Tuesday, December 23, 2014

L'Entrecôte de Paris in Hong Kong - No fuss, great steak

(c) L'Entrecôte de Paris: http://lentrecotedeparis.hk
When I had to go to Hong Kong for business earlier this year, a friend of mine, Eddie, suggested that I dine at L'Entrecôte de Paris - the way he described it was so intriguing that I had to experience it for myself.

My good friend Big Con was also passing through Hong Kong on his way back home from a conference, and being a steak aficionado as well, he was game to check it out with me.

If we hadn't been specifically looking out for the restaurant, we would have walked straight past, because it's located on the third floor of a nondescript office-like building on Wyndham Street in Lan Kwai Fong (on Hong Kong Island), where the bright lights of streetside bars and restaurants (no doubt paying exorbitantly higher rents) beckon and jostle for your attention.

There was an eclectic group of fellow diners in the restaurant, ranging from business-like groups, families and couples.

This is a restaurant with just one dish on the menu, and that is of course its namesake (Entrecôte meaning a premium cut of steak).

Ok I lied - there is one other thing on the menu, and it's the grilled salmon, but it's really there in deference to the non-red-meat-eaters who got dragged along to the restaurant by the person who chose to dine there.  There is also a selection of sides and desserts as well, for the Mr Creosotes among us.

The steak itself is a very simple concept - a prime cut of steak sliced into thick strips (the waiter will ask you how you want it done, but is there really any choice other than medium rare for good steak?) swimming in a deliciously rich special sauce (read secret recipe), brought to your table on a silver platter.  It's served with all the french fries you can eat (at least it felt never ending to me).

They don't actually leave the platter of steak at your table - because it's such a massive slab of beef, in true French bistro fashion, they've already made the decision that you cannot eat it all in one sitting and you must certainly do as you are told if you know what's good for you.  So they dole out half the steak onto your plate together with a generous serve of french fries and drizzling of special sauce.

The meat is sublimely tender and flavoursome - easily one of the best steaks I've eaten in my life (and I have spent a good part of it chasing amazing steaks), and the secret sauce truly kicks things up several notches.

The wine is short and full of interesting wines unknown to someone from the Antipodes.  We thought we'd spin the chocolate wheel and order a Chinese red wine - the Chateau Nine Peaks Reserva 2011 from Qingdao Greatriverhill Winery.  It didn't say which grape varietal, but I'm pretty sure I tasted the trademark cassis of cabernet sauvignon.  This was a deliciously fruity and voluptuous wine which matched up to the big flavours of the steak and rich sauce.  It was also very reasonably priced!  I can't remember exactly how much, but I think it was around the equivalent of AUD60-70 a bottle.

A short while after we finish our first serving (naturally to give us time to start digesting the first portion that we both wolfed down), our waiter reappears to deliver the remainder of the steak, and yet more french fries.

I ask for a third portion of french fries before my stomach realises how much food it is going to have to deal with and starts to protest.

The meal isn't cheap at HKD268 per person, but it was certainly worth it.  There was so much food that we couldn't fit in anything from the tempting dessert menu.  Even Big Con, despite his size, claimed that he was stuffed and couldn't eat anything more.

So there it is - L'Entrecôte de Paris in Hong Kong.  If you love steak, you need to experience this (but make sure you have a light lunch).   You also need to book a table in order to avoid risking disappointment - when we were there, the restaurant gradually filled up to capacity, and it looked like there were a few people who turned up without bookings and had to be turned away.

P.S. because the lighting was dim, my battered old iPhone didn't manage to take any decent photos, so I've cheekily appropriated one from the restaurant's website (with appropriate copyright acknowledgement of course) to brighten up this post.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Old Crow, 172 Newcastle Street, Perth: the best brussel sprouts ever!

My mate Wayne (apparently a fashion industry icon back in the day, but now more closely associated with his calling as the Bailli of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs in Western Australia) is one of the few friends I have who also has the flexibility to catch up for an ad hoc (sometimes extended) lunch during the week that doesn't require pre-planning or involve spending 45 minutes in a food hall before having to rush back to the office.

For one of these lunches, we decided to head down to the Old Crow on 172 Newcastle Street - the address tells you it's in Perth, but it's really in the Northbridge precinct.

From the outside, it looks like a simple, albeit trendy cafe, but don't let that fool you.  These guys serve up some really good food.

Given the array of interesting dishes on the menu, we decided to order 3 to share between us (yes it's a bit gluttonous given that each dish is designed to be a meal on its own, so we took off our gourmet hats and put on our gourmand hats instead).

The first to arrive was the pulled pork sandwich, which came with their version of aioli and a cup of chips.  Pulled pork.  'nuff said.

The next to arrive was the cheese kransky hot dog.  The bloody spell-checker keeps trying to replace it with "cranky", but it is anything but that!  Accompanied by a monstrous pickled jalapeño and smothered in aioli and finely grated parmesan and chives, this was a favourite (if there can be such a thing with three fine dishes to contend with).

Then came the freshly made crispy brussel sprouts.  If you suffer from brussel sprouts trauma when you were force-fed in your childhood with the over-boiled, unseasoned stuff by the fistful, ordering this dish is the best way to cure it.  This stuff is just more-ish.  Crispy on the outside and glazed in sweet balsamic vinegar, yet soft and chewy on the inside, it tastes nothing at all like the stuff that came out of your parent's kitchen.

In fact, Wayne and I were surprised that we kept unconsciously eating yet another one while chatting, until the entire plate was wiped clean and our guts were busting.

As I waddled back to my car with my distended brussel-sprout-filled belly, I was thinking that these are the best brussel sprouts I have ever had in my life!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Kong BBQ, Richmond, Victoria

It was on a quiet Sunday evening when I caught up with my chick bestie Jacqui while languishing in Melbourne (oh alright, it's not actually much of a hardship to languish in Melbourne).  Jacqs, being a fellow foodie and a Melbourne resident for many years, knew to pick somewhere good for dinner.

So after a drink at the Botanical (love that place, including the bottleshop, where you can decide to crack open the bottle right there and then and get stuck in it, for a modest corkage fee), she took me to the back streets of Richmond (well it's 599 Church Street, but it felt like the back streets, deserted with the wind blowing through, when we turned up - hope there are no Tigers fans reading who take exception), where lay the new brainchild of the makers of Chin Chin: Kong BBQ.

Of course, Kong, like so many hip Melbourne eateries, doesn't take bookings; so we got there early at just after 5pm to beat the queue, and got a table almost straightaway.

What is up with this latest Melbournian obsession with fusing Korean cuisine into its culinary style?  Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, and it is certainly a welcome addition of variety to the almost ubiquitous Pan-Asian style (i.e. Thai & Southeast Asian) that seemed to dominate modern Melbourne cuisine during the last decade.  Naturally (so it seems), Kong's menu is heavily (some would say intrinsically) Korean influenced, starting from the cutesy panda sign ("It's not ordinary cabbage, it's fermented cabbage") to your left when you walk into the restaurant.  Wait a minute - pandas aren't Korean??

Our friendly waitress told us about her Korean heritage and cheerfully explained the menu items to us.

We ordered a whole bunch of richly flavoured and spicy delights, such as spicy pork buns and crab buns (both utterly delicious), a chilli beef brisket cooked in their oven fired by chemical free charcoal made from sustainable Australian hard-wood (ahh a conscience free meal), and Dukbokki.

So what is Dukbokki?  The menu described this dish as "rice cakes", so we were kind of expecting rice squashed into some kind of patty-like form, and were taken completely by surprise when it arrived, complete with whole chillies which I was unwilling to leave behind, and slathered with a rich, thick, spicy sauce.  It was a spicy, richly flavoursome and interestingly textured experience!  Apparently Dukbokki is a popular street food in Seoul, and I can understand why.

Jacqs and I had a great time - giving each other crap (which is what besties do best), mock-lamenting the fact that her husband Marc (poor fellow … not) who has been hanging out to eat at this restaurant missed out because he decided to go for a boozy trip into the countryside, and generally catching up on life.

So is this authentic Korean?  I have no idea, but I rather suspect that it's a Melbournesque take on Korean cuisine.  And with the cheerful, prompt service, great food and reasonable prices, you'll certainly enjoy it, particularly if you like richly flavoured, spicy cuisine.  Even the price of having to carb-load (you can't escape it in this restaurant) to try some of its best dishes is a small one to pay.

The best laksa in Australia? At Chef Lagenda, Flemington, Victoria

Having had to spend a Sunday in Melbourne after my Saturday board meeting so that I could make a meeting on Monday, I took the opportunity to catch up with old friend Euj who now lives there with his wife and their two furry children.

Euj took me to this out of the way little lane way next to the Newmarket train station in Flemington for brunch.

Well worth the trek (good thing he was driving) - Chef Lagenda on Pin Oak Crescent in Flemington looks like a normal "dodgy" hole-in-the-wall Asian restaurant from the outside, but its two-storey tardis like interior is filled with tables that got filled up extremely quickly while we were sitting inside.

Being a laksa aficionado, I couldn't go past the laksa, which Euj had talked up quite a bit (just to set the scene).

Legend has it that their laksa stock has been brewing in the same pot for years, and I can certainly believe that.

A huge steaming bowl arrived filled with a rich broth brimming with a complex flavour of spices and chilli, with generous servings of meat and prawns (normally, you can count the number of prawns in an average bowl of laksa on one hand and still have spare fingers, but I kept fishing out prawns - was there no end?), complete with a roasted/fried slice of eggplant which added an additional smoky depth of flavour and texture.

I dare say that this might be the best laksa in all of Australia.  I'm fully aware that this is a big call, but I'll say it anyway.  Make the pilgrimage and decide for yourself.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Supernormal, another classic Andrew McConnell eatery in Melbourne

I recently had to go to Melbourne for the first time this year for a board meeting, so I decided to look up Google for a new quality Melbourne establishment to check out.  At the top of the search listings was the name Andrew McConnell, and I couldn't go past that, having been a fan of Golden Fields and Cumulus.

Located at 180 Flinders Lane, Supernormal is just around the corner from the Westin, the front is so quiet and nondescript that I would have walked right past it if not for the beguiling neon lighting and the fact that it was pumping.

I walk inside and get greeted with a fateful of classic minimalistic McConnell decor, with loads of kitschy (but in a good way) Japanese touches.  And of course, the maitre d' - don't you love going to a restaurant where you don't have to stand around like an idiot hoping to get someone's attention so you can be seated?  With an over-abundance of staff, you never have to worry about this at Supernormal.

As expected, there was a queue, but because my dinner companions had abandoned me due to a late and crappy flight into Melbourne, I didn't worry too much - there's always room for one.  The friendly, chatty staff were surprised that I was from out of town, since they had only been open in this location for a few months.

By the time I finished my first glass of crisp, delicious Glaetzer-Dixon Uberblanc riesling, my seat was ready, and I too was ready for a feast of overindulgence!

The menu is predictably full of Asian influences, but it looks like the last decade's Melbournian Pan-Asian approach (read Thai, Southeast Asian, etc) has moved to predominantly mainland Chinese with Japanese and Korean touches (albeit complete with the classic Golden Fields lobster roll, which you can even takeaway, for those in withdrawal!), and the table setting at the bar included cutesy little touches like a sesame seed mill and a pot of chilli.  And a limitless little saucer of more-ish soy-roasted seeds.

One of the many great things about this restaurant is that they will also do half-serves for the single diner, which is great for those of us lone travellers who want to try more dishes but don't want to pay the price of having to buy a new pair of larger pants.

I start with a dish from the raw menu: spicy tuna and ama ebi prawns, accompanied by the Junmai Genshu "Ine Mankai" sake, made from red rice which truly lived up to the notes on the menu - smoky with cherry flavours.  I could have told you in excruciating detail about how the tuna and prawns tasted, but it was so good I scoffed it down too quickly.

Then of course, I had to order the duck bao - if you ever eat at a McConnell restaurant - you need to order the duck.  A beautifully presented drumstick of twice cooked duck - presumably oven roasted and then deep-fried (so good) until the skin was crunchy, flaky and crispy.  Kentucky Fried Duck, not that there's anything wrong with that.  The idea, of course, is that you slather the little buns with the sauces and condiments, tear bits of duck off the drumstick for filling, and chow down.  I couldn't help but eat some of the duck on its own before catching myself and doing it the "right way".  The red rice sake really came into its own here, perfectly complementing the rich flavours of the duck and the over-slathering of hoisin sauce I liberally painted over each bun.

I then ordered the szechuan chicken with peanuts, chilli oil and house made noodles.  Hmmm it must be a new Melbourne culinary style to serve noodles that don't actually look like noodles.  Well, I guess they did look like those packing noodles you get in a parcel.  But these were great - like an Asian gnocchi; soft pillows of chewy … err noodle-stuff.  The balance of flavours was spot on - enough szechuan peppers to give you a slight tongue-numbing experience, but not so much that you felt like you were at the dentist for a root canal procedure.  I washed down with the "River in the Sky" - the Junmai Ginjo "Nagarawa Tenkawa".  The menu says it's "wonderful with spicy food", and it's right.

 And finally, on the recommendation of my fellow frequent traveller Kimmie, I ordered dessert despite the fact that I was now quite stuffed: the Peanut Butter Parfait.  Even though I haven't eaten a Snickers bar in more than 10 years, I will tell you that it tasted like Snickers.  Thick, rich, chocolatey, peanutey and thoroughly decadent.

Next time you're in Melbourne, do yourself a favour and pop into Supernormal for something special.  Yes, you will have to queue, but being able to drink a glass or two of wine while you people-watch is quite painless.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Slowtown Coffee Roasters: Namibian Artisan Coffee Roasters

It's been a while since I reviewed the quality of coffee in Namibia; but I am glad to see that the Third Wave of Coffee has arrived on the shores of this great country.

On my recent visit to Namibia, I popped into The Joy of Food in Windhoek, which offers cheerful service and a great menu that is perfect for breakfast and brunch (located in the garden area right next to Fresh n Wild).  While there, I discovered a new Namibian delight, as the coffee they served was from Slowtown Coffee Roasters, based in the coastal town of Swakopmund.  What got me was the fact that their bags of freshly roasted coffee beans (which were on sale at The Joy of Food) had the roasting date written on instead of a "use-by" date (which many coffee aficionados know is useless for telling you how fresh, and therefore how good, the coffee will taste).

These guys source their own single origin green coffee beans from coffee farms all around the world, and roast them in small batches.

I tried an espresso made from organic Honduran coffee beans, just roasted slightly over a week earlier, and was delighted to feel the rich, thick crema on my tongue and taste the complex flavours of a great coffee: spicy and nutty with honey tones, and a crisp lemon finish (as promised on the label).  It was so good I bought myself a bag of beans to bring home with me, which has sadly finished as I write this.

Yet another reason to go to Namibia!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I love the Third Wave of Coffee! (a.k.a. single origin coffees & home grinders with burr mills)

The great thing about the so-called Third Wave of Coffee is the fact that you can consistently get top quality, freshly roasted single origin coffee from far flung owner-grower plantations from all over the world.  Perth, being one of Australia's great coffee capitals (yes I admit Melbourne comes first), is privileged to host exponents in this field.

Like this Guatemalan beauty from Jose Fernando Valdes' Finca Manila plantation, which is located in Nuevo Progreso, San Marcos, a very remote region around 250km from Guatemala City, which was freshly roasted in Ristretto Roasters' little roasting shop in Northbridge (where you can also get a coffee and buy beans through the little window overlooking the laneway).

Notes of "juicy sugarcane and an elegant floral finish"?  Yes I'm told that I should let the beans sit for around a week to hit their peak, but I can't wait to get home and crank this baby up in Miss Silvia tonight!

Post-note #1: After a few days of enjoying coffee brewed from these beans, I can confirm that it makes a great espresso - a mouth filling initial attack of almost pure dark chocolate (like drinking a melted square of one of those 99% Dark Chocolates from Lindt) with caramel aromas and flavours shining through the chocolatey denseness.  The finish is crisp, without any noticeable citrus.  The texture is almost powdery dry, like having a spoonful of cocoa powder in your mouth.

I'm looking forward to tasting and smelling how these beans evolve over the coming weeks!

Post-note #2 (30 May 2015): I believe that you should only grind your beans just before you make your coffee - this preserves maximum flavour, oils and freshness.  No need to be precious about getting the best, fancy top of the range grinder, unless you're an über-aficionado of coffee who lives for all of the barely imperceptible nuances and dimensions of flavour and texture that us mere mortals could not even comprehend.  Or unless you're running a cafe and need a serious industrial strength grinder - but this article is directed at the home coffee aficionado.

All you really need is to ensure is that your grinder has a burr mill rather than steel blades (the latter will heat up the coffee and degrade its quality before it even goes into your filter basket).  You should also make sure that you can adjust the fineness of the grind, because different beans with different post-roasting ages will require a different fineness of grind.  Generally, the longer it has been since roasting, then you should consider a finer grind - unfortunately trial and error is mandatory since every bag of beans will be slightly different).

A ceramic burr grinder will in theory generate even less heat than a steel burr grinder, but I'm not sure it will make a real difference if you only grind enough beans for one or two shots of coffee at a time.

Of course, you get what you pay for, so it's a bit of a balance between a lower price and acceptable durability/quality.

To save you some effort, I've done some searches: the Cuisinart (see my US Amazon Affiliate link below) is an example of something that will do the job, but which won't cost a huge amount of money.  Unfortunately, it doesn't ship to Australia, but I hope that this example gives you an idea of what parameters to look for in selecting a coffee grinder for home use.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

West End Deli, 95 Carr Street, West Perth

I caught up with old friend and veteran online wine auctioneer Lynton Barber of Sterling Wine Auctions the other day for our annual(ish) lunch over some weird and wonderful wines.

Joining us was my good friend the Western Australian Regional Bailli of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Wayne Teo and Lynton's IT guru.

I'd heard of this new little restaurant in a quiet street in (northern) West Perth going by the seemingly innocuous name of West End Deli, so we booked a table there.

The brunch menu was short and sweet, but packed full of amazing delights.  Being unable to decide on what to get, we decided to order a bunch of main dishes to share.  Everything from spiced lamb ribs, pillow-soft gnocchi, and even the simple-sounding cauliflower was unbelievably delicious and hearty.

I have to admit that I was having so much fun trying the huge amount of wines and feeding my face that I didn't take many notes.

The dessert we shared was topped with pop rocks candy which provided a beautifully contrasting experience of textures - the smooth creamy thingamajig (sorry I forgot what it was) punctuated by the snap crackle pop of the pop rocks in your mouth.

A truly fantastic electic lunch accompanied by just as enjoyable eclectic conversation, ranging from wines, food, global politics, business and even IT.

The West End Deli also transforms into a fine dining establishment for dinner.  I must certainly head back there to see what that's like!