, but I'm quite sure that the collaboration with illy had its standards. Satisfied with my blend of robustful coffee and hot milk foam!

Valerie (HKD 32 ~ SGD 5.30)

Since the cafe specialized in french desserts, I went straight for my favourite Mont Blanc! The chestnut cake wasn't the most fragrant of all, but still good enough with its featherlight marshmallow and rich, grainy chestnut puree. Made a good tea-time sweet!

Boule De Noel (HKD 48 ~ SGD 8.00)

How can I miss the limited editon Chirstmas creation! Like an upmarket Kinder Surprise, the pretty little thing slided open with a slight nudge, revealing a dark chocolate casing with chocolate mousse and coffee liquer within. Very innovative!

9 Piece Praline Box (HKD 170 ~ SGD 18.80)

Since the girlfriend didn't join me on this trip, I thought it would be great if I could bring a box of this back for her! You really have to ask her yourself on how good they were, as I only had a nibble out of Sesame Dark Chocolate (The lizard!) which was bursting of white/black sesame ganache and smooth chocholate-y taste.

Prices at agnès b. cafe weren't too intimidating, and I see it as an excellent bridge between mainstream Starbucks and taitai-posh Cova. The novelty of fashion-labelled cafes has yet to hit Singapore, but as we are now more willing to pay a premium for cakes and coffee, I don't foresee that day as far away!

agnès b. Cafe L.P.G.
Outlets HongKong-wide
Visit their website for store locations!

Taken with Nikon D70