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…
+ “All You Can Eat Fries With Rib Eye”
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
+ “Europe’s Best In Da’ Hood”
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
+ “Classic Spanish With The Atherton Twist”
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.
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!
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.
#09 / EVENT / OFF-ART BASEL HONG KONG 2013
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.
#08 / DINING & LEISURE / SCARLETT AND MAGGIE CHOO’S
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.
My current design obsession at the moment are the latest architecture and interiors works by a small studio practice in Shanghai called neri&hu. The moniker of neri&hu is derived from the last names of founding partners, Lyndon Neri and Rosanna Hu, both architects who have taught studios together here at the Hong Kong University Architecture Graduate School.
The Shanghai-based research and design studio has completed a number of very interesting works in the last 12 months alone, building a very prolific list of achievements reflected in the numerous awards and international press coverage they receive. Projects range from fine dining establishments, to hotels, to retail boutiques, each with a design aesthetic completely different from the other, and with a style derived solely on research extracted from each programmatic brief and site character.
+ CAPO (ROCKBUND)
CAPO, another amazing F+B establishment by JIA Hotel’s founder Yenn Wong, is located in the 1911 building of Shanghai’s Rockbund. This restaurant focuses on the Italian rustic “Cookhouse concept”. Like at 208 Duecento Otto in Hong Kong, you can taste authentic hand-crafted Neapolitan-style pizza pies and Fiorentina steaks by Chef Enzo Carbone, also previously of 208.
The design team of neri&hu aimed for theatrical history with their interpretation of the architectural typology of the Italian “Basilica”. The main dining halls are planned as a series of intimate rooms, each with unique spatial identity. For example one can sit in the “nave” of the restaurant, which is framed by rows of timber columns and brick portals with tables and chairs lined up like pews. For me, i’d rather try out a full dinner sitting in the pyramid-like private chapel area of the restaurant. These days dining can be a religious experience. neri&hu just takes up to the next level.
EAT Capo (at Rockbund) . 5F, Yifeng Galleria, 99 East Beijing Road (Near Muse on the Bund), Shanghai, China . T: 86-21-5308-8332
+ DESIGN REPUBLIC OUTLET
Founded by neri&hu’s partners, this fairly new retail furniture shop, Design Republic, is meant to import the best curated collection of design products by the world’s best designers. This outlet store in the outskirts of Shanghai at Qingpu is anything but a warehouse for overstocked goods. Personally, it looks more like an elegant destination design gallery worth making a drive for.
The existing building on site was kept intact, but veiled with a new facade made of an carbon fiber panels. Simultaneously, a new internal journey was also created carefully without demolition of any existing structure. The 2,000 sqm store spread over 3-stories, is anchored by a spiral feature staircase where products from clothing to chairs are placed on display. The journey up the stairs allows viewers to reflect on the galleries’ unique spatial displays while wall cut outs throughout the plan also allow the passerby to view the user on the stair as thought they were on a stage.
SHOP Design Republic Qingpu . A7 Design Collective, JSWB, 5369 (m) Jiansong Road, Qingpu District, Shanghai . +86-021-5975-4381
+ WATERHOUSE HOTEL at SOUTH BUND
It’s industrial-chic spaces in Shanghai like the Waterhouse Hotel, that make me wonder A) why Hong Kong LOVES demolishing old buildings instead of just retrofitting them and B) why the Hong Kong government doesn’t do enough to promote the re-use of Industrial spaces for amazing new program. Take for example the four-story Waterhouse, which is built within a three-storey Japanese army building from the first half of the 20th century. The existing site sits adjacent to the Huangpu River, with gorgeous views of the Pudong cityscape. While the existing building is only three stories, an additional fourth floor was added by the architects, using forms which reference back to the industrial ships which pass by. This “industrial” finish is made successful with the use of Cor-Ten steel on the facade, sitting harmoniously with the mostly raw-concrete structural base of the building.
This careful juxtaposition between structures new and old is also evident with the way internal forms of glass, white surfaces, and timber, delicately touch existing walls in the hotels 19 rooms. Windows either look out to the city scene, or to public spaces and internal courtyard inside the hotel, a manifestation of the cultural relationship to historic communal living in this very dense city.
STAY The Waterhouse Hotel at South Bund . Maojiyauan Road No.1-3, Zhongshan Road South, Huangpu District, Shanghai . +86-21-6080-2988
While the bar-restaurant-for-members combination has always been key to success in the city (ie. Dragon-i, KEE, Boujis, etc), a few have made “elegance”, “culture”, “art”, and “heritage”, as an F+B concept’s main characteristics. Duddell’s, the brainchild of founders Alan Lo, Paulo Pong, and Yenn Wong, located on Level 3 of the Shanghai Tang Mansion on 1 Duddell Street, gets at the cool factor by making sure it is the go-to destination for traditional Cantonese fare (yes regression is progression for most kids these days), and by surrounding the clientele with walls of curated art and cultural programming. The night I had my media tasting, we spent the first hour on Duddell’s lush Garden Terrace during one of it’s “Plastic Cups Nights”; an after work drinks programme to attract Hong Kong’s creative network with 40 HKD drinks to meet and greet under the stars.
But even without a “Plastic Cups Night” its a good idea to step out here and order a signature cocktail like the Gong Bi Mary, to just wet the palate.
The cantonese meal at Duddell’s, prepared by the culinary team of Executive Chef Siu Hin Chi of the Michelin starred T’ang Court, is completely focused on the classics, which is good for me! While there’s something on the menu for Hong Kong’s young foodies and old grannies alike, I myself feel like I’ve had a re-education on the the cuisine’s true flavours.
Even if I’ve fallen out of love of Cantonese food at several times, I feel romanced anew by the a new taste from the exact same dishes i’ve had everywhere else. Several times I would take a bite out of the Crispy Suckling Pig, the Barbecued Pork with Honey, and the Crispy Salted Chicken, and wondered out loud if this is what these dishes were supposed to taste like all along… and not like the ones i’ve been tasting on the street.
This Saturday was a rare rain-free day in Hong Kong, and a good thing too because I was so excited to actually have a night out planned with friends for once… something I rarely get to do these days because the wet and the heat has left me so lazy.
What made Saturday different was that earlier in the week I had a food tasting at Duddell’s when the proprietor, Alan Lo, who sat at a table next to mine, told me that he was busy helping restaurateur Yenn Wong, open up her next amazing project, Chachawan, a Thai Isaan-style resto and bar in SOHO on Hollywood Road… and that if I wanted to I can give it a try with a friend! I love Thai food so of course I said yes. (I’ve been to Bangkok around 6 times already this year alone.)
What I love about all of Yenn’s restaurants is that there’s always a certain sensibility to a menu’s offerings via a special unique twist on the flavours which define each dish. What I mean is that while you can recall the source (in this case Thai style street eats) the food is prepared in a very non-greasy way (mostly grilled) and not overcooked or overly salty, sour, or spicy, so that you can still taste the freshness of the meats, seafood, and veggies. And yes i’m on a health kick at the moment, and for the most part… my personal trainer would definitely approve of the food choices here!
I believe that the food at Chachawan can literally compete as a destination restaurant in Bangkok it’s that authentic. Plenty of this praise also goes to Chef Adam Cliff (pictured below with Dan), who was a protege of Chef David Thompson of Nahm London and Bangkok and who comes to us in Hong Kong via Kha in Singapore.
Papaya Salad with Crispy Pork.
When I first moved to Hong Kong many years ago I felt immediately that there was something missing in the cuisine. For Japanese, Regional Asian, Chinese, and Italian fare, Hong Kong had it in spades, but as someone who grew up in Texas where Mexican food is king and the Philippines where the post-colonial country still embraced its Spanish roots… what was missing for me was Hong Kong’s “Latin Flavor”.
Thankfully in this past year alone, we’ve witnessed a new trend of new modern Latin establishments which began with the opening of Heirloom (Mexican) in Sheung Wan and Comilonas (Spanish) in Sai Ying Pun. Since then, Latin restaurants have begun to make their definitive mark in the city’s culinary landscape, each special and different in their own way, offering unique menus and atmosphere catering to a variety tastes and occasions.
Mexican (Socialito, Brickhouse, Taco Chaca) and South American (Chicha) choices aside, I wanted to focus this post specifically on the city’s Spanish offerings because it just so happens that three of my most memorable dining experiences within the last few months just all so happened to be Spanish.. and beyond taco variations, there was just more amongst the three Spanish restos to write about in terms of differences in menu offerings, approaches, and ambiance.
+ E-clectic / No Frills, Homestyle Spanish Dining Experience
A close friend of mine, Chef Juan Martinez Gregorio, recently opened up his private kitchen, E-clectic centrally located on the edge of Sheung Wan, off Queens Road Central, located within walking distance to the MTR. The set up is no-frills with a vibe that is homey and domestic, a perfect backdrop for chef Juan’s dishes, a reflection of his hometown, Cartegena, in Southern Spain. Juan’s dream has always been to establish a Kitchen of his own in the city, serving dishes underrepresented in most Spanish restaurants.
I imagine patrons come here for the personal touch, with just enough space to mingle. For example our party of about 16 guests sat in the living room area for pre-drinks (no corkage) and tapas.
The dining area is prepared like a Chef’s Table, and is located in the center of the room next to the open kitchen where you can see Juan cook up a storm. You feel like this is really an extension of his own home.
Each day’s set menu is determined by the ingredients Juan is able to obtain on a daily basis. Usually all meals begin with sangria and a selection of basic tapas, such as the Manchego Semicurado Cheese and Sausage below.
Memorable staples stand out, like the house signature dish, the Empanada de Frito, a filo pastry stuffed with a tomato base sauce of olives, onions, and zucchini.
And the Spanish Piquillo Pepper Stuffed with Boiled Fish and Crispy Shrimps. It was absolutely divine.
I also enjoyed this cold soup, the Salmorejo de Cordoba… a cold tomato soup which complemented the hot dishes very well.
E-clectic is place to go if you want your dining experience completely private and up-close-and personal with the Chef. If you want the authentic Hong Kong style Private Kitchen, you’ll want to come here.
+ 22 Ships / Michelin Inventions Accessible Within Streetside Digs
You didn’t have to read my blog to know that 22 Ships is Hong Kong’s hottest new dining destination… yes… destination. Im sure you’ve already seen it all over Open Rice and Facebook. That said we were recently invited to have a taste at 22 Ships, Michelin Star Chef Jason Atherton’s first signature restaurant in Hong Kong, located in a refreshingly non-frou-frou street side locale on Wanchai’s Ship Street.
22 Ships is the brainchild of Yenn Wong, the entrepreneur behind the Phillipe Starck designed, JIA Boutique Hotel and 208 Duecento Otto Italian Restaurant in Sheung Wan designed by Turkish Design Firm, Autoban. For the restaurant’s cozy 35 seater venue, Wong hired award-winning Shanghai design firm, Neri & Hu Design Research Office (NHDRO), to formulate a concept that reflects the street’s historic and industrial vibe. What they came up with is a rustic yet urban atmosphere perfect for neighborhood drinks and al fresco tapas.
Perhaps the most impressive bit is how close and personal you are exactly to the chefs which run the joint. Adjacent to the drinks bar is the heart-of-house food prep area. You can witness your dishes plated and presented right in front of if you sit in the right seats at the bar towards the back. Since it’s a no-reservation system (much like all the newest venues in Hong Kong these days), you can’t request seats, but if you’re lucky enough to have one, like we did, it certainly adds to an unforgettable dining experience.
Some of my favorite dishes include the Spanish Breakfast, a creamy wallop of soft boiled egg, chopped chorizo, and potatoes.
A cool dish you have try is the Tuna Tartar “DIY”. The do-it-yourself dish consists of finely diced tuna with a selection of chives, shallots, sesame seeds, sea salt, olive oil, and sauce to sprinkle and flavour. There’s no such thing as over-sprinkling the dish… I sprinkled everything on and it all tasted great.
The Suckling Pig with Roasted Apple and Piquillo Pepper Jus had meat literally falling off the bone. It was served from the pan just right, not too hot. The best thing about it is that it was completely juicy, the skin just the right amount of crispness.
We ended the night with the sweet and salty PBJ, Peanut Ice Cream with Blue Fruit Sorbet, Raspberry, Blueberry, and Salted Peanut Caramel. So delicious.
Some hyped dishes like the Iberico Ham Infused Foie Gras Burgers and Scallop Ceviche were good, but for the steep price, there are better deals in the menu… ie. the quantity of food for the price of the dish. I can say this because there’s just so much selection to choose from. But definitely the price is warranted if you wanted higher-end modern Spanish plates via tasting menu portions, served in a non-pretentious environment. The down side, it’s a tiny venue with a no Reservation policy. So you cant pre plan big dinners here… which brings us to the next new Restaurant…
+ BOQUERIA / Authetic Barcelona Cuisine in Cool Family-Style Setting
BOQUERIA in Hong Kong serves up authentic Barcelona food, and is the sister branch of the original in New York City’s Flatiron district, a popular tapas destinations which the New York Times gave a 2-star rating.
The Hong Kong branch is much much larger than the New York one, and what it has going for it is the Open show Kitchen in the back where the Iberico meats and other ingredients are located, as well as the Island Bar in the middle. The very roomy location is great for big parties and gatherings, and a great place to meet up with plenty of friends and just hang out without people pressuring you to leave. For Architect Hernan Zanghellini, the focus was to reflect on community and the essence of the market. Large round and rectangular sharing tables define the open dining areas, and blackboards and textured walls reflect variety.
Chef David Izguierdo, ex Uno Mas (my favorite tapas spot in Wanchai back in the day) crafted the menus for both Hong Kong and New York which reflects his love for Catalonia tapas. Unlike 22 Ships and E-clectic where dishes are crafted in smaller plates, everything in Boqueria is big and meaty, appropos for real family style fare.
Below, Pella de Mariscos (Bomba rice, monkfish, sepia, squid, shrimp, clams, mussels, safron and salsa verde), and an order of Carne a la Plancha (Hanger steak, fingerling potatoes, shishito peppers, and mojo verde.)
The offering for Embutidos here is impressive. BOQUERIA serves up everything from Jamon Iberico below to other choices like the Chorizo Vela, a spicy pork sausage, and the Sobrasada, a soft pork sausage from Mallorca. You will not find a more complete collection of Jamon and Quesos in Hong Kong like this place.
The Chefs proudly keeping up the fort at 22 Ships.
Our photo with Gierdre and Alex at E-Clectic.
Overly helpful fashion designer, Yuen-Man, with Chef Juan.
What are you waiting for? Go have a taste!
Thanks to photographer Andre Eichman for lending us the opening photo of BOQUERIA on this post!