Marketing gimmicks make this Hotpot chain a winner!

I’m back in Hong Kong for two weeks because of the Summer school break in Auckland which means that I have come back to cooler Winter weather because of the reverse in seasons. For my tummy, cool weather simply translates into hotpot time – an excuse to get together and catch up with good friends for one of my favourite shared meals.

A close friend recommended this amazing hot pot find. A place called Hai Di Lao hotpot restaurant which started in China’s Sichuan province in 2004 and evolved from a humble spicy (ma-la) hotpot chain to a 300 outlet chain all over China, Hong Kong, recently opening in Singapore and the US. We visited the outlet in Kowloon’s bustling Yaumatei district. For those who want to try it – head out of Yaumatei’s MTR station, exit A1 and its just around the corner, up the stairs in the next door mall.

There is literally something for everyone from food to entertainment here based on the sheer marketing genius that is behind it’s brilliant customer service. In fact, keeping the customer waiting has become an art form at this restaurant.

Make a reservation and arrive in time for it but don’t expect to be promptly seated. In fact, you should expect a queue … and a VERY LONG one at that. However there are no angry complaints, hungry crying children or irritable guests (all common sights at crowded Hong Kong eateries). Instead, this restaurant has turned waiting time into a fun pre-dining experience for all who come.

Seats and free snacks

There are seats for everyone in the queue, albeit rather unsophisticated stools and small tables but no one is left standing.

img_1720

Whilst you wait, you can help yourself to a free-flow complimentary range of snacks or fruits, water,  pop corn, crisps and even ice cream (if you want it before your meal). Before long, you will find yourself happily chatting, itchy mouth occupied and hunger soothed whilst you whet that appetite. If you are still bored, pick up one of their readily available board games or leave the kids to watch TV or get them busily occupied in the Kid’s playroom.

Free Gel Nails

Ladies, forget future investments in your expensive gel nail package. The outlet here has a team of manicurist that offer a free gel nail service.

img_1712

They  remove your old set, reapply the new and you have an ample choice of trendy colours and embellishments. Definitely gets you coming back for your next fix every month when your nails grow out. An act of sheer marketing genius in my books!

Birthday Parties and Performances

Birthday celebrations are also a performance art here. The service crew come out to sing a song, stereo music accompaniment blaring in the background. By the time that they are done, everyone in the restaurant knows its your special day. Bring your own cake or order one from the outlet. Whatever makes your visit and the occasion work!

The restaurant has occasional impromptu performances here like the Chinese face mask changing artist. They go from table to table to entertain guests during dinner.

VIP Members

Customer retention and loyalty is a big thing here. VIPs (we are not sure how one qualifies for this) have a little sign that says you are ‘Diamond member’ delivered to the table.

My host who was a diamond member got the full works – a service staff who knew his name, a visit from the outlet manager to our table to chat and find out how we were doing – at the same time delivering a free box of beautifully packaged red packets from the restaurant for Chinese New Year. My host shares that they even give away mooncakes when the annual mid-autumn season season arrives.

img_1731

Whilst we happily chatted away. we had our hot pot items cooked for us at the table by the hostess, drinks refreshed almost every five minutes, all despite a crazy turnover of customers coming in and out of the restaurant. Someone also came by to take a commemorative photo of our table when the food arrived and at the end of the meal, each guest at our table got a print out of the photo in a sealed zip lock for safe keeping. This was nothing short of the whole works in terms of customer service.

The Menu

The hotpot menu had good and wide variety and was high tech. No paper menus with everything available only on a tablet which is left on your table. In terms of the food – hot pot is hot pot – there is not a lot that you don’t love about the experience since you literally pick your own favourites and the pleasure lies in the camaraderie of cooking it.

img_1724

What I truly thought was innovative and unexpected was the soup tray. Usually you get a ying yang tray with a maximum of two compartments. This restaurant offered a tray with 4 cooking slots which meant that you could have 3 or 4 soup bases with different flavours to cook your food in. We chose the sichuan hot soup base (known as ma-la), a pork bone soup broth and a tomato soup base (my favourite) leaving the last compartment for hot water to cook the veggies, noodles or just to rinse out our cooking utensils.

And just when we thought that the experience was ended, our order of noodles arrived with dancing waiter in tow. Dinner theatre was his noodle dance hand-pulling the noodles according to the preferred consistency – thick or thin.

If you don’t like noodles, don’t fret, there is also a wagyu beef fried rice at the buffet bar which comes complimentary with the meal, alongside a variety of starters. Everything is free except the sauces (HK$22 per person) and the drinks ($15 per person and refillable) which honestly was a nominal fee considering how everything else was already thrown in.

Dessert arrived – a finale of fresh fruits and a clear Osmanthus Pear drink. Go back to the buffet bar if you want seconds and help yourself with more. All complimentary, of course.

Open 24 Hours!

No one politely chases you out after an hour – which is the case at most of Hong Kong’s popular hot pot buffet restaurants, just to accomodate a turn over of customers. Instead, here you roll yourself out voluntarily – just to walk off all you have eaten pre and post main course. Whoever said hot pot was healthy as it was all soup – clearly has not been to Haidilao!

And did I mention it is open 24 hours a day here with queues at midnight being the norm! It definitely needs to go to Australia and New Zealand where there are Chinese communities with appetites for novelty and exactly this type of concept.

Find their Hong Kong outlets here

 

Advertisements

The Art Of Grazing

I had four great parties to attend (and host) over the recent festive season, in Auckland. And with the Kiwi practice of ‘bringing a shared plate’ something that Singaporeans would call a ‘pot-luck’ dish, I decided to be adventurous and announced that I would bring a grazing platter as a starter.

Fascinated with the concept of grazing, I have discovered that you can create a visually stunning ‘gourmet’ platter, quite simply and effectively at home. All you have to do is to put the right ingredients together in the right combination, employ the right serving tools and follow some really simple and useful guidelines which I have shared below .. and voila!

screen shot 2019-01-05 at 6.58.06 pm

Experience from the four parties this season has taught me that the concept of a grazing platter is a great way to break the ice, especially if you have a room of people that don’t know each other well. Because of the nature of the platter and the fact that you have to come close to pick off it, it actually brings everyone together, around the table or a central area instead of having people wander off to different parts of the room and engage in separate conversations. As it is the first course to any meal, it also visually whets people’s appetites and tastebuds and quite often because it is first on the table, it almost always gets emptied with gusto. And that’s the impression you want to leave everyone with – that it was so-o-o-o gooo-ood!

Some quick tips to create a stunning grazing platter:

Decide on a theme

Depending on the size of the party and what the other starters are, decide if yours is going to be an all-cheese or a mixed meat and cheese platter. Then select the ingredients you buy, to suit your general theme.

A Cheese-only platter has as its staple at least 3 basic cheeses (preferably 2 hard and 1 soft). With this, you will serve up a menu of dried and fresh fruits (raisins, cranberries and apricots) combined with seedless grapes preferably red and green and a variety of whatever berries are in season. Add on a variety of sweet (candied walnuts) and salty nuts (cashews and almonds), plain and fancy crackers, Dips are optional but it is nice to have a flavourful savoury dip (a salmon and caviar cream) and a tangy sweet dip (ginger-marmalade chutney) or a nutty dip (vegan pistachio and cashew with sun-dried tomatoes) to make things interesting.

The Mixed Platter has a meat or fish component added on to the above.  If its meat  that you are going for, I recommend 3 different meats – prosciutto, a mild salami and a cured or smoked spicy chorizo – all thinly sliced are all winners to me. With a special occasion like Christmas, the Mixed Platter can look visually appealing, deliver that generous, wow factor and feed a fairly big party.

From Italian anti-pesto to Greek Mezze, Mediterranean, Spanish Tapas or North Indian – the themes are all up to you and what you think will best wow your guests. The important thing about a theme is to find a theme-specific dish  to anchor the platter and build the items that you choose around it, to support and create an edible story.

screen shot 2019-01-07 at 10.09.08 am

The Right Tools

It’s true, presentation is everything and first impressions do count especially since the art of feasting, begins wth the eyes!

Invest in three types of basic boards to present your platter. A long wooden plank serves a large group of up to 25, a round 12 inch pizza style paddle  with a handle can feed about 15, a regular sized lazy susan also makes a good and larger option to a 12 inch paddle plus it has the advantage of being able to rotate. And if you can get a square or rectangular bread board, this also creates good options to feed smaller parties.

Build a small collection of empty glass food jars. Don’t collect standard sizes, instead make sure that they are in different shapes, sizes and heights. Consider also that the mouths of each of these jars will be wide enough so you can hold anything from breadsticks to carrot wedges. I like jam, honey or sauce bottles (labels soaked and stripped off).  I also save the amazing terracotta jars from French dessert shop Paul Lafayet, each time I buy one of their ready-packed desserts from the super-market. I often also buy interesting patterned or odd-shaped clay bowls when I travel or look for unusual sauce dishes that will add interest and highlight to whatever theme I have chosen for my platter.

A couple of quality fancy cheese knives (as those will be scrutinised and well-used on your platter) are also good investments along with a number of small-ish spoons that can be used to scoop out the dips onto crackers.

The pleasure of grazing is having a small pick either stuck into the food you serve, or available in a jar so guests can grab one and pick at what they want. Invest in a few rustic looking mini skewers, metal picks or mini dessert forks along with small dainty cocktail size serving dishes or trays for your guests to enjoy the graze.

Tuck or fold a small napkin along with your palm sized serving plates and mini dessert forks or fancy picks. Hand these out once everyone has a drink in hand, and you are ready to start the party.

Quality rather than quantity

It is so tempting to think quantity when you are buying to fill a grazing platter – 3 packets of this and 4 packets of that … I have learnt that you should go quality rather than quantity.

Whilst it is important to have enough, interesting items and a good variety does matter and lends an artisan feel to your creation.

img_1234.jpg

Here’s a shopping list of what went into this platter which I organised for 20 guests.

  • Grapes and Carrot sticks and Blueberries (1 plunket of red and black seedless grapes, loose anti-oxidant rich blueberries and carrot sticks)
  • Cheeses (5 types altogether: 3 soft creamy cheeses – I picked a Double-Cream Camberbert, Regular Brie and a Creamy Blue. There were also 2 hard cheese – I picked a Dutch Maasdam Cheese which looks just like the ones you see in the Tom and Jerry cartoons with the holes in them – they are lovely and firm and you can shred or cube them easily, just like I did with the Gouda)
  • Meats (3 types – shredded Proscuitto, slices of Mild Salami and thinly-sliced Spicy Smoked Chorizo)
  • Crackers (3 types – Textured Oat and Walnut with Cranberry crackers and Cracked Pepper Wafers. To make it appetising, I also bought a variety of cheese and herb sticks which I stood up in a bottle jar)
  • Nuts (2 types – Salted chilli mixed nuts, Sweet mix of raw almonds, walnuts, cashews and cranberries)
  • Dips – A lovely Salmon and Caviar cream fresh from the Auckland Fish Market.

img_1357.jpg

Handmake your signs

The key to the success of your platter is to make sure that it has a few indisputably interesting quality items that you highlight with signs so that they also become positive conversation points and ice breaker topics.

Show some pride and effort for your creation. Bring attention to these items by creating some signs to highlight them.  The concept is the same as what you see in a fancy restaurant menu. It’s all in the copy. You automatically want to try it out of curiosity when you read that it’s not just fish but ‘line-caught Atlantic Wild Salmon’ and instead of mushrooms, these are ‘hand-picked first-crop Truffles’. Remember it does pay to put the extra into the ordinary and don’t leave your guests guessing at what they are picking at.

Variety and texture

A platter should not be static, one dimensional and blah. There are a few rules when arranging your platter.

img_1343For example place your cheeses at the ends of a round cheese board or near an edge of a square platter so that people can access them easily to cut off a wedge or pick a cube of what they want.  Cube the hard cheese or crumble it into chunky pieces. Look to give everything a sense of depth and texture whilst at the same time controlling the portion sizes on your platter.

Have things laid out in according to what makes sense – put the bland flatbread or breadsticks next to a tangy or savoury dip, the cucumber or carrot sticks next to a something spicy or flavourful. Have the blue cheese next to the pear and walnuts so that people don’t have to search for what are natural food pairings. Look to wow with colour and contrast.

My next graze challenge …

With the Lunar New Year around the corner, my next personal challenge is a themed grazing platter that incorporates an Asian theme with nibbles like kwa-chi, nuts, new year goodies like peanut and walnut cookies, my favourite pineapple tarts, bak-kwa (roasted pork), pork floss, various sweets and savouries, mandarins, pomelos and flowers especially pink peonies (my personal favs).

If you have been inspired and want to join in the challenge – send me pictures of what you have created and I will be happy to share them on our facebook page or instagram.

In the meantime, a happy new year to all and watch this space – for shots of my next little home-made effort – from the heart and hearth of my kitchen to yours!

img_1576

Elaine

 

 

 

 

‘Ro-zay’ Season Arrives

I love how a change of seasons brings new tastes to the table. I have never been an ‘eat the season‘ type of gal. I am just your average Ms Greedy. I eat and drink what I like, according to what I fancy.  But after moving to Auckland, where the seasons are much more distinct, eating and drinking the season, does mean that you get a taste of the season’s best in terms of enjoying the freshest farm-to-table harvest in that period.

In Auckland this week, I’ve walked into wine-shops and supermarkets, greeted by delightful rows of pink populating wine shelves everywhere. A sure sign that despite the still-cool weather that we are having here, summer is surely on it’s way and Rose (pronounced Ro-zay) season has arrived!

Over the last few months, my Kiwi friends have tried to swing my tastebuds in favour of  the bubblies. I’m ok with the occasional glass of Prosecco and Champagne but I am still a reds fan and white, only if its a Reisling or a Chardonnay, and sweet. However, lately I have started to appreciate a glass or two of pink.

img_0495

My new favourite is this Hawke’s Bay, easy to drink, semi-sweet 2018 Sparkling Rose ($23 a bottle) from Blackbarn Vineyards. Light and summery, without that dry-mouth aftertaste and that horrible heavy hangover feeling that overtakes you after you’ve had a glass too many – this one gets my thumbs up.

Not all Rose’s are equal though. Most tend to be crisp, borderline dry and not always sweet. But they do taste great chilled and yes even better … horrors (with a cube of ice in them).

Product Shot_4

Not just limited to Auckland, it seems … Rose season is everywhere. In Hong Kong  where Winter and the party season is about to descend,  Somersby  have just launched their latest cider flavour – a Rose Sparkling blend (HK$19.90 a bottle) with only 4.5% of alcohol (available in all supermarkets and convenience stores in Hong Kong from December 2018).

So with Friday here and Summer (in Auckland) on it’s way … Hello Ro-zay! I’m definitely planning to drink the season …

47991117a7e9d788c0e8edc1ec4fabec-1

 

Elaine

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

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.

img_9047.jpg

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.

 

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.’

IMG_8457

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.

IMG_8458

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.

IMG_8455

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.

IMG_8689

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.

IMG_8687

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.

13720923_1286972881320406_268607703_n

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.

IMG_8889

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.

IMG_8471

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.

IMG_8710

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.

13718437_1052927628095952_93350248_n

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

 

Spa That In-City Getaway

Somehow when I think ‘Spa’ – my mind wanders to Thailand and Bali. The concept of relaxation does somewhat equal resort getaway but what if being in the city is the only option … for now.

Just last night, I popped into the opening of the new Chuan Body + Soul, an in-city Spa on the 15th floor of the chi chi Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.

unspecified

Blame the twinkly fairy lights, the skinny cocktails (nothing over 250 calories) that I was plied with or maybe one of those uber healthy Acai berry bowls or the on-trend novelty multivitamin jellies that I was served, but my evening there, did somehow leave me lightheaded and open to the possibilities of a stealing a sneaky getaway right here, yes, during office hours under the bosses nose, right at the convenience of my Kowloon doorstep.

unspecified-4

Opening its doors to membership for the first time, Chuan Body + Soul (previously just for Hotel guests) is offering a Health Club membership (with access to the pool and fitness facilities) at HK$1,800 per person, per month with a HK$250 per month fee for a locker.

unspecified-6

The newly renovated premises offer stylish treatment rooms for massages and various treatments using private label essential oils saunas and showers, a rooftop swimming pool and a split-level fitness on demand health club.

unspecified-1

IMG_8678What I actually thought was particularly ‘buzzy’ and exciting was their new retail element – the sale and launch of Deborah Mitchell’s, Heaven product line and her award-winning bee venom therapies. An award winning aesthetician, she created and patented the Bee Venom product line ABEETOXIN®, used as the natural alternative to Botox by harvesting bee venom. Her Bee Sting Facial Therapy (HK$1,380 for 1 hr 15 mins) is said to give that instant natural face lift without the injections.

Another notable – Chuan also launches her Bee Peel Facial (HK$780 for 30 mins), the first of its kind to launch in Asia, designed with organic coconut, apple, raw sugar cane and 18% glycolic peel to deliver Medi-spa results by minimising visible fine lines, scars, pigmentation, sallow skin, blemishes and enlarged pores. A definite must-try if you are into what I term a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mantra.

unspecified-5

Members get the use of the gym, access to Personal trainer and can join the range of classes such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation and Singing Bowl Sound Therapy or simply use the pool to swim or jacuzzi-away after a hard day at work.  Members’ Friends and Family  enjoy a HK$200 per person Monday to Friday rate / HK$300 per person Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays.  Not a bad deal if you want a fun girls’ day out!

IMG_8676

And if you are afraid that you will undo all the good from your soak, work out and massage then meals at the Spa offer a nutritious menu with healthy Sandwiches and Wraps alongside dishes like Açai bowls, homemade cereal bars, artificial-free fruit popsicles and energy boosting smoothies packed with antioxidants for long-lasting fuel.

If its a getaway to mark a special occasion, book a retreat – their Chuan Retreat Package at HK $5,000 offers a night’s stay in a One Bedroom Suite, a Signature Balancing or Chuan Harmony body massage for Two and access to The Langham Club lounge. Reservations at +852 2378 9988

Membership details see HERE or call: call +852 2378 9988

Meet Mr S.Y Punti – A Small Cafe With Big Personality

The next time you are find yourself in the increasingly trendy Sai Ying Pun enclave, drop by and say hello to a new resident there, the honourable Mr. S.Y. Punti!

IMG_7724

Who is he? He or rather IT is a small cafe with undeniable personality.  There are no short forms when it comes to formal introductions with this cafe. On contrary, this elusive little place is tucked behind a temporary public toilet at the end of David Lane – next to the Sai Ying Pun wet market. It took a little bit of investigative work to track Mr. Punti down but when we eventually did, my girlfriend and I were both pleased and pleasantly surprised by this little gem of an eatery which also serves coffee and alcohol.

IMG_7725

Cafe Manager, Bibiana greeted us warmly at the door when we arrived for lunch to try some of the traditional cha chaan teng fare that seems to have been given a nice twist in terms of preparation, presentation and the use of healthy and fresh produce instead of the usual canned fare that cha chaan tengs are so fond of using.

IMG_7727

The first thing we inquired with Bibiana was about was the inspiration behind the Cafe’s name. The “Mr” is just a fun formality and the Cafe’s initials. “S.Y.”, she explained, stood for Sai Ying Pun which turns out was one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods and one of the first formally settled places in Hong Kong as it was close to where the British first landed.  It’s surname “Punti” hails from the ‘pun’ in Sai Ying Pun and also the word “punti’ which is the slang word for local dialect – a word that it’s Barrister Founder and Owner picked up in court when asking clients that he was representing whether they wanted legal proceedings to be conducted in English or Cantonese.

That done, we got down to admiring the nitty gritty – from the very retro and interesting decor to the simple but tasty menu.

IMG_7728

I have to say, I really liked the use of space in the venue. The eatery is essentially tiny and is housed in a small narrow shop house. Outside there is an alfresco area with seats for 2 just before you enter the premises. Inside, is a small living space that has been converted into a dining area with booths that seat 8 and  a bar area with seats for 6, whilst the back of house area hosts a rest room, an open-air air-well and the Cafe’s main kitchen.

There is a distinct retro 1960s vibe which adds to the charm of the venue. A very eclectic and quirky Hong Kong sense of style prevails here. Different elements from East and West come together almost seamlessly and effortlessly and at Mr. S.Y. Punti, it is a case of 1960s style American Diner meets 1960s Chinese vintage.

IMG_7737

Just open the secret drawer built into one of the eatery’s standard American diner booth tables and help yourself to the eclectic mix of Chinese vintage style cutlery. Whilst you chat and eat, Faye Wong’s sultry tunes add to the relaxing ambience in the distant background. It is an unusual mix, but yet nothing feels odd or misplaced.

The menu and fare is simple with items that one would expect at a local Hong Kong eatery but decently priced, well-presented, hearty and minus that greasy after-taste that brings on the food coma you usually suffer from, after leaving a Hong Kong cha chaan teng.

IMG_7739

We started with what the locals call Cheong Fun, an order of Panfried Rice Rolls with Eggs and Bean Sprouts (HK$32).

IMG_7740

After that came the Panfried Lotus Root Cake made from mushrooms and minced pork served with Mini Greens (HK$36).

food_3

This was followed by my favourite – Dumplings, a combination of three different types of dumplings – one with Minced Pork, one with Shitake and the last variety with Chicken and Celery (all for HK$38) served in a lovely homemade Chicken broth.

IMG_7732

All three items went well with the Cafe’s signature Yu Kwen Yick chilli sauce. It turns out that the Cafe was previously the actual ‘factory’ venue where this iconic made-in-Hong Kong chilli sauce was actually manufactured – fermented in wooden barrels.

IMG_7749

IMG_7746

Dessert was a French Toast with Peanut Butter (HK$35) and Sesame Balls or Tong Yuen served in Iron Buddha Tea (HK$35). I really liked this unusual combination where the tea had a delicious roasted flavour and was gingerly poured over the sesame balls. Again an unusual combination that somehow, mysteriously worked.

interior_03_2

We ended our meal with two cups of Olympia Graeco-Egyptian coffee which barista-trained – Bibiana, personally prepared.

interior_04-1

Definitely, a cute spot to retreat to in the day, for a quiet girlfriend chat – over Almond Tea (HK$35) and a Cappuccino (HK$35), away from the hustle and bustle of busy Sai Ying Pun. Or this venue would also make a lovely spot to host a private party for about 20 people, after hours. Also, an ultra-nice nice venue to pop into for an evening, after work drink where Blue Girl Beer is on tap and a glass of wine starts at only HK$48.

IMG_7730

Nice to make your acquaintance S.Y, we hope you don’t mind us dropping the ‘Mister’ and now that we have been formally introduced, we would love to come back and say hello and get re-quainted. This time, perhaps on a first name basis!

Mr. S.Y Punti is at G/F No. 4 David Lane, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong – Tel: +852 29158885 

 

Japanese Donburi At Its Very Best At Dondonya!

The Japanese truly win hands down when it comes to turning a humble bowl of rice into a work of art. In fact, the Tokyo Dome hosts an annual 10 day competition called the Donburi Senshuken (or National Donburi Championship), where restauranteurs and chefs from different prefectures in Japan gather together to compete for a cash prize to create the most interesting and unique donburi.

Here in Hong Kong, donburi specialists, DONDONYA, through a year-long collaboration with Japan’s national Fuji TV network and the Tokyo Dome, have been serving up 4 of the award winning bowls to Hong Kong palettes, over the last few months.

I popped into their newly renovated restauant at APM Mall in Kwun Tung to try a few of their acclaimed rice bowls which are served solo or come in value for money sets for lunch, tea and dinner, with a drink or side dish and soup as an easy-on-the-pocket price add-on.

The Dondonya chain operates a total of 10 casual dining outlets all over Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories, serving up not just donburi but Sanuki thick udon bowls, a variety of Beef and Pork Curry dishes and delicious deep fried Katsuretsu items.

Toro Salmon and Ikura Oyakodon

Diners who came in earlier in the year would have sampled the 3 other winning bowls from Hokkaido’s famous Unimeshi Don and the Toro Salmon and Ikura Don (pictured above) to Kyushu’s Oita Torimeshi Don.

Cochin Oyakodon

On promotion during my visit was 2017’s top 5 winner, the Cochin Oyakodon from Aichi Prefecture in Nagoya. The dish was created by Torikai, a famous chicken specialty restaurant chain there. The chicken thighs of Nagoya Cochin are the main ingredient of this donburi. The chicken is bred free-range and has a distinctive appearance with buff-colored feathers and is famous for its firmness and meat that is supposedly richer in flavour. Bonito, soy sauce from the Aichi prefecture, Japanese sake, high-quality mirin and other ingredients are simmered into a broth for marinating the Nagoya Cochin. Topped with runny egg, the final result offers a truly satisfying rice bowl at only HKD$78 served as a set.

Obihiro Butadon

We decided to try a few other eye-catching rice bowls including the Obihiro Butadon Donburi, a delightful Pork dish that much like eating a hearty bowl of tender pork chops with peas and a delicious rich sauce. We found out that the restaurant uses a variety of short grain rice from Japan and this is cooked in purified water to retain its full flavour and fragrance.

Jumbo Red Shrimp and Seafood Rice Bowl

The Jumbo Red Shrimp and Seafood Rice Bowl was definitely the most visually appealing and my favourite item on the menu. This would be an instant hit with any seafood lover as the seafood tasted fresh and it was stacked like a beautiful bouquet that looks almost too good to dismantle and dig into.

The Fisherman’s Catch

The Fisherman’s Catch was my daughter’s choice and understandably it was about getting the best of two bowls on one tray. An excellent and a very satisfying choice for someone who likes variety.  This combination of two mini bowls, the Eel Rice bowl and a Mixed Sashimi Bowl is all about flavour and colour juxtaposed, each fighting for attention making it almost impossible to decide which to eat first.

Everything was happily downed with Frozen Beer and Suntori Whisky leaving us a little too full for dessert. But the next time I return, I will look forward to trying the Matcha, Coffee and Soda drinks and sample the selection of Parfait desserts.

The verdict: Definitely most impressed! Great overall variety, excellent presentation, good quality and exceptional value for money. Deserves more than one return trip!

Dondonya has 10 outlets in Hong Kong – location addresses click: HERE

Kazahana in Wanchai – Glass Grill Teppanyaki, Sushi and Sashimi

Here’s a lovely new Japanese restaurant that I recently discovered in Hong Kong’s Queen’s Road area in Wan Chai.

Kazahana is essentially a  Teppanyaki and Sushi restaurant that combines a casual ground floor eatery (seats 35) with private VIP rooms for 6 to 12, a more intimate Teppanyaki salon (seats 22) on the second floor and an impressive Sushi and Sashimi restaurant (seats 35) on the third floor.

The concept seamlessly brings together the skills and combined experience of two pedigree Chefs – Sushi Head Chef Milton Lau, previously from the michelin-starred Ginza Kyubey restaurant in Tokyo, reputed to be the best sushi restaurant in Japan and Teppanyaki Head Chef Choco Chan, previously from the one michelin-starred, I M Teppanyaki and Wine in Hong Kong, known for their use of top notch ingredients and grill specialties.

I headed there with a few friends for Teppanyaki and ended up sharing the Abalone, Boston Lobster Teppanyaki Course (HK$1,480 for 2 persons) which proved good value for money considering how fresh the live catch was.

What arrived was a hearty Appetiser followed by South African Abalone, Boston Lobster, Sliced US Sirloin Beef, Fried Rice and Dessert – a substantial meal indeed with a nice amount of flair and drama in terms of food theatre as everything was prepared, laid out and cooked ala minute on a state of the art glass grill rather than on the usual Teppanyaki metal hot stove tops that one expects to see in a traditional Teppanyaki place.

For Teppanyaki connoisseurs or those out for a more lavish treat, there is a more elaborate shared menu for 2 that goes up to HK$2,680 and includes 3 kinds of Sashimi, a King Crab Salad, Japanese Snapper, Abalone and Wagyu Beef and ends with a King Crab Congee and dessert.

You can also order add ons like the  Jumbo King Prawn which feature grilled king prawns drizzled with a sauce made with Japanese Sea Urchin and Truffle oil that give this dish an amazingly rich flavour.

The Salon itself is small, cosy and intimate and a good choice if you are hosting a fairly private dinner party and there are four private stations that seat groups of up to 4 to 7 that you can reserve.

A lunch set is also available daily at HK$188 per person featuring a Cod Fish Teppanyaki Set Lunch. Teppanyaki Set Dinners per person are available starting at HK$980 per person.

If its sushi you are hankering for then third floor eatery serves sushi and sashimi. Must tries we hear, are the Sushi Omakase Set at HK$1,200 per person where the selection of fish is seasonal and sliced in a unique style to maximize freshness.

KAZAHANA is at 83 Queen’s Road East, Portwealth Centre, Wan Chai.

Open daily Lunch from 12 to 1430 pm Dinner from 1800 to 2230 pm.                                     Reservations at +852 2865 7177.                                                                                                                                         Email: kazahanainfo@kazahanahk.com                                                                                                     Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kazahanahk