#theWanderlist: Man Mo Cafe Honors Tradition While Infusing The New

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I’ve always thought that Upper Lascar Row, aka “Cat Street” parallel to Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, was one of the best preserved streets in Hong Kong. Walking through this pedestrian-only alleyway, lined on both sides with an amazing selection of Chinese Antiques, traditional furnitures, and vintage junks, I really get a sense of Hong Kong’s craft and aesthetic history because it’s all here on display. To me the 100 year old Cat Street really feels untouched, and locals and tourists alike can still come here to find items, decorative and historic, real and replica…  to take home that is uniquely of an old Hong Kong style.

On a rainy Wednesday evening, when all stalls were closed, I came in after work to check out for the first time the Man Mo Cafe, the first concept restaurant to open on Cat Street. For better or for worse, once one “destination” restaurant opens, others will follow… however its on this street that founder of Man Mo Cafe, Swiss-born chef Nicolas Elalouf, aimed to not only establish a Chinese-focused restaurant which was rooted within history (possibly an unavoidable decision due to such an iconically historic site), but to formulate a humble Cafe which allows Elalouf to combine his own expertise for what he had learned in the west in order to create something new for Hong Kong.

I doubt that a “Destination” restaurant was Elalouf’s intent with Man Mo Cafe, however, armed with a duo of amazing chefs, one from Robuchon and another an award winning chef from the Original Din Tai Fung in Taipei, Elalouf has made it clear that his fusion dishes are unlike any other. Scores of restaurant reviews from the likes of Hong Kong Tatler and Time Out Hong Kong have been published since they’ve opened earlier in the year, and all have been unanimous… the balance of the eastern tradition of dumpling making, with the western tradition of preparing delicacies, is absolutely achieved in their signature dishes.

Some of my favorites include the Burger Buns (glazed Char Siu Bao) featured above, which come complete with a vial of thousand island dressing that you squeeze into the bun after biting off the top of it.

The Tomato and Mozzarella Cheese Dumpling.

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The best… this Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao will melt in your mouth.

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This Panfried Shanghainese, Truffle and Brie Dumpling, is another best dish.

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We loved this savoury Steamed Ratatouille dumpling, filled with delicious vegetables and a tangy tomato sauce. (I felt like I was eating a Western dish… but I was eating it with chopsticks from a steam basket).

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To end the dinner we had a taste of Man Mo’s famous Nutella Ball in Sesame Seed Pastry.

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As well as a bit of these delicious HK Egg Lemon Tarts.

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I went to try Man Mo Cafe at the invitation of architect, Daphne Mandel, whose works have been on display in the gallery-esque space of the restaurant for the last month, and who did an interview with me here on the blog. Apparently her works have been selling really well. We also met up with a mutual friend who introduced us, designer Thuy-Tien Crampton, of the amazing children’s wear fashion brand, La Petite Caravane.

Daphne’s Hong Kong facade works on display is one of a planned series of rotating exhibitions for this simple yet elegant space.

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Daphne’s exhibition is actually going to get extended because works have sold and new works have just been placed up on display this past week to take its place. 

Here’s a photo of all of us with Chef Nicolas at the end of the evening.

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Word on the street is that there have already been offers to purchase this independent restaurant by a bigger restaurant group. Whatever happens to this place, hope the quality keeps up. The pricepoint is not that bad either, about 800HKD for two people. The service is fantastic and food items get made only when ordered, so dont expect to rush your meal and give it some time.

EAT Man Mo Cafe . 40 Upper Lascar Row (Cat Street), Sheung Wan, Hong Kong . T: +852 26445644 . Tue-Sun 12-3 and 6-Midnight

JJ.

#theWanderlist. Revisiting Favorites, Discovering New Ones at Fish & Meat, Beef & Liberty, and La Cantoche

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A few days ago, I wrote part one of a post of dinners I had the pleasure of partaking during my birthday’s week this month. Birthday dinners in Hong Kong are great because there’s always plenty of choices and offers in this city in relation to cuisines and concepts. And because this is Hong Kong, every year there’s a selection of new trendy “IT” places all the time, making it hard to keep up if you don’t go out all the time.

My plan was, instead of having a big party I would have a dream week of food tastings from four fresh dining hotspots i’ve never been to and two I wanted to revisit. In the previous post, I wrote about the delicious entrecote from La Vache, the humble yet delectable offerings of ABC Kitchen, and the wonderful pairings found at Ham & Sherry.

In this post we end with the last three… a fun yet underwhelming revisit to La Cantoche, an amazing re-experience at Fish & Meat / Stockton, and a new burger discovery with Beef & Liberty.

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+ “Fun French… I Used To Love It, Now I Just Like It”

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The last time I was at La Cantoche, was for a media tasting with about 12-14 of us, and the plates from the entrees to mains were generally flawless in presentation to delivery. Some dishes, like the Rice Krispies in Lettuce Wrap were infectious while the Roasted Camembert Cheese with Potato Balls and the Reblochon Cheese Chicken Cordon Bleu were divisive. This time the Camembert and the Cordon bleu were the star attractions of the dinner, but that’s because everything else (even the Rice Krispies) were generally dry (as in not moist) and underwhelming. The birthday chocolate cake was 1-note sweet, flat, and dry. At the media tasting, the Camembert and Chicken Cordon bleu probably tasted the same as at my birthday, but because every other dish tasted so delicious, juicy, and fresh, we couldn’t help but compare.

Conceptually it’s a fun restaurant from a French-Viet guy (present almost every night) who wanted to take basic home cooked French fare, but mix it with a bit of the Asian twist he grew up with. Unfortunately, when we started putting photos on Instagram and Twitter, another “La Cantoche” from Paris tweeted back saying this:

I checked out the website of the Parisian La Cantoche, and sure enough, it’s also youthful twist at French fare, with their logo’s font being similar to the one being used in Hong Kong.

Do we have a Chinafied version on Hollywood road perhaps?

In the end of the day none of this would have mattered if the food stayed the same quality as the Media Tasting… but that’s the media tasting. I love the ambiance and vibe here in general, but I from the last time I was here, to now… it was a bit disappointing and not really consistent. That said my birthday table had about twenty of us, and there was another birthday table of about 20 people as well. We RSVP’d over a month in advance, so I’m sure they were more than ready.

For the best casual French restaurant in town, try Metropolitain in Sai Ying Pun. It’s consistently a winner amongst my French friends.

Thanks to these guys for showing up and celebrating with me!

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Also thanks to the Lovely Louise for planning it, making it happen, and putting it all together! 

EAT La Cantoche . GF, 227 Hollywood Road on 5 Wa Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong . T: +852-24260880 . Walk Ins Welcome

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+ “Fish, Meat, and Drinks To Die For”

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Okay let me tell you about Fish & Meat. This place is crazy excellent. I’ve only been to this place once with friends (NOT a media tasting) and I can tell you 100%, Fish & Meat is the best new place for… well… fish and meat. From the pre-drinks, to the entrees, to the mains, to dessert, then post-drinks after at Stockton below, it’s by far an excellent and hearty meal that takes you somewhere else… like a European Seaside community or something to that effect. I’m not so sure about the back story, but the “on point” theatrical yet restrained ambiance of the restaurant’s decor is by designer du jour Ben McCarthy of Charlie & Rose, whom I interviewed recently for INDESIGNLIVE Magazine.

Everything on the menu is everything you could possibly want in a menu from a Western seafood restaurant. The offerings are straightforward, with the key element being that is focus on classic simplicity with a big dose of heritage touches.

For my dinner we had the fish, a Whole Roasted Italian Sea Bass with Fennel and a tasty Romesco Sauce, and meat, a 32 Oz Prime Beef Rib from Kobe with a house Bearnaise and Salsa Verde. The menu says they’re for two people, but we were more than stuffed with the four of us. When ordering don’t miss out on my favorites, the Sweet Corn Polenta, and the Grilled Fennel with Celeriac, Saffron, and Verjus. For Starters a selection of from Roasted Bone Marrow, to Fresh Baby Spanish Octopus, and Soft Duck Egg Raviolos are available. Don’t skip the Sicilian Lemon Tart with Country Clotted Cream at the end.

Overall everything in the meal was finely cooked, at the right temperature, with the right zesty flavours, leaving every one just right and more than satisfied. The restaurant is on the pricier side, but I really feel that i’m actually getting European flavours, and not just an imitation.

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After Dinner, make sure to remind your hostess to allow you entrance at the “super secret, speakeasy” bar downstairs called, Stockton. Also designed by Charlie & Rose. Stockton has some of the finest fancy “mixology”-esque cocktails in the city. It’s adventurous while being not to feminine or trendy. I love whisky and this place has amazing whisky based cocktails. Try my two favorites, the Athole Brose featuring a Blended Whiskey with Wild Heather Honey, Oatmeal, Drambuie, Luxardo Amaretto di Sachira, and topped with Double Cream or the Brass Monkey, an HM King with Compressed Citrus, Maca, Lucuma, Vanilla Gum, and Chuncho Bitters.

When i’m around the Central area, Stockton is the new “local” for me there. I’m not a Lan Kwai Fong (Hong Kong bar street) type of person so this place is a good go-to, always punctuating a night’s out after dinner.

The decor is lovely, and the space is filled with found antiques from Thailand and Paris… making it feel like an authentic pub, rather than a theatrical reproduction.

EAT Fish & Meat . 2F, 32 Wyndham Street, Central. T: +852 25656788 . Reservations Essential / DRINK Stockton. 1F, 32 Wyndham Street, Central . T: +852 25655268 . Reservations Recommended

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+ “New Burger Joint I Really Like, Plus the Korean Fried Chicken…”

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My sister and I ended my #JJsBirthdayWeekofEats, with a Sunday brunch at Beef & Liberty, a new beautiful burger joint on Level 3 of that three-story modern commercial building on the corner of Wing Fung Street and Star Street.  I didn’t know much about Beef & Liberty before I got here, but I was just a fan of the branding work by WHITESPACE HK and the wall mural by Los Angeles based artist, CYRCLE, that you can see from the street. (Even though I’m obviously a foodie, i’m a design tourist first.)

According to their website, Beef & Liberty is a “modern homage to the original beefsteak clubs… originating in eighteenth century London.” Guys, it’s a burger shop. And a pretty good one at that. The meat is hormone-free grass fed beef from Hereford and Angus cattle, naturally raised by small-scale farmers in Tasmania. 

My sister and I shared one burger (it was the 6th of 6 major meals straight) and one appetiser. We started with the Crispy Chicken Wings, which are basically Korean Fried Chicken. The wings are huge and the skin is cooked crisp. While it is saucy, it doesn’t take away from the crispiness of the dish nor is it too oily either. It’s a perfect wing and Korean chicken served just right. For the burger we didn’t order the Classic (I rarely do for fancy burger joints like this), but instead ordered the Green Chili Burger… a burger with green chili slices, jalapeno relish, cheddar cheese, butter lettuce, and mayonnaise. The burger was big enough to share for two, but not too big to sink your teeth into without ingredients slopped around because of it. The bread here is perfectly pan fried, and absorbs the oil well… meaning it doesn’t fall apart. The beef was cooked rare (how I like it), with the jalapeno relish and green chili giving an interesting southwestern tex-mex twist to the flavour.

We ended the meal with dessert (who doesn’t)… a Warm Skillet Cookie & Cream, which is exactly what it says it is. The chocolate chip cookie is freshly baked and the clotted cream is homemade, balancing the overly sweet cookie. I’d definitely come back here again.

EAT Beef & Liberty . Star St. Precinct, 2F, 23 Wing Fung St., Wanchai, Hong Kong . T: +852 28113009 . Reservations Recommended

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Overall the dinners were great, but most important was that I was with friends and family members which made the experience very memorable.

I also just wanted to quickly show off some of the great presents I got this year; like this hilariously amazing sweatshirt with a “United States of James Franco” print on it from RAD in Paris.

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Other cool gifts; check out these travel bags from my friends Eddy  and Jason. Eddy makes these amazing camo totes from his label, Compound By 3 Spirit and Jason just launched a menswear leather accessories label called Hammer & Needle. (The travel books are via my other pals Katrina, Jason, and David from Louis Vuitton.)

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Now that my amazing “Jesus Year” 33 is over… I can’t wait to continue to work that much harder creatively moving forward into the coming year based on the cool stuff that has happened within the last twelve months.

And of course, much Gratitude to the everyday. I don’t forget this.

JJ.

#theWanderlist. Six Meals in Six Days; La Vache!, ABC Kitchen, and Ham & Sherry To Start

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Celebrating a birthday is a very interesting thing. There are transformative years, like a celebration of a decade’s past or even half that, when the appropriate way to celebrate a threshold is a grand birthday bash. Then there are the odd years when its that weird transition, like in my case, turning 34, which is neither as cool as “Jesus-Year-33” or as exciting as 35. In this situation, you wonder… if the birthday is worthy of any big bash at all? 

Everyday is indeed a day to celebrate living and breathing, that said, we always should find an excuse to throw a party, a dinner, or anything for a celebration. Life’s short ya know? So while I usually throw big bashes in Hong Kong every year for the birthday, this year… I wanted to try something else… an “Intimate Dinner” series. And because I am who I am, I chose to celebrate this year with six intimate dinners… claiming the entire week for celebration. (The seventh day is gym day.)

For those who have a week of dinners to spare, value intimate conversations, as well as entering a “weird age” not warranting a grand bash, I suggest scheduling a few dinners big and small with all your fabulous friends so that you catch up with each and everyone one of them over tasty food and drinks, instead struggling a “hello” over loud music.

In the case of Hong Kong, a foodie haven, a birthday week is a perfect opportunity to sample the newest and best this city has to offer in the Dining scene, and for me a great way to “wanderlist” all the freshesr hotspots for the blog. I even created an Instagram hashtag, #JJsBirthdayWeekofEats. Here’s to the first three meals of the week…

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+ “All You Can Eat Fries With Rib Eye”

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Our “Birthday Week of Eats” began at one of the newer restaurants in town, La Vache. At La Vache, you can pretty much have anything you want… as long as what you want is a Trimmed Entrecote Steak with fries and a walnut salad. That said, there’s only one thing in the menu to get right, and they passed with flying colors. Entrecote with fries is a staple meal in plenty non-descript urban cafes in France. In Hong Kong’s La Vache, it’s the star of the show. Using USDA grade Rib Eye, your steak is cooked any way you want it, with melt in your mouth unlimited french fries, and a light walnut salad to start, all for less than 300HKD. An iconic and addictive “Sauce Maison” is also a reason to go back. Drinks and a Dessert cart (great selections) are available as an add-on to the meal.  

Decor is surprisingly light, modern, charming, tasteful, and really has a feeling of being located in Paris. I especially loved the cool illustrations of Paris everywhere you look. This most likely has something to do with making you feel like you’re having a dining getaway.

There are no reservations here at La Vache so pick your visit here wisely.

EAT La Vache! . GF 48 Peel Street, Central, HK . T: +852-28800248 . No Reservations

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+ “Europe’s Best In Da’ Hood”

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For my second night of dinners, me and the boys went to check out the famed ABC Kitchen, pioneered by a couple of chefs from the now defunct M at the Fringe. What makes this place interesting is that those two chefs are basically cooking up signature dishes which earned M at the Fringe it’s accolades, awards, and fans. These renegade chefs are offering 5-star dishes democratically at not-so-M-on-the-fringe prices.

Contextually, there’s no hoity-toity here. ABC Kitchen is located in a cooked food hawker centre in the middle of Sheung Wan. The only thing that’s fancy about it is an amazingly iconic suckling pig (also from M) that everyone orders, the red and white checkered table cloth, and an extra personal and friendly service that’s seemingly alien to the city but expected in an HK family run cooked food eatery.

We tried the beetroot risotto, the seasonal mussels, the foie gras with toast, and all of the desserts. Overall we were completely impressed by the Kitchen’s classic European fare, served here using fresh ingredients, at a truly affordable price.

EAT ABC Kitchen . Shop CF7, Food Market, 1 Queen Street, Sheung Wan . T: +852 92788227 . Reservations Required

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+ “Classic Spanish With The Atherton Twist”

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Despite its very compact space, Ham & Sherry, a new Ship Street locale by the super duo, Yenn Wong and London-based Jason Atherton, is such a cool and beautiful drinks and dine destination. A big contribution to the charm is most likely the smart use of Catalonian-inspired blue and white tiles from wall to floor, plus framed mirrors throughout, giving a feeling of an expansive social house in Spain, all under the creative design direction of Shanghai-based studio; Neri and Hu.

Wong and Atherton first collaborated on 22 Ships across the street, serving Spanish tapas in a completely inventive way. Gone are the fusioned influences of 22 Ships, but instead Ham & Sherry, pairs classic Spanish selections, like a range of Iberico Bellota Hams, a creamy mixed Seafood Paella, a scrumptious Salt and Pepper Chipirones (Squid), and a dish of Garlic & Chilli Prawns, with an impressive selection of sherry. The idea to have a sherry-based destination eatery was initially due to the success of the sherry offerings at 22 Ships. Some of the 50 choices of sherry at Ham & Sherry include a range of moscatel, manzanilla, and classic finos. 

If you ARE new to Sherry, your wait staff will be more than happy to assist you in pairing each of your dishes with the right Sherry of choice or vice versa. If you’re feeling up for it, you should have both Ham & Sherry and 22 Ships in the same evening, some people do. Since this is my third night of birthday eats with three more nights to go, I decided to pace myself instead.

EAT Ham & Sherry . 1-7 Ship Street, Wanchai . T: +852 25550628 . No Reservations

The rest of #JJSBirthdayWeekofEats to come! Stay Tuned.

JJ.

#theWanderlist: SOJO’s East Side, Architectural Playground For Style-Hunters and Guests of Hotel Indigo

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(via EDWARKB INSTAGRAM)

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My experiences in Wanchai pretty much defined my first few years’ experiences in Hong Kong as a whole. You see, Wanchai was the location of the first design office that I worked in, and it’s also the neighborhood where I moved into 9 years ago when arriving to this city. No, I’m not talking about “Suzie Wong’s” red-light Wanchai special, I’m talking about “SOJO”, the area South of Johnston Road defined by cool cafes, and destination bars, restaurants, design stores, with a sprinkling of unique fashion shops, designer furniture store, and art galleries.

Below, Brunch at Stone Nullah Tavern.

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 What defines SOJO as different from today’s Sheung Wan, is that SOJO is still pretty much an up-and-coming neighborhood, with more affordable rent, less expats than Central, and still a bit flexible for designers to set up a home or a shop front. Additionally Wanchai’s SOJO district has a much bigger stake of the city area than Sheung Wan, with various blocks to explore off Queen’s Road East and Johnston Road for style savvy city-trekkers like me.

 If I wanted to explore Wanchai’s SOJO on foot, I’d start my journey getting off the A3 Exit at the Wanchai MTR, explore the markets across the street on Wan Chai Road, while finding my way up to Queen’s Road to explore architectures that range from Old Heritage like the Old Wanchai Market or the Blue House, to 80’s modern, to completely contemporary buildings, like the Hotel Indigo by Aedas and the Opus by Frank Gehry, which can be seen from the street.

Other side streets off Queen’s Road East not to be missed, the future re-development of Lee Tung Street / Wedding Card Street as a pedestrian only shopping haven, Ship Street the location of the famous 22 Ships Restaurant by Jason Atherton, and St. Francis Street which connects to Moon, Star, and Sun Streets, where the Monocle Magazine Bureau and Kapok Shops are located.

Below, late night drinks at Tai Lung Fung 

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That said for my weekend stay last month, I started my everyday exploration at the Hotel Indigo, where the team there graciously invited me to stay for two nights in exchange for a blog post about them and the surrounding neighborhood. Writing about design and boutique hotels, are right up my alley… pun intended. 

Because I’ve written so much about Ship Street and Star Streets on this blog, I thought that the stay at Hotel Indigo would be a great opportunity for me to really explore everything on the Eastern end of SOJO. Historical buildings not to be missed include the Old Wan Chai Post Office constructed in 1912, and now an Environmental Resource Centre. Of course it is hard to miss the Blue House on Stone Nullah Lane, for its strikingly iconic blue painted façade. The Blue House and the adjacent Yellow House behind it are currently being renovated to become a “living museum” which should be open in a few more years. Up the road is the beautiful Pak Kai Temple, worth a visit. The Old Wanchai Market from the 1930s has been converted into a residential tower podium which some may find garish, while others may just appreciate for the fact that it was never torn down at all.

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Hotel Indigo was a real pleasant surprise, in that the hotel was playful without being overtly theatrical like most boutique hotels in Asia. The interior design moments in each of the spaces within the tower’s 29 floors were sensual without it being too dark or trendy-try-hard. The best part of the hotel, thank God, are its 138 rooms, which generally come in two tiers, a studio type suite, or a 1-Bedroom + Living Room Grande suite.

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theWanderlister+ Top 10 Stories of 2013

As my final end-of-2013 wrap-up-post before the blog sees new stories for 2014, I’d like to revisit 10 of our most read post from last year. These posts are not necessarily my most favorite, or the ones i’m in love with (heck the ones I loved the most turned out to be the least read…so who knows).

Anyway what this list successfully shows is a skimmed overview of the trends and events that got people interested on Wanderlister.com. Highlights include Monocle Magazine’s big Hong Kong and APAC tour, Art Basel’s inaugural Asian branded fair, the emergence of proudly made Hong Kong labels like PYE, the popularity of public inflatable Art, and the turn to Southeast Asian and Filipino cuisine in the city.

Anyway, 2013 was so so cool in so many ways, hope 2014 is even better!

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#10 / MEDIA / MONOCLE MAGAZINE SHOP

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13 FEB 25 - The Monocle Shop in Hong Kong recently entertained friends and family of Monocle Magazine via a block party, hosted by Editor-in-Chief Tyler Brule, Advertising Director, Anders Braso, and Hong Kong’s newest bureau chief,Aisha Speirs, as part of their big APAC push.

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#09 / EVENT / OFF-ART BASEL HONG KONG 2013

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13 MAY 19 - Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) arrives for the first time in our great city with tons of buzz. For those who are new to all this, all you need to know that this art fair in Hong Kong is the 3rd largest art fair in the world, third only to Art Basel in Basel and Art Basel in Miami. Before we get further into the fair, so much is happening around the city with “OFF-Basel” (Official and Unofficial) Activities in the build up to opening night.

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#08 / DINING & LEISURE / SCARLETT AND MAGGIE CHOO’S

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13 MAY 04 - Bangkok is quite good with super “Designed” Wallpaper*-esque nightlife concepts and offerings and has been since the emergence of “IT” joints like Bed Supper Club, FACE Bar, and Fallabella in the last decade. While those bars are a memory of what they once were, making waves as of late are two new hotspots located high above the city with, SCARLETT, perfect for those wanting a sunset with a scene, and a new “speakeasy” very low underground, at the new/old Maggie Choo’s, for those wanting a bit of naughty privacy.

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Eat, Shop, and Be Merry… The Last #Wanderlist Of The Year

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It’s countdown to Christmas, and it’s the second to last Sunday before the new year, 2014. I’ve had a minor cold for the last two days, which has finally gotten a tad better. With a bright sun shining through the window, I couldn’t wait to get out into Hong Kong to have a mid-morning family brunch somewhere new… and by family, I mean my sister, Bernadette, and my gal pal, Louise.

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The offerings for dining destinations in the city multiply each month. Not knowing which new place to try, Louise definitely knew where we should at least be headed… the corner of Upper Station Street and Tai Ping Shan Streets in Sheung Wan where not one, but three new cafe/bistros have just opened up; namely the Upper Modern Bistro by Michelin rated chef, Philippe Orrico, ANTIPODEAN Cafe an all around coffee house, and lastly, NOSH Tai Ping Shan, a very airy and open western eatery on the top end of the street. We finally settled at NOSH because a friend of mine, Eugene, is helping run the place and the crisp cool weather today was perfect for seating at the cafe’s window bar table. I sat on the outside, while Bernadette and Louise sat on the inside.

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For Hong Kong, with increasingly strict outdoor street seating laws, but very tight spaces for restaurant planning flexibilities, some restaurants are starting to get really smart about using the establishment’s facade edges to try to place in more seats. It’s al fresco, but just not “all the way” alfresco.

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#theWanderlist: In The Mood For Gastronomic Affairs? Serge et le Phoque

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The woman in that photo above is confused. She’s confused because everything about this mysterious restaurant, located in Wanchai’s side streets off Queens Road East, is so understated. Everything from a facade that’s just plain glass, basic no plastic plywood furniture, no signage, no visual clutter, basic painted walls, and no faux-crystal, makes the new restaurant, Serge et le Phoque, across the street from Wanchai Cooked Food Market… just so… un-Hong Kong. Thank God.

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Even by expat dining destination standards in the city, it’s so so so underratedly chill. No hostess on the sidewalk begging you to come in, no poster on the front door telling you what “Theme” Sunday is supposed to be (because in Hong Kong… to survive as a concept restaurant… you’ve go to theme EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK!) 

In exchange for Serge et le Phoque’s defiantly minimalist aesthetics and ambiance, you get a blank palette that sets back for the food. And Oh… the food. Just making me think of that experience, i’m literally salivating at the thought. Let me just put it this way… eating at Serge et le Phoque, is the equivalent of eating at say… an art gallery, where the degustation menu is the exhibition on display. And yes, this is saying a lot. And speaking highly of this restaurant is less than what they deserve/trying to achieve… it’s not enough! Chef Christophe Pele (photo below right) literally returns once a month from Paris to oversee this restaurant and to play in the kitchen with resident chef, Nic Chew (ex- L’atelier Robuchon and Saint Betty’s) which is run by restaurateurs, Charles Pelletier (photo below left) and Frederic Peneau, an ex architect (which explains the cool designer-ish surroundings, also former owner of Cafe Burq and current owner of Le Chateaubriand). Fred’s son came up with the random restaurant name (translating to “Serge and the Seals”) and the whole team combined worked hard in setting up a new kind of continental restaurant in the city focused on providing a no frills, no drama, unpretentious space where the quality of the food is the only taste left on one’s tongue by the end of the night. 

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And the taste… I still dream of it, one month after. My friend, Louise, and I took our pal Tangram’s designer, Paola Sinisterra for her birthday dinner last month. A few other friends came by to join, and we made a Sunday night of it. What make it more special was that Chef Christophe was in town to work that Sunday evening, putting together a special one-night only menu for the party! Some items were available on the regular menu, but other items, were based on ingredients he just purchased for that day, which may someday make it as an official offering.

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#theWanderlist: At La Cantoche, Child’s Play Can Equate to Seriously Great Dining

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Sheung Wan’s tiny and unassuming Wa Lane is a low-key little street relative to the adjacent Hollywood Road, a dining and shopping destination for most of Hong Kong’s tourists. While some new restaurants (Chachawan, 208 Duecento Otto, and Heirloom for example) can still afford prime Hollywood Road frontage, other eating establishments like the one year old La Cantoche (The Canteen) take on lanes like Wa Lane to make they’re own little mark in an already crowded dining market like Hong Kong’s. Additionally for this city, it is expected that a restaurant’s marketing is tied to an overt dining concept and theatrical dinner experience, La Canotche by contrast is absent of any formulaic choreography, yet wins points all around for what’s most important; Food, Concept, and Ambience. 

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The Food, delicious French-Vietnamese fare with a slightly Arabic twist. The Concept, casual hearty home-style “soul” food to share. The Ambience, a relaxed, no frills, no pressure, no pretense bistro, that’s as playful as a teenage boy’s bedroom. For all this combined, we only have owner, David Sung to thank.

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Everything about La Cantoche reflects Sung’s heritage and roots. All the dishes are derived from food his parents used to prepare for him and flavours he grew up with in France. The movies projected on whitewashed brick walls walls, the foosball table, Michael Jackson’s “BAD” written on a on the 2nd floor loft, and Super Famicom and games which are displayed on the wall adjacent to the ground floor bar, all reflect pieces of Sung’s youth. For the night I went there for a tasting, Sung was there to serve and personally introduce each dish himself. He was proud, enthusiastic, and after I tasted the meal, he had every right to be so.

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#theWanderlist: The Sweetest Capital in Asia, Manila Takes The Cake (With A Side of Cronut)

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Manileno’s know their global trends, especially when it’s a foodie trend. Hong Kong people may be quick to jump on any fashion wagon, but they’re always last to the evolution of sweets which the city of Manila embraces in spades. While some critics point out that these trends never start in Manila, but always in the West, I have to state that there’s always an appropriation for the local flavour… ie. 50% more butter, 50% more milk, and 50% more sugar. Whereas fashion-conscious Hong Kongers always make everything 25% less… including the size.

+ WILDFLOUR CAFE + BAKERY / Bonifacio Global City

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The newest place to see and be seen amongst urban folk, the Wildflour Cafe + Bakery, located at Bonifacio Global City off Makati, is quite an appropriation of the New York bakery and brunch scene. The “Cronut” craze in NYC was imported here (before Hong Kong got it, of course), by it’s head pastry chef, Margarita Manzke and in-house baker, Ana de Ocampo. The third partner in the mix, is executive chef, Walter Manzke, who brings to the table everything else, most importantly the all-day breakfast and brunch options that keep people coming back and glued to their seats much to the chagrin of everyone else waiting… because they don’t rush you out and there’s no need for reservations. 

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At Wildflour, there are no rules. You are free to go back and forth between Savoury and Sweet (if you can handle it). There’s bottomless American coffee available, and all the cronut you can eat (well while supplies last of course.) When we went there the first time, we just missed the new Cronut batch by about an hour, but we were so hungry… we had tables… so we couldn’t wait. For the first meal we ordered a few pastries, like the Lemon Maringue Tart and the S’Mores Cupcakes with a side of crispy chunky potato wedges. The second time we returned was for Sunday brunch and we were lucky to get the last two seats in the house! We ordered three cronuts; chocolate, tiramisu, and strawberry (to start), then finished off the meal with a cheesy vegetable flatbread and the all day breakfast.

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Personally for me, I thought the cronuts were pretty good, each layer was very crispy, which made me feel that I was eating a closed looped lady finger instead of croissant. Which must be an executive decision on their end. I haven’t had the cronut in NYC by New York pastry chef, Dominque Ansel, but I’ve had the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong’s version at their bakery, and I really did feel I was eating a scrumptious croissant in the shape of the donut. Wildflour cronuts are crispy all the way down to the bottom, save for several layers of cream filling in the Tiramisu flavoured one, while the Mandarin Oriental Hong KOng cronut was soft and flaky on the inside and lightly crispy on the outside.

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That said i’m not complaining. Wildflour’s variety of options change over time and there’s plenty comfort food on the menu to explore. 

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Oops there ARE rules at Wildflour… a whole chalkboard of it tells you the proper etiquette of how to purchase a cronut. Check out their coverage on MSN, Fox News, and the Wall Street Journal.

EAT Wildflour Cafe + Bakery . 4th Avenue and 26th Street, Fort Bonifacio Global City in Taguig, Manila Philippines . 856-7600 . Mon-Sat 8am-10pm, Sundays Closed by 4pm

+ Saturday Market at Salcedo Village / Makati

For those who don’t want the Manileno’s appropriation of western sweets, there’s always the Saturday Market at Salcedo Village where every entrepreneurial Tai Tai is out there, each with a table, selling their homemade (yet super professional) sweet specialties… some of the super healthy organic variety and others with their rice based-desserts extravaganza topped with loads of island people friendly sugar, butter, goats cheese, coconuts, and yes… salted eggs.

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The ones above are Bibingka. #LOVETT.

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This is a table of rice based desserts above, such as Suman, Puto, and Pitchi Pitchi.

The lady below sells healthier fares. I’ve been buying her gluten free snacks rich in protein and fibre for five years now. She only sells here on Saturdays and nowhere else. Sometimes I get my mom to ship them to me. Her brand is called My Goodness.

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And yes, they serve the Best Coffee there at the Village market from beans all locally sourced.

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The Saturday Weekend Market at Salcedo Village more closely resembles Union Square Farmer’s Market than Chatuchak in Bangkok. It IS a bit “Boujis”, but if you want really amazing one of a kind Filipino food at great prices, you can “see and be seen” here as well. Everyone from celebrities to politicians are here stuffing their faces with rice cakes and coffee, so there’s no need to be that posh. Just have fun and dare to try new things.

VISIT Salcedo Community Market . Salcedo Village in Bel Air, Makati . Only Open on Saturdays from 7am - 2pm

JJ.

#theWanderlist: Hanoi Style Street Varieties at the Chôm Chôm Bia Hoi and Eatery

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Anyone who’s visited Vietnam, knows full well that the Southeast Asian country is a Foodie’s dream destination. From its gorgeous urban streets, to its beautiful humble countrysides, Vietnam has had a great reputation for Wanderlusters to just safely disappear and revel in the country’s sites, sounds, and uniquely distinct flavours.

In Hanoi alone, where I went to visit with my friend, an architect named, Christian, I remember well the tiny streets, and the great variety of little cafes and plaza restaurants which ended up defining the trip. What I found odd after returning, was that while looking back at all my foodie photographs, I realized that I hardly ate any Pho Noodle Soups, because there were so much more to order off the daily menus than anything else.

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I realized that Hong Kong had plenty of Vietnamese cuisine choices but very few establishments in our city focused on anything else which reflected what the real Vietnam served streetside. I guess when running a business, one must weigh the pros and cons between giving Customers what they think they want versus really educating them on the great variety of food from a particular country’s cuisine… and thank Goodness, Chôm Chôm Bia Hoi and Eatery’s Chef Peter Cuong Franklin, opts for the latter… a restaurant serving for proper adventurous foodies!

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Apparently, the Chef who was born in Dalat Vietnam, was a Yale graduate who soon went into Finance, which obviously didn’t work out for him, because he soon became a Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef instead, who has worked in such restaurants at Caprice in Hong Kong, Next in Chicago, Nahm in Bangkok, and La Verticale and Madame Hien in Hanoi, before opening his own Private Kitchen in Hong Kong in 2011. Since the critically acclaimed kitchen closed, investors from Black Sheep Restaurants (Boqueria and Motorino), helped him open his version of a big Vietnamese restaurant, in the “Bia Hoi” street eats style that Vietnam is famous for… without the Pho Noodle Soup. And good riddance too… with the new selection of goodies to eat here… Soup will only fill you up unnecessarily.

Instead in its place we get a fusion of new flavours that are purely Chef Peter’s invention, but with the hint of familiarity from your last Vietnam trip. To start we were served snacky delicacies like the Spicy Tuna Rolls with XO Sauce, Pho Rolls with Grilled Beef and Pickles within Fresh Rice Noodles.

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This Grilled Beef dish in Betel Leaf, topped with curry, shallots, peanuts, and spring onion was one of the evening’s highlights for me.

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