Thursday, April 28, 2011

The "Pun"

For those living in the Sai Ying Pun area, there have been loads of new restaurants cropping up ever since Island Crest went up. While it's quite exciting to be living in a community where all this new development is happening, it's also sad when you wander around the neighbourhood and see just how many old buildings are being demolished. Sure, they're well past their prime but they can easily be restored rather than torn down and transformed into yet another 60-storey complex. I actually really like the feel of Sai Ying Pun - it's so distinctly local. With the construction of the West Island line and property prices surging, it's sad to think how little of this local character will be preserved.

Earlier in April, the CE approved the draft Sai Ying Pun OZP with a huge chunk of area designated for commercial and high-density residential development. Apparently there are a number of height restrictions to prevent obstructing views and the construction of excessively tall buildings, but considering the size of the buildings I've seen going up recently, I doubt the "restrictions" have any practical effect on bringing about those objectives.

Went off on a bit of a tangent there, but like I said, one of the consequences of all this new development is the increase in the variety of restaurants around the area. The first one I tried was Gourmet Kitchen:

The owner is extremely friendly and always greets me with a smile when he sees me teetering down the street to get to the trams below. This restaurant opened close to 6 months ago and while I always walk past it, I never had the time to try it since they close relatively early (I believe the last order is at 8:30).

We finally made it one night and ordered two dishes:

enoki mushrooms wrapped in beef & rice

I don't remember the exact prices but this dish was really cheap - something like $28? It was pretty yummy, the beef was nice and tender and I always love enoki mushrooms. The beans were a pass though and there was a bit too much sauce, though once you mix it with the rice it's manageable :)

fish fillet, also served with rice and beans

The fish was really yummy and if you notice on the top, it comes with a goreng pisang (fried banana)! So bizarre but made me happy! I think this dish was slightly more expensive but within the $30 region.

We also had two cups of delicious honey lemon tea (I think they use the Korean mix) which helped sooth my stomach after the saucy meal. All in all, a pretty enjoyable meal. The service was great, food came out quick, and there's definitely no complaints about the price.

The second place I went to is this new Japanese take-out store on 2nd street, right opposite Gourmet Kitchen.

I was curious as to how their business is doing as they just opened up before the Tsunami etc. and I always see their delivery bikes parked round the corner with nowhere to go... However, the night I went the place was actually pretty busy. I guess a lot of people from Island Crest drop by for food and the staff told me that it was really popular with the foreigners.

The prices aren't cheap but the quality was much better than I expected.

I ordered the Kaga set (20 pieces for $198) and an order of their inarizushi (my favourite! 6 pieces for $58). If you order over $100, they'll give you a $10 discount too.

inarizushi wrapped so pretty!

kaga set

unagi, wasabi octopus, and their signature 'salted fatty salmon'

surf clams, sea eel, shrimp, octopus, sea bass

Everything tasted really fresh and they pride themselves on using 100% Japanese rice. I loved that the rice was hot as well :) I particularly enjoyed their shrimp and sea bass. While the salmon was definitely not like anything I've tasted before with sushi, it was quite interesting - almost akin to smoked salmon. Nice and fatty, just like promised - but I do prefer the regular type.

The star though was definitely their inarizushi which I enjoyed immensely.

I definitely want to try their lunch sets which are pretty good value - you can either get 8 pieces of sushi or 3 rice balls (salmon, pickled plum, and dried bonito) for $49, miso soup and drink included. (Forgot to take a picture but their miso soup is amazing!)

I'll be taking more photos of the other restaurants in the neighbourhood - I recently moved down the street so there's a whole bunch of new places to try!

Gourmet Kitchen
G/f, 1 Second Street
Sai Ying Pun

Sushi Ieyasu
G/F, 4 Second Street
Sai Ying Pun

Friday, April 22, 2011

Man Wah (民華魚蛋粉麵)

While I must admit I don't particularly miss living out in Tai Po, there are a couple things about the area that have always put a smile on my face. I love Tai Po market, the copious amounts of bakeries on every street corner, and the public library which is far cosier than Hong Kong Central library. However, this 魚蛋粉 stall by far tops the list.

The iced coffee is the yummiest I've had at cha chaan teng's (and only $7!), the 燉奶 is super smooth and made with Kowloon Dairy milk, and the 炸鱼皮 is dangerously addicting. But what I love most is the 鱼皮头! It's such a shame that in one bowl you only get two pieces :(

I happened to be (kinda) in the area after shopping at Ikea, Sha Tin, so took the opportunity to go back for a delicious and satisfying meal that cost under $30 pp.

炸鱼皮... wish i could take the whole jar home!

but one bowl was perhaps enough fried stuff for the day :P

iced coffee ($7) love the coffee powder at the top :)

咸鱼肉并饭 ($18)

This used to be one of my favourite dishes at Man Wah but perhaps I haven't gone for too long and my taste buds aren't used to just how salty the rou bing is anymore! But with enough mouthfuls of rice, this was still super satisfying, comfort food.

beef brisket noodles ($28)

This always hits the spot. The beef brisket is super tender and full of fat :D

鱼蛋河 ($18)

With even more fried fish skin mmmm! Delicious, especially when soaked in the soup :P This bowl of noodles always puts a smile on my face. Still swear it's the yummiest I've had in Hong Kong.

Maybe it's nostalgia, but this cha chaan teng truly serves great quality food. So if any of you ever find yourself in the area, do give it a try! The weather is great for bike riding or hiking now, and where better to go than Tai Po? Plus, we have a railway museum that was recently featured at Lego Exhibit:

Man Wah Fish Ball Noodles
19 Kwong Fuk Lane,
Tai Po

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sergeant Hainan Chicken Rice

I've never tried the Sergeant Chicken Rice in Singapore but have gone a few times in Hong Kong and absolutely love it. It's cheap, quick, pretty consistent, and actually has proper dark soy sauce and crushed ginger :) The chicken is (usually) boneless and the rice extremely flavourful! The only gripe I'd have is the soup which is a little different from what I'm used to in Singapore. That said, this was far more satisfying than my recent meal at Satay Inn. Pure comfort food.

(I've only tried the Food Republics in TST and Tai Koo and think the latter is far better quality)

Food Republic
Cityplaza, Taikoo Shing

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Dim Sum Part II

After my previous post on dim sum, a friend tipped me off about 新兴食家 - a dim sum joint in Kennedy Town. Apparently it opens at 3am - a perfect late night snack after clubbing? I was hoping for a calmer experience than Lin Heung but unfortunately it was more fight-for-your-food dining.

We arrived at noon and waited about 5 minutes for a table.

our semi-cleaned table

cha siu cheong

Unfortunately there was no har cheong again so we quickly grabbed this instead. Wasn't a fan though - the skin was REALLY thick and not as smooth as I would've liked. Plus, the sweet soy sauce that it came with was a bit off.

where cheong fun is made :)

har gao

Luckily the har gau made up for the awful cheong fun. I was surprised how different this skin was - thin, slightly chewy, translucent = perfect! The prawn was delicious too, they were big and burst in your mouth :) Tasted very fresh, especially considering our surroundings! We ended up ordering 3 baskets for the two of us haha.

cha xiu bao

Not my favourite version. There was far too much bread though the cha siu innards were decent - tender and not too cloyingly sweet.

siu mai

Siu mai was okay... not too much comment on them as I don't usually order this at dim sum so can't make fair comparisons.

ham sui gok

The ham sui gok was very very fried and there was far too much dough, not enough filling. It also tasted stale... perhaps we got one of the last batches that had been sitting out for a while? Couldn't finish one of these... Quite disappointed because they came looking pretty yummy!

liu sha bao

This was delicious! The bun here was far better than the cha siu bao, - smoother, lighter, spongier. The innards also perfectly melted in my mouth. It was great that I snatched it up when it first came out the kitchen because they were piping hot and glorious to tear into!


All in all, this was a pretty decent meal especially considering the price - the total for all the food above (remember we did get 3 har gow's) was $108. For 8 dim sum dishes, you can't get much cheaper than that! I think this is probably the best of the 3 dim sum restaurants I've tried recently. However, only the liu sha bao and har gau really stuck out. Can't see myself venturing out here again any time soon. And now I'm craving dim sum in comfortable surroundings with people actually serving me! Lung King Heen anyone? :)

Also.... Just before I left the restaurant, I noticed the door to the kitchen was open so took a peek inside. Hm... exposed meat, grimy floors, random bowl filled with mysterious liquid. Yeaaaaah.

Though when it's 5am and you've been out drinking all night, do you really care?

10 Hau Wo Street,
Sai Wan, Hong Kong

(Close to Smithfield Road and Belchers' Street)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Satay Inn Fail.

I've been craving roti prata for a while now, perhaps because my dad and sister are heading to Singapore in a few weeks and I, unfortunately, have exams :( I was really excited to try out this restaurant after reading reviews that it's the best Singaporean restaurant in town according to Singaporeans. I checked out the menu on their website which looked promising enough as it had all the hawker food staples. The restaurant is a bit tough to find and you have to meander through random malls and the Royal Pacific Hotel before you reach this:

The restaurant looked quite nice from the outside with al fresco dining which would've been perfect for the weather right now. However, there were a couple guys smoking cigars outside so we opted for indoor seating.

Unfortunately, we arrived quite late and they had already sold out of Hainan Chicken Rice!!! In retrospect, this was probably a good thing since it would most likely follow the general trend of our meal - fail. We ordered a selection of dishes, starting with the popiah, one of my favourite things to eat when I'm back in Singapore.

"hokkien popiah" $48

This tasted completely foreign to me. I've never eaten popiah outside of grandma's home so I'm not sure how they normally make it at restaurants or hawker centres in Singapore. But this didn't taste anything like what I was expecting. The skin was different, the fillings were different, and there was no sweet sauce!! Instead they mixed a melon and chili sauce in with the prawns. When asked whether we could just get some hoisin sauce on the side to dip it in, the manager told us they only had sweet chili sauce and invited us to try it. It made the dish taste even more Vietnamese and hardly a hokkien popiah. While the ingredients were fresh and it did taste pretty good, it made me really miss this:

grandma's prepared popiah fillings

my popiah with lots of sweet sauce!!!

assembled popiah ready to eat :)

Next came the roti canai which was a HUGE disappointment:

roti canai $28

This was probably the biggest fail of the night. I was so looking forward to roti canai and the pictures looked amazing in the menu. However, when they were served the first word that came to mind was "pathetic". They were small, super oily, didn't come with curry, and looked (and tasted) like frozen roti's from PnS. Sigh, I should learn to stop letting myself be deceived by menu photos. Couldn't bring myself to finish one.

chicken satay $75 for half dozen

The chicken was pretty juicy though they were much larger than traditional Singaporean satay. Plus, the peanut sauce (which usually makes the dish) was terrible. It was so thick and gloopy, you couldn't even dip your satay in it - you had to scoop it on. I ended up eating my pieces without any sauce...

beef randang $70

As there was no more hainan chicken rice, we opted for the beef rendang. This was alright, pretty oily though that's to be expected. We ordered two bowls of coconut rice ($15 each) to eat with it. While I've never had coconut rice that tasted like the ones we were served, it actually kinda grew on me and was the most enjoyable part of my meal! As for the rendang itself - I think the ready made Prima Taste beef rendang has better flavour :P

All in all, a big disappointment. I might've enjoyed my Disneyland meal more!! Though I suppose expectations play a large role in that. Perhaps their signature dishes like hainan chicken rice, fish head curry, laksa and chai tow kway fare better but honestly, if they can't even make decent roti canai I have little faith in the rest of the food. And they ARE named after their satay which was pretty mediocre at best.

Satay Inn
Shop 3, The Royal Pacific Hotel
33 Canton Road
Tsim Sha Tsui

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Main Street USA

I never thought I'd succumb to eating in a Disneyland restaurant but hunger got the best of me and I ended up getting dinner at Main Street Corner Cafe - the international restaurant in the park. I was bracing myself for hefty prices but it actually wasn't too bad considering the price of a turkey leg from a sidecart is $40.

chicken caesar salad
Do you see the amount of sauce on this??? Haha should've ordered it on the side. The Mickey crutons were fun! But very stale...

mushroom soup - soo salty, i think it was Campbell's soup! and again, stale bread

chicken, meh

mickey waffles - this did NOT look like the photo in the menu. but tasted fine.

red bean panna cotta
Thought this sounded interesting so against my better judgement, decided to order it. BUT I wasn't prepared for this - basically a tiny layer of panna cotta with loads of red bean soup poured on top. Hm.... Couldn't taste any panna cotta at all.

Tried to mix it up myself to taste something other than red bean haha. But as you can see, it became extremely unappetizing.

I wasn't expecting much from a theme park restaurant, and was pleasantly surprised that the prices weren't too exorbitant. I believe I paid $120? The food was very mediocre but if you want an option other than fast food, this place will do the trick.

Main Street Corner Cafe
"Main Street USA"
Hong Kong Disneyland

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dim Sum Quest

As a kid, I used to hate going to yum cha with the family. I much preferred what I thought was refined American cuisine - namely, ribs at Ruby Tuesday's or cheeseburgers at Dan Ryan's. When I was forced to eat dim sum, I would sullenly refuse everything save the cha siu bao's, and I'd sit at the table with my earphones on in an attempt to drown out the cacophony of noises from the surrounding guests.

Since coming back from university in Boston, I've grown to love dim sum and crave it on a weekly basis. I recently tried 2 establishments that have engendered an almost cult following: Tim Ho Wan (添好运) in Mong Kok and Lin Heung (莲香楼) in Sheung Wan.

Tim Ho Wan's owner, a prevous chef at the Four Season's Lung King Heen, opened this hole-in-the-wall dim sum joint in order to provide 5-star food to the local masses. It has since received much fanfare, most noticeably in the fact that it has now become a 1-Michelin starred restaurant. I was curious to see whether it lived up to its fame so ventured out on an early Saturday morning in hopes of beating the crowd. The restaurant is pretty hard to find and the lines were already forming when I arrived at 11:30am.

har gau
Probably my most enjoyed dish here. the skin was not too thick, had a pleasantly chewy texture, and the fillings were substantial with large, juicy prawns. However, there was a slight lack of flavour that I had to remedy with dousings of sweet soy sauce from the har cheong:

har cheong
This is my favourite dim sum dish but it turned out to be a bit of a failure here. I much prefer the version from Tasty Congee in IFC!

cha siu bao
The famed cha siu bao was also a let down. It felt really greasy and overly sweet. The one at Victoria City Seafood in Sun Hung Kai Bldg (Wan Chai) far exceeds this. While the version at Tim Ho Wan is much cheaper, i'd definitely fork out the extra money for Victoria City.

chiu chow dumplings
Skin was thicker than that of the har gau and it felt over-steamed. The texture was quite...wet? Pretty mediocre if you ask me.

We also tried the ham sui gok which was soo oily (again, prefer Tasty Congee's version and it's not even a dim sum restaurant!), and the lor mai gai which was actually decent. Too bad my iPhone photos came out poorly.

All in all, I found the dim sum pretty mediocre and I definitely wouldn't line up again for this - nor trek all the way to remote parts of Mong Kok at 11am! Sure, the prices are cheap but you can get much better quality in much more comfortable surroundings elsewhere.


Last Sunday, I finally got around to trying Lin Heung, after walking past the restaurant on multiple occasions and vowing each time to give it a shot. This is a really old-school dim sum house where it feels as if nothing has changed since it first opened in the 1920s. Everything is utter chaos and you have to be prepared to hustle for your food. I felt like I was in a sporting match - whilst my friend preferred the analogy of a trading floor.

It was pretty amusing seeing some of the foreigners come in looking absolutely clueless, until I realised that locals were staring at my confused expression with quite the same delight.

Unfortunately, we arrived relatively late at about 1:30pm and a lot of the dim sum staples were already sold out. Nevertheless, we made do with what was on offer. Armed with our game plan (one of us would rush towards wherever the crowd was forming, hopefully bring back food, and then the next person would be sent into the fray - tag team style) we managed to procure a number of dishes:

beancurd roll
Really enjoyed this dish - the tofu skin was light and silky, and the fillings (chicken, pork, mushroom, and fish maw) were absolutely delicious! Each ingredient complemented the next and the dish was so flavourful.

pork spareribs
This was my favourite dish of the meal. This was succulent, juicy, and absolutely delicious. It was on the oily side but it would have paired beautifully with rice.

some kind of jioa zi with shrimp filling
I thought this was pretty ordinary, though I was surprised to see it stuffed with shrimp rather than pork.

siu mai
Pretty standard but packed with huge chunks of pork. I actually still prefer the siu mai you get off the streets though :P

lian rong bao
I've heard great things about the buns at Lin Heung and was looking forward to trying a cha siu bao but unfortunately they were all sold out by the time I arrived. This was the only bao left. The minute I picked it up, I was shocked by how heavy it was!! This was probably the densest bun I've ever had, akin to mooncake! The lotus seed paste was a little too sweet for me and I couldn't finish the whole thing. It doesn't help that I hate salted egg yolk as well.

my lai gou
This was good - Not sure if it's the best I've had but it held its own.

bo lei tea
Glad we ordered bo lei as it helped cut through all the grease in our meal!

I'm glad we came to this restaurant. While the food definitely won't blow you away, the atmosphere is something you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere. It was quite exhilirating to fight for your food and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I managed to wrestle my way to the front of the crowd and return to my table victorious! It certainly gave an added appreciation to everything I was eating :) I only wished I was there earlier to try the cha siu bao's and cheong fun's. That said, I doubt I'll be back anytime soon. One time was more than enough excitement.

Tim Ho Wan
Shop 8, Taui Yuen Mansion Phase 2
2-20 Kwong Wa Street,
Mong Kok

Lin Heung Teahouse
160-164 Wellington Street