Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Location, location, location - Lan Kwai Fong @ Kau U Fong

This post is on the hotel we stayed at in Hong Kong. I thought it was worth an individual mention because it's a real find. From our last trip to Hong Kong, we realised that most of our favourite eateries were located near Central, on Hong Kong island side. It was therefore a bit of a bother to have to keep taking the MTR from Kowloon just to eat.

So this time around, we decided to stay near Central. The hotel in question is Lan Kwai Fong @ Kau U Fong. We knew about this hotel because Lesley-Anne and I were booked here when we were invited to speak at the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival in 2014. We found it comfortable, charming and convenient. Oh look, 3 Cs!

The hotel is located on the corner of the bottom of a steep slope that's Aberdeen Street and the little road of Kau U Fong. It's easy to miss but once you know where it is, its convenience is simply unbeatable. This is a view of Aberdeen Street. The hotel is the building in yellow. 


This is the entrance:


Back to convenience. The hotel is an easy 3-minute walk to Sheung Wan MTR station or to a tram station (10 minutes to Central MRT), so getting around is a cinch. More importantly, it's a 5-minute walk or less to some of our all-time favourites eateries. I won't talk about the food in detail since I've already done so previously. You can click on the links to see the corresponding posts.

Yat Lok and Honolulu Cafe (Stanley Street) for roast goose and egg tarts respectively.


Wah Fung (Wellington Street) for suckling pig, fried pigeon and char siew. Lesley-Anne loves the char siew here, she says it's like eating huge chunks of bak kwa. This restaurant is not on most foodies' radar which is great cos it means they don't keep raising their prices and don't have crazy queues (there's still a queue at lunch time during weekdays though, so go early). The waitresses are reasonably patient and polite, which by Hong Kong standards is A+ service.


We've also since discovered that we love The Chairman, which is literally 50 metres from the hotel. Other famous eateries within walking distance are Kau Kee beef brisket (also 50 metres away on Gough Street, read about it in the post on The Chairman), Mak's Noodle (Wellington Street), Lin Heung Tea House (right across the road from the hotel), Sang Kee Congee Shop (Burd Street), Sing Kee (Stanley Street for dai pai dong dining), and many many more.

Dai pai dong at Stanley Street

Stanley Street and Wellington Street are lined with eateries, even 24-hour cha chaan tengs, so there's an abundance of food all around. In fact, the hotel itself has a Michelin-starred restaurant called Celebrity Cuisine, so you don't even have to leave the hotel to fill hungry tummies!

The hotel itself is very inviting. Each room is furnished with traditional Chinese decor. The quilts and pillows are uber soft, very comfortable. We slept very well here. We asked for adjoining rooms so there was more space to move around.


Full range of toiletries provided, from the standard shampoo and conditioner, to razor, toothbrush, even facial cotton.


But what really tipped the scale in the hotel's favour for me were the extras:

1) Free wifi in rooms is quite the standard now but here, every room comes with a smartphone which you can use to make unlimited local and IDD calls to Singapore for FREE. It also works as a wifi hotspot so you carry that when you're out and you get free wifi on the go. How's that for service?

2) On the fourth floor of the hotel is the BreeZe lounge which turned out to be a real gem. It's an open, airy area with lots of seating.


The best part is free food for the taking! Snacks..


Apples...


Freshly brewed coffee (which wasn't very good, unfortunately) and a wide selection of teas...


And every evening, from 5-8pm, free wine!


We ended up here every day, sometimes twice a day. When we tar pao-ed desserts from various snack shops, we ate them here instead of in our rooms. In January, it's so pleasant to be able to sit in an open area and enjoy the 23-degree weather with snacks and drinks. Such a luxury 😎😎.

For these reasons, we're more than happy with our decision to stay here and I can safely say we'll continue to pick this place as our default hotel in Hong Kong, if we ever do return.



Off to a food start

This trip, we tried a few new eateries. Since we were staying in Central, we explored mostly places within walking distance of our hotel.

One of them was The Chairman Restaurant (Kau U Fong). This restaurant has consistently won rave reviews from foodies and previously had a Michelin star (although it has since lost the accolade). We decided to have lunch here following the recommendation of my ex-boss, who's a Hong Konger. She basically said that if we could only visit one restaurant in Hong Kong, it had to be The Chairman. How's that for a rave?

Prices here are not cheap but it has a more affordable three-course set lunch for HK$198 (four courses for HK$218). For the three-course lunch, you choose an appetiser, a main and either the soup or dessert. Since we were determined to try as many dishes as possible, we ordered a wide variety among the four of us. I think the restaurant is used to diners sampling each others' dishes because the waiters set the dishes down in the middle of the table!

These are the appetisers we chose:

Wild Clams Cooked in Fish Broth and Sake
Slow Cooked Ox Tongue with Garlic and Vinegar
Smoked Baby Pigeon with Longjing Tea & Chrysanthemum

The soup of the day was pigeon soup.

Main courses:

Tea Smoked Duck with Tamarind and Dark Sugar
Pork Belly Slow Cooked in Tangerine Peel
Prawns in Ginger and Shallots with Rice Vermicelli
The Chairman's Soy Sauce Chicken

Dessert:

Osmanthus & Wolfberry Ice-cream

My ex-boss insisted that everything at The Chairman was good...and she wasn't kidding. Sure, I found the pork belly a tad too sweet but honestly, that's just splitting hairs. The food quality and preparation were superb. Everything tasted very fresh and flavourful. The ox tongue was the biggest surprise - we thought it would be tough and chewy but no, it was like very well seasoned steak. I loved the broth for the wild clams, and my favourite was the prawn dish - the prawn heads were crunchy and scrumptious.

I could go on and on but I'm making myself really hungry now...

The other much raved about eatery we tried was Kau Kee (Gough Street). In the Internet universe, it's touted as one of, if not the best beef brisket eateries in Hong Kong. Hoping to avoid a long queue, we arrived early at about 5.30pm. Not sure if we just got lucky but we were seated within 5 minutes and had a table to ourselves too!


This is one of those hole-in-the-wall places where you sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers as you slurp down your noodles, so not having to share a table with other guests is a luxury in itself. Service is brusque. Take more than a minute to decide on your order and the waitress is off to perform some other task.


The menu is pretty limited. Basically, it's beef brisket dry or soup, with a few choices in the type of noodle. There's also beef tendon in curry but we didn't try that.  

Dry
Soup

Our verdict? It's tasty but honestly, we don't see what the fuss is about. The beef brisket was tender but so are those at many other beef brisket places in Hong Kong. In fact, we prefer the beef brisket we had at Tsim Sha Tsui on our previous trip.

Finally, on our last evening in Hong Kong, we decided to splurge on a Peking duck dinner and went to Peking Garden in Central (Alexandra House).


In Hong Kong, Peking duck is sliced together with the meat so one whole duck makes for a pretty substantial meal for four.


You get two plates of the succulent duck with all the trimmings.


Other dishes we ordered included the minced pork in sesame pockets. Kenneth was so stoked to see this on the menu as he hadn't eaten it in years.

Pan fried tofu with prawns

As always, our trips to Hong Kong revolve around food and this one was no exception. The diet can wait. Burp.




Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gastronomic trip to Causeway Bay

Happy New Year! 2017 started on an anomaly for us. While everyone else was preparing for the start of the school/work year, we went on a holiday!

It kinda wasn't planned. We were just so busy last year that we didn't managed to plan for a break. By the time we got down to it, most air tickets out of Singapore in December 2016 were ridiculously overpriced. That's when we realised that we had the unusual opportunity of travelling in January, since Lesley-Anne's university break extends to the first week of January, and Andre is still waiting for his 'O' level results.

So we decided that the easiest thing to do was just go to a place to eat and sleep and recharge, and the no-brainer was back to HK. Travelling off-peak is so much better value and hopefully, fewer crowds!

We're creatures of habit and tend to stick to our favourite food places in Hong Kong. What was new this trip was our venture out to Causeway Bay. Our hotel was in Central, so we decided to take the tram (or affectionately known as "ding ding" to the locals).


I loved the experience. Unlike with the MTR, taking the tram lets you see the heart of the city since the tram pathway is right in the middle of the road.


Sitting on the upper deck, with the cool breeze on our faces, it's really a throwback to more traditional forms of transport. Dirt cheap too! Just HK$2.30 (about S$0.45) per adult, regardless how far you go.

We went to Causeway Bay with a specific food mission, mostly to try this much-raved about ramen place - Ichiran. Ichiran is an award-winning ramen restaurant from Japan, where the noodles and tonkatsu soup are supposedly so exquisite that diners eat in individual booths so they can fully concentrate on and appreciate their meal.

At the Causeway Bay outlet, we were seated in individual booths as such:


Each booth has an order chit and an individual tap serving drinking water. You tick your order on a chit. We love that you can customise your order, from the richness and spiciness of the soup to how soft you want your noodles done and how much garlic you want in your soup. You can also add extras. Take it from me, adding the egg is a MUST.


When you're done, you place the chit at the end of your table and ring a bell. A server (whose face you never see) will take your chit and a while later, return with your very own customised bowl of ramen. He/she will then lower the blinds so you can enjoy your ramen in peace.


A friend of mine highly recommended Ichiran so we were already expecting a lot. Even then, we were WOWED. This was honestly the best ramen I've ever had. The broth was tasty beyond belief, I could slurp a gallon of it. The noodles were done just right and the egg was chilled with a natural sweetness. Andre cleaned out his bowl (and saw a bonus message). Cost of one bowl of ramen + egg is HK$103 (about S$20).


That wasn't the end of our food trip. There were a few dessert shops around Causeway Bay that we wanted to try, so we decided to buy a bit of everything. Bake Cheese Tart (basement of Sogo), the original cheese tarts from Hokkaido...


Steamed milk pudding from Yee Shun Dairy Company (Lockhart Road)...


And cream puffs from Choux Creme (Causeway Bay MTR station).


We lugged our haul back to the hotel where we pigged out had a dessert party.  


Here's my verdict: I didn't like the milk puddings, sorry Hong Kongers! The plain milk one had such a strong powdered milk taste it made me queasy. The chocolate one was better but still, I'll rather have tao huay any time. I guess it's something of an acquired taste.

The cream puffs (both cream and chocolate) were deliciously light and fluffy, but we've had them before so it wasn't a surprise. The eye-opener was the cheese tarts. I know they're all the rage in Singapore but I never bought into the trend, having tasted one from a local chain and was underwhelmed. These bake cheese tarts are exceptional. The cheese custard is so flavourful and oozy, it's addictive. Andre says it best when he described the tarts as "savoury cheesecakes".

That marked a sweet end to our Causeway Bay trip. More Hong Kong food posts coming up!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bits and bites

Day 5 (Thu, 17 December 2015)

Ok, this post is extremely overdue. That's what happens when you lose momentum. I now only have a vague memory of what happened since this was more than two months ago, so bear with me!

Nothing much happened on Day 5 actually because we had to check out and leave for the airport in the early afternoon. So we decided to have a simple brunch at a tiny restaurant around the corner from our apartment. Incidentally, this was the place where Kenneth would sometimes buy a yew tiao and soya bean drink for breakfast cos he wakes up much earlier than the rest of us. To be honest, it's not great. Unlike in Singapore, they fry the yew tiao and leave it stacked in a container so if you don't buy it when it's first fried, it gets cold and chewy. But on a cold day, it's comforting to eat this with the hot soya bean drink.


The restaurant seemed very popular though, so we decided to eat here on our last morning.


Here's what we had:

Yew tiao wrapped chee cheong fun. Not great because the yew tiao is not refried and therefore cold.
Beef brisket and rice - very good!
Some chicken with rice and gravy, I think.
Sliced beef congee - oh, how good is this on a cold day!

This more or less ends our culinary journey in Hong Kong but here are some other interesting titbits (haha!) we discovered about food:

In Singapore, we buy teeny bottles of Yakult and Vitagen for that dose of healthy bacteria. In Hong Kong, they sell cultured drink by the litre. Like this huge bottle, on clearance for only HK$10 (less than $2)! They come in different flavours too. This one was melon flavoured, I believe.


One of the snacks I personally found great in Hong Kong was the cream puff. There are many shops in the malls and at MTR stations selling a variety of them. This one in the Tsim Sha Tsui station was particularly good.


We tried the original and chocolate. They have both custard and fresh cream versions. We tried all kinds and I probably bust my sugar limit for a month on those, but they are sooooooo delish!


We said this would be a food trip and it was! Totally worth the gazillion calories we each piled on. And as an added bonus, we got upgraded to Business Class again coming home. Thank you, Cathay Pacific!