3 Seriously Cool Asian Restaurants To Go To In Hong Kong This Summer

Junjuu’s super cool dining room

Funky mod-Korean restaurant & bar Jinjuu, headed by TV chef and UK Iron Chef winner, Korean-American Judy Joo, has just reopened in Lan Kwai Fong after a bout of renovations and menu revamp and a happy “price adjustment”. Look forward to set lunch starting from HK$198 for two courses, and new sharing plates for dinner, featuring dishes like short rib kimchi hhotteok with Korean-style pancake, Kong bowl (HK$45) with edamame topped with chilli panko mix, Philly cheese steak & kimchi (HK$85), and whole Korean fried chicken (HK$480 for 3-4 pax). Head Mixologist Edgar Santillan rolls out summer cocktails (HK$120) ranging from fruity Purple Haze, comprising hibiscus-tinted Glendalough gin, yuzu sake, acai liquor, lemon juice, apple, orange sherbet, to The Gentleman, a boozy tipple of Buffalo Trace bourbon, lillet blanc, pedro ximenez & angostura bitters. Happy hour hits between 5 and 8pm.

UG/F, California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong
Tel: 3755-4868

Summery Thai-meets-South American flavours in Limewood

If you want to get into the breezy holiday mood, head to Limewood at Repulse Bay for a seriously exciting meal where Thai flavours and South American cooking collide deliciously. Tuck into summery dishes like its soft shell crab salad and Pacific lobster salad with ponzu mayo, yellow curry mayo, grapefruit and avocado; barbecued New Zealand lamb rack served with Penang curry, green peppercorns, fragrant herbs and kaffir lime, whole roasted jerked chicken with caramelized pineapple and mango habanero sauce, and its signature Charred Whole Sea Bream. Wash it all down with craft beers, shaken margaritas and “barbeque inspired cocktails”.
The Pulse, Shop 103 & 104 G/F – 28 Beach Road, Repulse Bay
Tel: +852 2866 8668

Matcha tea glutinous rice balls filled with yam & crispy glutinous rice dumpling with chocolate at Hutong

Hutong at One Peking may have been around for quite a while, but this Chinese courtyard house styled restaurant continues to keep Chinese dining fresh and stylish. Just launched is its new Fēng Wèi brunch on weekends which showcases Chinese cuisine in the coolest way possible, washed with the option of free flow Veuve Clicquot Champagne and summer cocktails. Tuck into over 18 traditional dishes given a contemporary twist, such as a rich and aromatic seared foie gras with osmanthus-smoked coddled egg, shrimp, kimchi & mozzarella spring roll, 12-hour braised beef rib with aromatic herbs in lotus leaf and Matcha tea glutinous rice balls filled with sweet potato. Complementing the experience are demonstrations of traditional Chinese arts like fortune-telling by bird (as seen in the night markets of Temple Street), Sichuan face changing, kung-fu tea pouring and Chinese rainbow calligraphy. It may be kind of touristy (good for bringing out-of-town friends) but the food is definitely worth heading back for. HK$428 and additional HK$200 for Champagne and drinks option.

28/F One Peking, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
Telephone: (852) 3428 8342

Hutong’s stylish take on northern Chinese favourites

Bata’s Long Overdue Revamp (or An Ode To Bata)

“First to Bata, then to school.” I think most people of a certain vintage will remember this refrain from Bata’s advertisements. For many of us in Singapore, Bata has been synonymous with white canvas school shoes with green soles. In the 1970s, the Badminton Master was the must-have article of school clothing. Then it morphed into the stylish BM2000 in the late ’80s, if I remember correctly. All the cool girls in school wore a pair. There were also those wonderful bottles of white wash which Bata sold, with the sponge applicators, so we could whitewash our shoes midweek when they got too dirty, and there was no time to wash them.

Bata was the brand that literally carried me – and many others and over several generations – through my childhood. Their white canvas shoes and sneakers took me from school and playground to assorted longkangs (drains) on guppy- and spider-catching missions. But when I grew up, I ventured away from this reliable old Czech shoe brand that many people probably thought was a local, or Asian brand, to more fashionable stores. Still, Bata hung on at various malls and their flagship at the positively unglamorous Peninsula Plaza, with their reliable, inexpensive, generally conservative shoes.

Many years later when I had my child, I returned to Bata, this time, to buy my daughter’s shoes – first, her tiny sneakers for playdates and playgrounds, and later, her school shoes. “First to Bata then to school.” The refrain returned to my memory. I didn’t notice those bottles of whitewash anymore. But then again, she didn’t go longkang fishing either, so there was less midweek dirt on her shoes. It was then that I gave Bata shoes a good look again as an adult. They weren’t bad, and ventured to buy a casual pair or two.

But apart from the bright sparkly kids’ shoes, Bata was unfortunately still not exciting. But it was a dependable, essential and quiet brand that has been part of Singapore’s shopping landscape forever, like NTUC Supermarket. You needed the product, it was there, and not expensive. It ticked all the right boxes but it didn’t tickle one’s fancy.

A huge Bata store in Prague.

Then on a visit to Prague a few years ago, we saw Bata, a proud shop in the middle of town. We pointed out a familiar brand, and our tour guide went gushing about it. The Czechs viewed the brand and its founders — Tomáš Baťa, his brother Antonin and sister Anna — with much national pride. They came from a family of cobblers. The Czechs looked up to them as role models and inspirations, a historic brand which survived wars and hardships; a national success story that, to them, reverberated around the world. My tour guide’s son got to shake Mr Bata’s hand long ago and for many days, did not want to wash his hands.

That was a new, refreshing perspective to me.

So when Bata announced a brand revamp this week, with a new look, brand direction and refreshed flagship store in Vivocity, it made me sit up. Having been around for 123 years, this was long overdue for the brand. Now, its looks reflect the changes. The store, now doubled in size, is brighter, more fun, with digital screens showcasing international trends. Even the shoes look somewhat fresher, a little less stodgy and ‘sensible’ perhaps. Their marketing slogan is ‘Me & Comfortable With It’. I like that. It has a nice ring: fun, unapologetic, unpretentious and down to earth.

It may not convert devoted fashionistas, and I doubt that is their intention. But it’s refreshed looks will certainly get people revisiting this brand, and likely get fresh converts too. For a brand that’s been around 123 years, Bata’s stamina for the ‘common touch’ and its longevity is admirable.

Take a look at the shoes and the store in these pictures, and decide for yourself. Nursing a bad flu, I didn’t make it down to the opening, but I am looking forward to making my way there sometime soon. Who knows? It could be a return to an old friend and the revival of an old, soleful relationship. Let’s see…

Just had to slip this last one in. Looks like the bottles of whitewash are still there…

Fratelli’s Colossal To-Die-For Veal Rack

Located in Hotel Michael in Resorts World Sentosa, Fratelli has made it to my personal list of ‘must go’ restaurants in Singapore, and definitely worth the drive to Sentosa.

This celebrity chef restaurant — backed by brothers Roberto and Enrico Cerea of three-Michelin starred Da Vittoria in Lombardy — is a contemporary Italian restaurant that serves up creative, contemporary yet authentic fare with fundaments firmly based on the traditional cuisine. The cooking here is delightfully precise, and the dishes impressively done (and I’m not easily impressed these days). Helming it is Chef de cuisine Davide Bizzari, and together they have just rolled out their new menu, with most items from the ‘mother restaurant’ in Lombardy.

If there is one thing you must order, it is their colossal 1kg bone-in Milanese veal rack. Juicily tender and sweet, the meat is coated in breadcrumbs and crushed breadsticks, then deep fried in clarified butter. You could smell the butter wafting in like a herald as the cutlet was hauled in; then it was assembled at the tableside – with roasted tomatoes, crushed potato wedges and lemons arranged on top. Bite into it, hear the splintering crunch of the breaded coating, inhale the buttery aroma and the experience brings tears to your eyes. It’s true. I thought I heard a choir of angels sing. On the menu, they call it “elephant ear” and it is almost that large. The bone runs on just one side of the cut and the rest is beautiful meat. As the only main course, it could easily feed six conservatively. This is a seasonal item — read ‘short term’ — and the meat is from native Italian Piedmontese breed called Fassone, known for being lean and tender.

Another must-have is the Pizza Oro Nero, a squid ink pasta topped with mussels, salted cod fish, clams, baby squid, plump orbs of trout roe, tomatoes and topped with gold dust. Set against the black ink, it is the most glamorous looking pizza I have ever encountered – and it was good too.

The chittara pasta ($34) is worth having for its uniqueness. It is handmade, and shaped by pressing sheets of fresh pasta through metal strings strung across a wooden frame — quite a tedious process. This results in a spaghetti that has a square rather than round cross section, with a firm, short bite. Served with braised short ribs ragu and shards of truffles, it is a very rich, thick, hearty dish which, while delectable, is best eaten in small doses, in my view. Lovely as it is, it can easily become ‘jelak’ as we say here in Singers.

For appetisers — sorry, we seem to be working backwards here — go for the steamed Boston lobster ($48) with avaocado wasabi cream and red capsicum mousse. Everything on the plate is as it should be in its best rendition — juicy sweet, lightly chewy lobster; and intense, smooth, luxurious mousse and creams which must not be wasted.

A highlight for dessert is Rosella’s Strawberry Planet, a meringue sphere which you break open to get to the strawberry inside. All in all, a fabulous meal, even if the interiors had a somewhat bland 1990s look.

Good to know: If you’re driving, just park like how you would go to Universal Studios, take the escalator up and walk along Festive Walk towards the hotel. Fratelli has an entrance facing Festive Walk, obliquely opposite Osia. That’s probably the most straightforward path to the veal rack.

Tel: (65) 6577 6555 or email Fratelli@RWSentosa.com
Closed Tues

A New Concept For Dan Ryan’s In Hong Kong’s City Plaza!

For me, the 90s marked the era of the American diner, grill and steakhouse. I remember the excitement when Dan Ryan’s first opened in Singapore next to the Regent Hotel.

Famous for its free kid’s balloons held down by a free collectible logo key chain, paper table clothes where you could doodle endlessly on and innovative kid’s menus – no one would have guessed that this restaurant chain was actually born and bred in Hong Kong with its first outlet opened at Pacific Place in 1989.

Dan Ryan, it seems, was a Chicago politician who lived in the 1940’s.  He was renowned for his ability to get things done through his close contacts in Washington D.C, mainly local political and social leaders. Why this particular American diner chain was actually named after him remains a mystery to me – but his name has undoubtedly lent authenticity to the Chicago grill concept that has since stood the test of time.

Today, there are solo outlets in Singapore and Taiwan with three restaurants in Hong Kong at Harbour City, Festival Walk and a new outlet at City Plaza in Tai Koo Shing which opened in May this year. We popped in to check out the new concept at the latter and to try the newly minted signatures off their menu which has been tweaked with healthier ingredient and superfood options.

How different was it from its parent concept that featured a good vibe, upbeat background jazz music, a drinks bar with a choo choo train track, paraphernalia up on the walls and huge portions of American style fare – to be truthful, all of that was still there – the only change being a longer track train and the more colourful paintings on the wall by American artists Leroy Neiman and Steve Penley. Instead of having a closed entrance where you walk into the bar, the new concept feels more ‘open’ where you can easily check your reservation at the entrance and walk into the thick of the action.

The kitchen also has gone from a back of the house feel to a lighter more open show-kitchen feel.  We popped by just before the recent Fathers’ Day weekend and what greeted us was a restaurant packed to the brim – a convivial atmosphere with families, balloons at each table, crayon canisters amidst a blurr of efficient waiters moving platters of steak and generous mountains of American salads, sides and sandwiches efficiently around the room whilst the queue outside kept growing longer. The place was buzzing!

The biggest change is noticeably its menu. No longer a grill room style listing that steak houses normally favour but a menu that features photos of its signatures which have also notably changed – keeping the hearty but introducing the healthy.

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My favourite item – the Dan Ryan’s muffin arrived before the rest of the meal. If I could sneak one or two into my bag, I would – as in my humble opinion, Dan Ryan’s makes the best muffins I have ever eaten. The taste is made complete when complemented by one slice of slightly melted salted butter or whipped butter.

 

 

We picked a few items to share starting with the Super Green Salad (HK$188) which is a very large salad that you can order to share between 3 to 4 people. It  has a base of fresh baby spinach, quinoa and rocket leaves, complete with avocado, broccoli, pears, fresh blueberries and toasted pine-nuts for added crunch and sweetness.  I really liked this and made a mental note that I would pop into their Harbour City outlet again soon to grab this one for a quick and satisfying takeaway.  The salad comes with a homemade wild blueberry dressing is drizzled on top for maximum flavour.

This was followed by the Chi Town Combo (HK$298), a signature big sized combo platter of Baked Potato Skins, hand breaded Onion Rings and Buffalo Chicken Wings. Great with a glass of wine except for the Onion Rings which I prefer to be crisp rather than soft and mushy like these tended to be.

The choices on the Hand Cut Steaks and Chops were outstanding. I was tempted to order the US Tomahawk 32 oz Steak to share (HK$998 – pictured above) but it was sold out for the day.  So instead, we ordered the US Prime Flatiron Steak (HK$328) which turned out to be an excellent choice and featured a melt-in-your mouth ‘butchers cut’ of hormone free beef, char-grilled to perfection served with Tomato Vinaigrette salad and mashed Chipotle Lime Buttered Corn and Sweet Potato Fries.

We ended the meal sharing a Salted Caramel Double Fudge Brownie (HK$78) which maxed out my calorie count but made a perfect ending.

Things I would have ordered if my stomach had the capacity : the Deluxe Chili Burger,  the Seared Hokkaido Scallops and the Dan’s Dessert Sampler (pictured above). Definitely reason to return!

Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill at Cityplaza is at:
Shop 311, 3F, Phase 1, Cityplaza, 18 Taiko o Shing Road, Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2845 4600

Click HERE for a list of the other Dan Ryan outlets in Hong Kong, Taipei and Singapore.

 

Possibly the Most Kid-Friendly Suites in Hong Kong

Those who have travelled with kids would know a bored and restless child is no easy challenge, whether they are four or fourteen. So we were pleasantly surprised to see the Dorsett Wanchai’s very thoughtful new themed suites which provide the perfect answer. If you’re planning a weekend in Hong Kong with the young ‘uns, this is possibly the best place to stay.

If you’ve got little tots, book the Ocean Park Family Suite. While it might be a bit too ‘twee’ for the grown-ups, consider this: you can sip wine for some peaceful down time while your little tot is immersed in this soft-toy-rich, marine-themed environment, and will be well distracted by the endless delights at hand.

It’s an official collaboration with Ocean Park. Once you have booked the suite, you can buy admission tickets to the Park from the hotel concierge at a special price of HK$900 for two adults and one child, which also comes with free shuttle to the park on weekends. The suite measures a generous 48 sqm, and comes with pantry, sofa bed in the living room, dining area and bedroom with king sized bed. Lots of room to swing a cat.

In the evening, you can call Front Desk to deliver to your room a “specially-designed mobile storybook library” filled with storybooks catering to children of different ages, perfect for bedtime stories before your precious heads off to slumberland.

If you’ve got a teenager in tow, then the Dorsett Wanchai’s Sony 4k 3D Experience Suite is the thing to go for. Says the hotel’s official information: “With Sony’s latest gadgets such as Playstation, blue-ray home theatre system, and LED TV, tech-lovers will be able to surround themselves by the newest electronics and indulge themselves in a SONY paradise.” Nuff said.

Marking the launch of the suites, Dorsett Wanchai is offering a 50% discount on all suite bookings falling between May and September 2017, made through the official hotel website http://www.wanchai.dorsetthotels.com

The hotel is located between Wanchai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, close to loads of shops and food. It’s an 8-minute walk to MTR station, Times Square, but there’s also complimentary shuttle bus service to 16 destinations via five routes. And all rooms are also equipped with the all-important high speed wifi.

3 Hidden Foodie Gems of Hanoi

Since I have already written about the street food in Hanoi and its coffee joints, I might as well add a third — of three miscellaneous eateries all worth a visit.

The first and my favourite is Kem Trang Tien (35 Trang Tien), the oldest ice cream shop in Hanoi, and still going strong. After a hair-raising cyclo ride, weaving a hair’s breath away from oncoming cars, Trang, our trusty guide, stopped us at this local institution for a treat.

Located near the Opera House and a short trot from the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, it has little aesthetics to speak of and plenty of empty, sometimes greasy, open space. Two counters inexplicably far apart stood in the corners of this odd looking shop, one selling ice cream lollies on a stick, and another soft serve ice cream on a cone.

Trang explained that the shop was designed so that customers could drive all the way into the shop and up to the counter on the scooters and motor bikes, and buy the ice cream without once having to get off their vehicles. Hence the weird empty spaces within. What’s surprising too is that the shop becomes especially busy in winter when people enjoy the ice cream the most.

Kem Trang Tien makes their own ice creams in local Vietnamese flavours and sells nothing but. The ice lollies were recommended over the soft serve. Forget the chocolate flavour and go for the taro or coconut, or better yet, the glutinous rice ice cream or the mung bean. The rice ice cream made use of newly harvest grains, which exuded a subtle, fresh, green flavour with a slight, pleasing stickiness to it; the mung bean was lovely too – softly nutty, subtle and aromatic. Really good.

Another local favourite is Xoi Yen (35 Nguyen Huu Huan), a perpetually busy coffee shop on a street corner that is festooned with a great tangle of overhead electric cables. There is no enticing facade to speak of; it is entirely dominated by a messy open kitchen from where xoi xeo, its famous dish of glutinous turmeric rice, mung beans and fried shallots is prepared.

You’ll find the locals eating at the low tables along the walkway, but there is seating upstairs too if you want a more leisurely meal. Little English is spoken here, so it’s best to have a local friend help you along. As for the food, simple as it sounds, it is very tasty; add on an order of chicken or pork if you are particularly hungry. Locals flock here for breakfast as well as a quick lunch, and is quite an institution.

The final recommendation on my list of three is Koto Restaurant (59 Van Mieu Street). This can be accused of being touristy, but it deserves mention for the cause it supports — it is a not-for-profit restaurant that acts as a hospitality school for disadvantaged young Vietnamese.

Located near the Temple of Literature, the four-storey restaurant was crowded with mainly expats and tourists, but enjoyed ourselves here, with good food and very decent, inexpensive cocktails. We ordered the Vietnamese set menu and had a veritable feast — the banana flower and chicken salad, spring rolls, banana leaf grilled fish, and sweet and sour clam soup with pineapples and tomatoes were memorable. We added an order of banh xeo as well (truly delightful), and a stream of decently done classic cocktails, including two glasses of most enjoyable margarita.

Tapas, Sangria and Beer Adventures in TST

Tapas is everything but a light meal especially when downed with a jug of good Sangria. Despite how often I convince myself that this meal is or could be a light affair, I often succumb to the temptation of ordering more than I should. And that’s exactly what happened at this new go-to that I recently discovered in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong or as the locals call it ‘TST.’

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Playa De Papagayo is my latest find, in terms of Tapas outlets. Located at Observatory Road just down from the Mira Hotel, next to the Empire Hotel and across from the Audi Showroom, you can’t miss this cute place with its patio setting, bright blue exterior and distinct beach hut hangout feel.

The enterprising owners apparently also own another smaller tapas restaurant of the same name, at Hanoi Road nearby and they also own the fantastic Japanese yakitori restaurant right next door.

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Papagayos, as it is called short-form beckons with a fun vibe. It’s not your typical Spanish joint but has a nice laid back feel and if the weather is nice, you can sit outside on the patio where there is casual seating.

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Wandering inside, the surprisingly spacious interior has a mix of sofa seats, lounge chairs, high tables with stools and bench seating, amidst the usual tables and chairs.

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A neon sign or two, a large open bar and the quirky menu with its beach theme feel add to the chill-out vibe.

The drinks are creative, portions good and not the nasty watered down version you get at most places. In terms of food, the menu is extensive from Spanish Tapas to Soups and Salads, Pastas and Mains, things from their Fire Grill oven and a small selection of dessert. The tapas portions are over-all ‘smallish’. I was not overly impressed with the usual tapas favourites like the Garlic Shrimp and the Octopus. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely tasty but you would need two portions if you are more than 3 people sharing.

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However, with a menu this extensive, normal should not be what you order at a restaurant like this. We decided to be adventurous and that spirit landed us some amazing eats like this list of top things to order that we are recommending. We are quite sure that you won’t get tapas like these anywhere else.

1.  Foie Gras Terrine, Fig and Rice Crispy Treat – HK$88

This bite-sized gourmet looking morsel looks like its ready to be served at a high end cocktail party. It is the perfect size to daintily pick up with your fingers and pop into your mouth. You get more than a generous bite and an explosion of tastes out of this very decent bite-sized piece of medium-rare foie gras, topped with delicious fig jam, a slice of fig with a delicious popcorn morsel perched on the top. Wash this down with a glass of fruity red and you are immediately ready for another piece.  I would definitely order two portions of these as one of these beauties as one plate is simply not enough.

2. Crab Meat and Avocado Roll with Salmon Caviar – HK$88

I am clueless as to how they make the gold coloured gel-like skin that looks like a wonton wrap and envelopes the tasty crab meat and avocado filling inside this almost beautiful h’or oeuvre.  Garnished with a dash of mayonnaise and Japanese caviar, this is delicious to the boot.

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3. Iberico Ham in Raw Tuna Roll with Half Boiled Egg – HK$78 

Not quite a main course, but this is a good sharing portion that you want to order a side of garlic bread for, just to mop up the runny egg. The tuna is just lightly seared, the way you would see it at a Japanese restaurant and really goes well with the egg.

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4. Kurabata Pork Chop with Apple Paste – HK$298

This pork dish makes an excellent main course if you are dining alone or slice it up and you have a decent main course to share along with the other tapas treats that you have picked.

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5.  Spanish Style Beef Ribs – HK$368

The beef on the bone that was served was literally huge. More than adequate for sharing and way too much for one person to finish alone. Beautifully coated and grilled in black sesame seeds, this gave the meat a juicy and tender texture. Definitely, a new favourite meat dish for those with carnivorous leanings, like me.

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6. Must-Order Paella – HK$288

We saw many people order this dish which comes served in an impressive Moroccan style tagine instead of the usual paella pan. I was intrigued and ordered the Squid Ink version (not shown in picture – as squid ink does not photograph well) which truly turned out to be one of the best paellas I have ever eaten. Moist, full of exquisite flavour – each bite leaves you abandoning all courtesy so that you can dig your spoon in for another bite.  At the end, all I could see was the satisfied smacking of everyone’s slightly-stained black lips.

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7.  Excellent Sangria, Beer and Creative Cocktails 

This restaurant gets my vote for good Sangria. The bartender serves an excellent mix – not too sweet, just the right amount of fruit and definitely enough vino to give it a good ‘kick’ start to a fun evening.  My 12 year old swears by the Mango non-alcoholic cocktail.

By the end of the meal and a few more jugs of sangria later, we were too full to try dessert which definitely gives us a reason to return.

Where: 

Playa De Papagayo is at

Shop N3, G/F, Podium Plaza, 5 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 – 2739 1808

and

Shop 2 , 5 Observatory Rd Tsim Sha Tsui                                                                                                     Tel: +852 – 2323 1379